Manly’s kebab king encapsulates the pain of our local trade under COVID wave 2.0
Memet Arslan tolerates my request for half the amount of meat and no cheese, but when I waive my right to tzatziki he decides it’s time to intervene. Thankfully I resolve the tension with my request for three sauces – hummus, tomato AND chilli. “Thatta Girl”, he responds, sounding genuinely relieved.
As the owner of Corso mainstay Manly Seaside Kebabs for the last 21 years, Memet has earned his right to cast judgment on my order, all playful of course. There aren’t many other customers around, sadly, so I take the opportunity to check in with this local hero of weekend revellers.
I ask if he has heard the latest news that pubs and clubs will be shut in Manly and surrounds (the “southern zone”) until at least 2 January. His playful demeanour changes and his shoulders slump.
“No… this will be the end of this business. Thirty years it’s been here, 21 years I have owned it. We have always been strong but this time, I just don’t know, we might actually have to shut our doors,” he tells me as he perfectly tucks a napkin under the lip of the kebab wrapper. I grab about ten more for my pocket, I know my talents and eating cleanly isn’t one of them.
COVID in our most critical trading period
“We, not just us but most of the businesses around here, we make most of our yearly earnings over this six week period, these restrictions couldn’t have happened at a worse time for our business.” Without the New Year’s revellers spilling out from the Steyne, New Brighton or Ivanhoe, and without the tourists, he’s left with very few customers to keep the business churning.
Politically, local attention is now turning to the damage the restrictions are doing to our local business. A number of petitions have been sent to State and Federal government calling for financial assistance. Federal MP Zali Steggall wrote to the Treasurer before Christmas calling for financial support for the businesses in declared hot spots.
The Mayor Michael Regan and his team say they too are actively lobbying our ministers and our local MPs for more urgent assistance. They have a Change dot org petition calling for a ‘drop in revenue test’ for the month of the December. Details are on their petition. A group of liberal councillors has submitted their own email imploring the State government to provide a relief package to local businesses, and an independent councillor Vincent De Luca has his own petition going.
Manly MP James Griffin has this morning invited local businesses to email his office with some bullet points on how the restrictions have led to a loss of revenue and what support your business needs right now.
Relief is on the way, says Premier
‘Relief is on the way’ was the message from Premier Gladys Berejiklian this morning.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has this morning acknowledged that the southern zone in the Northern Beaches is now not much greater an area of increased exposure risk to COVID-19 than the rest of Sydney.
“We say to people on the southern zone of the Northern Beaches please know there will be relief for you on the third of January, we will be able to say what this relief looks like on the second of January,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“And I want to give a particular shout out to small businesses across the Northern Beaches. We know you are hurting. We know this would normally be the time of year when you are welcoming many tourists from outside the area.
“Please know the government is considering its options in how we can supply some support to you.” The Premier said the state government will be looking at ways they can support local businesses in “coming days or potentially weeks.”
Time to ditch the dishes
I ask Memet if there is anything he felt any level of government could do to help. He said he felt a few messages about rent relief could have been better communicated in the past but generally his frustration, his despair, was not aimed at any person or authority. “It’s this virus, we survived the first wave but this second wave is too much. It’s deadly to business, too.”
I wasn’t sure where I could eat my kebab. Beaches were now open for recreation, but would this count? It’s a favourite past time of mine, but not really recreational. I opted for a secluded seat, keeping with the ‘if unclear just use common sense principle’, and was hassled by no one but the usual crafty sea gulls. As the chilli sauce dripped out of the wrapper and down and between my toes I realised no amount of napkins could save me. But what about Memet? Could the government reach deep into the coffers and find something big enough to undo the damage?
In the interim, it’s up to locals to keep our still-trading businesses alive. Never will you have the chance again to enjoy a kebab with such a delicious taste of civic duty, with or without tzatziki.