Covid-19 restrictions have greatly impacted on many industries including restaurants, cafes and bars being particularly hard hit. However, a local business that has successfully pivoted is Son in law - a fusion Thai eatery attracting foodies from all over Melbourne.
Even though takeaways are permitted in lockdown, without offering home delivery, eateries would only be attracting diners from a small radius with movement restrictions in place.
I first came across Son in law in a write up for best restaurants of Australia a few years ago. Since then, it's always been on my list but living some 40km across from their location in Collingwood, I've never quite made it there.
Since the pandemic hit, I started seeing posts of incredibly cute 'Cartoon Bao' all over social media. It incited my curiosity and led me to find out more. Friends have been repeat ordering Son in law's colourful Ooshie-like puffs of bread, causing a stir as they appeared on thousands of feeds in Melbourne.
I was eager to get my hands on some, but it was not easy due to deliveries only being made by area on certain days, and only in limited numbers! I waited patiently for my area and postcode and quickly placed my order before they sold out.
The ordering process is online but somewhat manual. That said, Son in law respond quickly, and are very accommodating with any special requests you may have for your order. Communication is also very clear and the process is fairly straightforward.
On the day of delivery, I received a text message to say they were 9 minutes away, along with an image of how to heat up the Cartoon Baos. When they arrive at your door, it's like opening up a little box of happiness in a dark world of lockdowns.
The whole experience was amazing, and I can see why Melburnians have been going crazy over these crazy cute Cartoon Baos. Son in law have created a cult following on social media, making it feel like you've won Powerball when your postcode is listed for delivery and you manage to get your order through before they sell out.
I was sold! But I needed to find out more. Who was the genius behind the Cartoon Bao and was this a pivot to survive or to thrive? I reached out to ask them, and here's what they said:
Q: You've created a cult following and demand for your Cartoon Baos, did you offer them before Covid restrictions?
A: Yes. (But not with delivery by suburb, and as part our main menu).
Q: Who is the genius behind your Cartoon Baos?
A: Joy - the co-owner of Son in law.
Q: They are so intricately made and to die for cute! How long do they take to make?
A: 10 pieces take an hour to make.
Q: It seems everyone in Melbourne is rushing to place their orders before you sell out, and those who manage to order are posting and sharing with all their friends on social media. Did you expect to have such a big response to your Cartoon Baos?
A: No, we never expected to have this kind of response!
Q: Are you still offering takeaway food from your main menu at your restaurant in Collingwood?
Q: What changes have you had to make to your business since the Covid-19 pandemic?
A: We offer the Cartoon Baos only (for delivery by suburb) - it's easier than trying to sell food.
Q: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business?
A: We are doing it tough.
Q: Do you have any advice for businesses who need to review and adapt their traditional business model to prepare for our "new normal"?
A: Everything won't be the same - we all just need to quickly adjust ourselves to survive.
Although Son in law may not feel like they're thriving right now, their passion for what they do, as well as their unique creativity and tenacity has manifested in a cult following. They've created a massive result in engagement and earned media. These are valuable long term wins that money can't buy.
Thank you Son in law for bringing your Cartoon Baos to Melbourne homes in lockdown and for allowing us to interview you. It certainly confirms that many businesses out there are doing it tough, and just how essential it is to adapt and pivot to survive.