With several successful establishments in Potts Point, Sam Christie’s restaurants – like the ever-popular Greek diner The Apollo, or the izakaya-inspired Cho Cho San – have led the way for Sydney’s hospitality industry. And as for much of the industry, when the pandemic came, Christie and his team pivoted hard, offering takeaway via Providoor to offer staff and suppliers a lifeline.
Christie and his team’s response was typical for much of Sydney’s hospitality industry; often the first ones – and the hardest – to be hit by the state’s lockdowns, cafes and restaurants were, nevertheless, often the first to step up for their communities. For Christie, “the world has changed a lot in a couple of years and to see the hospitality industry – I hate to use that word – pivot and help people is really marvellous. It really gets back to the core of what it’s all about.”
And when statewide restrictions relaxed, Christie didn’t hesitate to offer extra help to the local homeless community by collecting donations from guests, as part of DineSmart’s dining initiative that ran for its 19th campaign this past summer. For Christie, it was an easy choice: “I find it hard not to join in, just because of where we are – right on the edge of Kings Cross. There’s a lot of homeless folks around and shelters nearby. There’s also a government sponsored shooting gallery, which does bring a lot of homeless and addicted people into the neighbourhood – so the staff witness every day, much more than other parts of Sydney.”
For the DineSmart team, organising an initiative to raise money for an especially at-risk group in an uncertain climate, with the myriad challenges of the pandemic – including lockdowns, restrictions, and the small matter of a staffing crisis – was a challenge, and then some. But thanks to a sensitive recruitment process, coupled to plenty of feedback and support from the programme’s loyal partners (including Christie, who has participated since 2008), the program signed up 67 venues across Australia, including notable restaurants like Metisse, The Lobo, and Byron Bay favourite Raes on Wategos.
“The first two weeks of December were close to record weeks for us – and they were also record StreetSmart taking weeks for us.” – Sam Christie
As well as collecting an optional $2 from guests’ restaurant bills through the month of December – “easy for everybody – especially with modern point of sale machines,” Christie notes – multiple partners stepped up with dedicated fundraising initiatives beyond Sydney, with Melbourne’s Ladro Fitzroy encouraging guests to BYO, with each corkage fee donated to the campaign, and one partner in Blairgowrie going as far to organise a dedicated fundraiser with all ticket sales directed to the campaign.
With the funds raised from each campaign, the organisation funds social enterprises to train people at risk of homelessness, provide material aid for women and childrens’ refuges, and fund youth programs to provide legal advice, job training, or mental health support for young people experiencing hardship. “It is with the combined efforts of so many of our socially conscious partners that we are able to reach and help such a broad scope of people; without your support, it would not be possible,” says Geoff Hills, the CEO of StreetSmart Australia.
While Omicron took the wind out of the industry – and socialising in general – in December, Christie notes that “the first two weeks of December were close to record weeks for us – and they were also record StreetSmart taking weeks for us.” To make up the difference, he’s even planning a fundraiser later in the year – “perhaps to do some dinners or pop-ups or something else” – alongside a few fellow ambassadors of the program.
At heart, the program reflects the values instilled in every hospitality lifer – that is, the joy in looking after people. “Logistically for us, we look at it, and go, ‘that’s not hard – we can do that.’” Christie says. “And maybe we don’t have the money, but we definitely have the skills and equipment to feed people. And that’s what we do.”