Lockdown gives couple a rough start to cafe ownership

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A Dunedin couple’s entry into the hotel business was a baptism of fire, as they became owners of a cafe two days before the Level 4 lockdown last month.

On August 16, Donna Hall and Ivan Mason had their first day as owners of Café Mokha, on August 17 the country went into lockdown.

The couple had no hospitality experience but were looking for a long-term investment to work alongside their day jobs.

Ms. Hall is a local business advisor and Mr. Mason is the head of the Petridish Inventors Lab.

Eager to become the new owners, the couple moved the settlement date of the cafe inside Otago House, Moray Pl.

The second day of trading was like any normal day, but it wasn’t until the evening that things started to change.

“I was away for the day and got there around 6 am and I was watching the Prime Minister on the phone while counting the cash register, it was a complete shock,” Ms Hall said.

Within 15 minutes of the lockdown announcement, the couple and the cafe chef were freezing and giving food to friends and family.

She admitted that there had been a moment when they wondered if they had made the right decision.

“When we decided to move the settlement forward a week, we made the decision and we lined up our ducks and thought we were going to make it easier.

” There were a few times we thought ‘Shit, what if we wait a week?’ ”

They took Covid-19 and its effects on the hospitality industry into account when making the purchase.

We had the books from last year, which were based on a Covid year.

“We understood the reality of it, but I don’t think we expected it to happen on day two,” Ms Hall said with a laugh.

She admitted that her business background had helped, but for others in the industry who didn’t have that knowledge, “it must be really, really hard.”

Ms Hall said the former owner, who had run the cafe for around 17 years, had been “a huge help” to the couple.

Despite a rocky start, the pair were optimistic and in good spirits about the future, although business was down around 30% from the same time last year.

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