We are all facing unusual challenges right now as the global fight against COVID-19 continues, and for business owners the stakes have been particularly high. Some businesses have been forced to shut their doors, others reduce staff and many increase alternate and online services. While it’s been doom and gloom for much of the hospitality sector, there are a few operators that have seen business boom as consumers turn towards sentimental comforts to get us through.
The Bearded Jaffle, owned by brothers Todd Gawn and AFL-star Max Gawn, is one such business. From humble beginnings as a food truck, Australians’ nostalgia for jaffles quickly turned this side project into a multichannel business venture, and business is busy despite the unusual conditions. We caught up with Todd to find out more about operating in the age of COVID-19, and (of course) what makes jaffles so special.
First, tell us a little bit about the backstory of The Bearded Jaffle.
Well, the name has a simple explanation: our food menu is all about the humble jaffle, and my brother / co-founder (Max) is well-known for his bearded appearance, so we put the two together.
We started the food truck about a year ago as a bit of a side project, it was something to do on weekends and attend cool markets and different festivals, sharing our love of jaffles with people all around Melbourne. It really grew very quickly and organically from there. We ended up doing a tonne of different food and music festivals, then we started to get booking requests for private events and wedding functions. Before we knew it, we were fully booked every weekend and had picked up catering contracts along the way for ongoing events, like iMax.
What do you think is so special about jaffles (or toasties as some would say)?
I think jaffles hold a sentimental value for many people. It was that quintessential staple that you could always throw together at home as long as you had some bread on hand. Growing up with brothers who were very active, our mum relied on simple ways to fill us and jaffles were one of the best.
Our menu is very much a throwback to those simple childhood days of comfort food when you could throw whatever was at your disposal into your jaffle maker to create something delicious – from the classic ham and cheese, to tin spaghetti, vegemite or even a bit of chicken parma.
When did you decide to add a brick-and-mortar location?
To be honest, we didn’t mean to. We were so booked up with events and fulfilling our catering contracts that we needed another location to use as a prep kitchen. We found a spot in Ascot Vale in January this year, and customers just started showing up. We never envisaged for it to be a multilocation operation but we’re located on a very busy road and the foot traffic just grew really organically and didn’t stop.
You’d only been operating just under one year before being faced with a global crisis that is having huge business ramifications. Can you tell us a bit about how your business has been impacted?
We have definitely seen a big impact on the events side of the business, we were booked up for a full year of events in 2020 and now that’s all been postponed or cancelled. So we’ve had a big loss of revenue there.
Fortunately, because we have the shopfront and the food truck we’ve been able to keep our takeaway operations functioning out of both those facilities. We parked the food truck out front of the shop and have been running a coffee service out of that, then using the shop for walk-in orders and delivery. We have also extended our operating hours to capture the lunch and dinner crowds, and added a range of order ahead and delivery partners, which have expanded our audience. To be honest, the shop has never been busier.
What are some of the operational things you’ve had to change in the business to optimise this way of working?
We truly value our staff, and as an events-based business that has a lot of casuals on our roster, we knew we had to change the way we supported them through this time. We have a couple of staff members from the UK, so one thing we did straight away was convert them to permanent part-time to ensure they could keep working and living here.
The way our business operates right now, we really do rely on order ahead and delivery apps to drive sales, and it can be a nightmare running multiple tablets, each for a different app (we currently have five!). So, we’ve optimised the apps we’re using to try to streamline some of this. We use Square for payments, who just released a partnership with an app-aggregator platform Doshii, which has been a big time saver. The integration enables all our orders coming through from certain order ahead apps, like Mr Yum, to sync directly with our point-of-sale. It saves us around two minutes an order and reduces the amount of errors that can occur when having to copy across orders from individual apps to our point-of-sale. I wish all our apps worked as seamlessly as this.
Finally, do you have any advice or tips for fellow business owners to get through this challenging time?
When things come your way, seemingly out of left field that weren’t part of the plan, don’t be afraid to pursue them. If we had stuck with our original plan, we’d never have gotten this far in such a short period of time, let alone survived this challenging time.
Learn more about how Square can help you with tools to run your business, even when it’s not business as usual.