Don’t Give Up
How Alfina Saved Her Cafe from a COVID crisis
“How am I going to pay the rent?” was the first thing Alfina thought (after swearing) when the prime minister announced COVID-19 restrictions for cafes like hers. It was a sleepless night, but at 4am the plan came.
A Community Gem
You’ll probably only find Alfina’s Cake and Coffee through word-of-mouth community networks, because it’s one of those hidden gems. The cakes are what grandma used to make – homebaked, rustic, and always delicious in that wholesome-ingredients-kind-of-way. Favourites like lemon meringue will always be on the menu, but you can also count on new creations based on Alfina’s inspiration for that day. That’s because, as the only staff member, Alfina bakes all her own cakes.
But there’s something else. An intangible golden thread runs through this cafe: the way it connects people.
How many cafes have you visited where the friendly conversation at the next table spills over to include you? When last did you hear people around you break out in song… or even dance… while you were tucking into a spongy piece of chocolate mud cake?
You’ll be genuinely welcomed at Alfina’s, and that in itself is the reason some of her customers are no longer lonely. It’s how a cancer sufferer found a haven of positivity during her unforgiving treatment. In Alfina’s words, “It’s the kind of place where there’s always someone to talk to, and where you’ll get a job to do if you hang around long enough.”
And that’s exactly how things have always worked there. One of the regular customers built the bookshelf that now holds free secondhand books, and the giftware shelves are filled with jewellery, honey and handcrafted toys made by locals. Volunteer staff have always rallied round her, finding meaning in being part of this special place in Eaton’s Hill, Brisbane.
That was before COVID.
When COVID hit
Alfina had just returned from celebrating her mother’s 80th birthday in Cairns, (and had started running out of toilet paper) when the restrictions hit. Concerned friends and family called, but Alfina had no idea what to tell them. She had until lunchtime the next day to make a plan or close the shop.
To close would mean losing her only source of income.
At the best of times there was not abundant profit after bills were paid, so she could not afford to have debts pile up. Despite government urging landlords to be lenient, her landlord did not offer any reprieves.
Making It Work
Becoming a Takeaway Shop
Alfina’s first plan was only one idea, but it was enough to keep the doors open.
To become a takeaway venture almost overnight, the shopfront would need to tantalise passersby. Since indoor seating was no longer viable, the the deli counter full of tempting treats and special savouries was moved within a metre of the front door, spanning the width of the shop. A few socially-distanced chairs were dotted around outside for waiting customers. Then Alfina waited.
Local people emerged from their work-from-home tethers, keen for a change of environment. And cake, it seemed, was the comfort they were looking for.
A Volunteer Army—For Milk
The daily morning shop for milk supply was part of Alfina’s everyday routine until pandemic panic decimated grocery store supplies. Milk—essential for coffees— became the most precious commodity of all. With individual purchases limited to two bottles per customer, the coffee service was in jeopardy.
But this didn’t stop Alfina. She got up two hours earlier each morning and followed an itinerary of shops until she had the supply she needed. Later, her army of volunteers kicked into action, using their quotas on her behalf. This comradery shortened her shopping trips and her very long working hours.
The clincher: Friday Night Platters
Ultimately, this ingenious ‘platter pivot’ was how the cafe survived a COVID crisis. The cafe’s deli counter boasts authentic European meats and locally sourced products. Cheeses and chocolates come from Tasmania, the Gold Coast, and Melbourne.
The ‘Friday Night Platter Evening’ at the cafe had previously become popular. Families would bring their own wine and sit down to a light meal of savoury meats, cheeses, olives and fruit from the deli. When dine-in restrictions changed the landscape, it meant no more Friday nights.
But it left an itch that needed scratching.
Before long, families started asking for these platters as a takeaway. Not missing an opportunity, Alfina and a friend designed appropriate COVID Safe packaging. The neat box was perfect for Zoom virtual dinner parties, and the orders kept coming. They were a hit over Easter especially, and remain a standard item from the deli today.
The Resilience Factor
The meaning the cafe held for some customers during enforced isolation, spurred Alfina on. For a group of ladies in a nearby retirement village, the coffee run was their only outside contact in a day. One lady said, “You saved us – we would have gone insane.”
One elderly lady used to visit daily to order a sandwich, just to break the isolation. Alfina would make sure she only started making the sandwich when this particular customer arrived—it gave them more time to chat, socially distanced, of course.
Alfina enjoyed how life went back to basics for a time, with families going out together. “It felt like back when I grew up. Everyone was just nice.”
Yet, as much as the café helped others, Alfina maintains that it was the constant support of the café community that got her through the crisis.
Tips from Alfina
Don’t give up: Stick to your gut feel and work it out
“People are surprised that I wasn’t ever shut,” Alfina says, with a twinkle of pride. Hard work is nothing new to Alfina. She has had to put in the hard yards to make life work for her and her children since their father died. ”My life hasn’t been easy – I’ve raised them myself, always put them first.”
To Alfina, persevering through this challenge continued to model to her now-adult children the value of hard work in getting where you want to be.
Solutions evolve over time
“If it doesn’t work the first time, try a different way.”
Alfina reflects that she only had initial solutions, but each new solution gave her the next step, which was all she needed, and that way she kept going.
On Mother’s Day in March, Alfina was still experimenting with ideas. COVID Safe practices took extra time, and a fourteen-hour day was not sustainable. By Father’s Day in June she’d found an efficient structure for service, working smarter rather than harder. Alfina now has a time of day by which all baking has to be done and gets home at a decent hour.
Just about everything changed at the cafe, but it didn’t happen all at once. What worked in March would no longer work now. But some things have stuck, like having the deli near the shop entrance. The permanent changes have been good for business. The happy community of customers stuck with Alfina through it all, and are back in full sing… er… swing.
See For Yourself
- Visit Alfina’s Cake & Coffee to indulge in one of Alfina’s delicious home-baked goodies and a cuppa.
- Order a platter – phone, or message via the Facebook page, and you’ll be able to collect within 24 hours.
- Pop in to select something from the deli or giftware selections.
- Come in just to say hello — Alfina loves a chat.
- If you have an idea that’s not on the menu, speak to Alfina – she’ll make it if she can.
(07) 3325 5820
6 Bunya Park Drive, Eaton’s Hill, QLD 4037