Lasagne and the Covid lockdown


Image: Angelo Rosa,

So what does the New South Wales Covid lockdown mean for restaurants and cafes, some of which may have been planning for National Lasagne Day.

This week, New South Wales was declared a Covid red zone, with active cases more than doubling from the previous week. As of today, NSW had 916 active cases, 880 of which were locally acquired.

A broad swathe of restrictions aimed at bringing the outbreak under control means that Greater Sydney’s thousands of pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes are very much in a holding pattern. There’s no end in sight to the lockdown ending. So they will have their hands full paying the bills, never mind planning for a special foodie day.

If you had never heard of it, National Lasagne Day (July 29) is a US celebration, a nod to the 5.5 million Italian migrants who found their way to the Big Apple and other cities since the 1800s. Currently, there are 2.2 million Italians living in the US, the majority of whom live in New York. So it is not difficult to find Italian restaurants or cafes, all of which are likely to have lasagne on the menu. And who hasn’t eaten the rich creamy dish with its layers of pasta sheets, interwoven with tomatoes, cheese, vegetables and meat sauce.

When we go out to eat, I am known for being unadventurous. If it’s not fish and chips it will be lasagne – ask anyone.

Which reminds me of the time in a Dublin pub when I decided I’d ordered haddock and chips one too many times.

“What does the lasagne come with?” I asked the waitress.

“Oh, the lasagne?” she said with a Dubliner’s lilt. “That’ll be coming with rice and chips and salad…but we haven’t got any.”

 The website <> observes that lasagne first showed up in Naples, Italy during the Middle Ages. The dish made its way to America with the first Italian immigrants in the 19th century. This article in La Gazetta Italiano clears up a few myths about Italian food in the US. For example, only one third of food sold in the US as ‘Italian’ is imported from Italy.The remainder have Italian names, but they are not the real deal.

My Dad (the baker) scoffed at Italian food like pizzas. When the younger generation were planning to phone up and order pizzas he would claim (with a guttural Scots Och), that he could make a family sized pizza with meat toppings for about $2.

“What! $24 for a slice of bread in a cardboard box? Awa ye go.”

I might be recklessly paraphrasing the long-departed baker, but he is right to observe that Italian food is, in the main, highly profitable.

Of course, it depends on the reliability of suppliers, staff and other small business variables, not the least of which is rent. For even small shops in Sydney suburban high streets, rent is undoubtedly the single biggest expense.

So you have to feel sorry for bars, restaurants and cafes adversely affected by the current lockdown in Greater Sydney.

The one advantage is that Italian food is favoured by those who order takeaway foods. In 2019-2020, one pizza company alone (Domino’s), sold 105.6m pizzas, through 833 stores in Australia and New Zealand.

As numerous articles like this one in Fortune have observed, the home delivered food business boomed during Covid in 2020, Of course, one has to balance the reporting of an up-tick in takeaway/delivery pizza business against the revenue lost from in-house diners.

I was musing about this and that while waiting for our meals to arrive at the Yangan Hotel, a local watering hole outside Warwick. We shared the dining room with two other groups at separate tables. No one wore masks and (gasp) I broke tradition and ordered rissoles. (We did, however, have to sign in with the ubiquitous ‘App’. Ed)

Queensland is handling the Covid cases it does have in a responsible manner. We have 48 active cases and only one new case in the last 24 hours.

So not surprisingly, except for South-East Queensland, we no longer have to wear masks when going out, although I notice some people still do. We are (still) in the lucky country part of the country, with a major community festival starting in Warwick on Friday and all eateries open for sit-down catering.

In NSW, the lockdown rules are detailed and unambiguous for the food and drink hospitality industry; you can open, but only to sell takeaways or deliveries. But as Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive Wes Lambert told,au. not all businesses can switch to takeaway and delivery service. He said small businesses were the most vulnerable to the lockdown, with some 93% of food service industry businesses turning over less than $38,500 a week.

The Australian Retailers Association urged consumers to keep their essential shopping to a minimum. The ARA said in a press release that while retail stores were open, shoppers should take up digital options like click and collect.

Every dollar you spend keeps someone in a job. It doesn’t matter if that purchase is made in a store or over the internet,” chief executive Paul Zhara said.

Domino’s Pizza Enterprises say the competition during lockdowns has been all about carry-out vs delivery.

Throughout Australia we’re allowed to do both at the moment, but consumer preferences have been changing (and is a global phenomenon).”

Domino’s Group managing director Don Meij said that COVID-19 had brought forward long-term demand for delivered food, ordered on-line, in all markets.

At the same time, carry-out orders remain challenged in most markets, as specific customer segments (including CBD office lunches) have changed their ordering behaviour.”

Back in Queensland, which has just announced that the New South Wales border is closing at 1am Saturday, it’s otherwise business more or less as usual. The local coastal economies are about to get an unexpected boost after the National Rugby League (NRL) made the momentous decision of moving nine Sydney-based and three other regional teams to Queensland.

This decision will deliver a big pay-day to the hand-picked accommodation outlets which become the teams’ bases for two months and maybe longer.

Hopefully, players, staff and families (if/when the latter are allowed to travel here) will weigh in and support small business while they are here. Can you imagine south-east Queensland’s Italian eateries and their couriers coping with 500+ takeaway orders for lasagne on July 29?

Importantly, National Lasagne Day is the day before we set off (with masks) to Suncorp Stadium for the Broncos’ epic clash with the Queensland Cowboys. So they’ll all have 24 hours to sleep off that big dose of carbohydrates (assuming it comes with rice, chips and salad).

Or they (the Broncos) could be like jockeys trying to make a lightweight ride and pick away at a green salad.

Yep, that’ll happen.

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Last week: No, I was not imagining the ghost of Pete Best in the reference to the ‘Famous Five” crossing Abbey Road. My Enid Blyton childhood blinded me.

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