Rohan & Khayla, owners of Rude Boy in Hobart, talk COVID-19 survival

We spoke to the House of Angostura’s Rohan Massie and his partner in life and in their Hobart bar, Rude Boy, Khayla Massie, about how they have navigated the COVID restrictions physically, emotionally and mentally. 

How has COVID been for you and your business, Rude Boy?  How have you adapted your business model in response to the changes? 

Khayla: It was really tough in the beginning, especially when information was scarce. Not knowing what was going to happen was terrifying. Once we knew what was happening, we could make hard decisions and make that move forward.

We were lucky that we had established takeaway into our venue the end of last year, so it meant that we were prepared to keep the kitchen open. We are also licenced as a bottleshop, so as soon as our restaurant and bar closed, we flipped the whole venue into a bottleshop with shelves, fridges and freezers stocked with all of our back up stock in one day.

We launched our bottle cocktail range, with a reduced booze list available through our online ordering service. We were surprised just how popular our takeout cocktails are. Our Angostura Daiquiris are a big hit with the locals!

We also started our own deliveries; first to try and keep as much profit inhouse by using our own ordering system rather than giving it to Uber and second to keep some of our staff working. We found that takeaway actually helped expand our market. The food side of our business is busier than ever.

What was your lowest point?

Rohan: Definitely the weeks leading up to lockdown. The stress levels were through the roof. We were just so unsure about both the business and our future.

Khayla: During this time, we lost half our team, with a few of them being internationals. When we had to let them go I guess we felt like failed parents; it was heartbreaking. The first six weeks we had our little boy out of care and with our support team of grandparents being high risk, it meant that we tag-teamed shifts and parenting, leaving very little down time.

And your highest?

Rohan: Letting people back in the doors was a particular highlight. Having that vibe back in the venue was such a good feeling, almost igniting that flame again.

Khayla: For me, the immense support we received from locals and our hospitality community really helped. There was absolutely no competitive attitude; it was all about lifting each other up and cheering each other on. That amazing community spirit is so inspiring.

How do you integrate your individual skills, interests and passion for hospitality into your business? Have your skills helped you through these tough times?

Rohan: As hard as it is, I believe we have to create our own silver linings in these situations. Khay and I both love fostering the local community and we were able to use our connections through the bar to create an online tasting and training course called ‘Idle Hands’ which we ran free for nearly 40 Hobart hospos over eight weeks.

Tell us a bit about that.

It’s a free hospitality tasting group conceived to not only keep hospitality workers engaged and learning during this hard time, but also to provide a space to support each other and during periods of physical isolation. The group is a prototype which first involved the local Hobart industry, but it may expand through other states and territories given the right backing.

Brands donate bottles and sometimes a brand ambassador or guest speaker to guide members through a tasting. Each bottle is broken down to 15ml portions and delivered to group members.

What’s it like working together in challenging times? Any top tips to share?

Rohan: Tough! There are no breaks from the stress so you have to be really careful not to bring that home with you. We have a two year old son and so it’s so important that those emotions don’t creep into the time we spend with him or as a family.

Khayla: Prioritising that time together is so important, connecting and talking about how we are both feeling and making sure that if one of us is struggling that they don’t feel they have to just deal with it.  If our personal relationship cracks, then so does our business relationship so it’s crucial we stay supportive.

How have you continued to grow and develop – both individually and together?

Rohan & Khay: We continue to set both individual and common goals. We find we both work really well when we have something to look forward to. We invest in development courses we can both participate in, whether it’s personal development or educational, we like to keep learning.

Has anything good come out of lockdown? Any pleasant surprises?

Rohan & Khay: Yeah, how nice it was not to be working 60 hours a week!  Of course, there are downsides too but it has definitely forced us to slow down and reconnect; to prioritise what we really want in life. It’s so easy to get caught up with busy hospo life, that I find we forget or put off ideas that may be important to us. This down time has given us the chance to revisit those opportunities.

What does the future look like for you as a family and your business?

Rohan & Khay: For us it’s all about diversifying; creating multiple income streams that allow both our creative minds to flourish. We definitely have a few projects in the works, so watch this space.

Rude Boy has been through plenty of ups and downs, although this particular bump has rattled us. One thing is certain, we are resilient and we are so grateful to still be here.