Learning business ropes of a new business under lockdown

07 Sep 2021

Every new business faces challenges, but opening their doors on the first day of the latest Covid lockdown has meant fast learning, adaptation and a real baptism of fire for the new family at the helm of Whitianga Takeaways and Fresh Fish.

With her youngest of five children starting school, Teresa Kereopa was looking to go back to full-time work. Although trained in hairdressing, it was no longer her passion and she was motivated to turn her hand to something different. 

With a family pedigree in food and hospitality - her sister and brother-in-law, Michelle and Jed Harper, own the Coroglen Tavern while her parents, Michael and Robyn Gee, previously owned Frankie’s Sports Bar and Grill (now Smitty’s) - Teresa toyed with buying a business. After leaning towards either a bottle shop or a fish and chip shop, for a variety of reasons the takeaways won the vote.

Teresa describes how - with the help of her parents and sister, and Briar Sturgeon of Coromandel Takeaways and Fresh Fish - she and husband, Sam, prepared to take over the business. Almost all the staff were retained. 

Despite a steep learning curve, Teresa and Sam had great support and the team was raring to go, ready for their opening day of trading on Tuesday, 17 August. 

After what was a busy first day, Teresa went home for dinner and turned on the news to hear the entire country was going into Alert Level 4 lockdown. Teresa, her family and the staff of the business immediately returned to the shop and made all the preparations to close after only one day of trading.

It was an incredibly tough day to start a new business, Teresa recalls. Her first thoughts were about how she was going to pay wages, pay rent and find a place for all the new food she had ordered.

The fresh fish and salads were divvyed out to staff and friends and as much as possible of what remained was frozen. Teresa says that because Whitianga Takeaways and Fresh Fish was an established business, she was luckily able to apply for the wage subsidy.  

Undaunted, she viewed the initial enforced time off as a paperwork opportunity and a chance to learn the administrative side of the business and how to best prepare for the next Covid alert levels. By the time Whitianga moved to Level 3 last Wednesday, Teresa had done her research and taken on board her sister’s practical experience of how to pivot to contactless trading. Consulting with all the staff as to they felt about sharing a trading bubble was important, she says, because, from her own family experience, she understands the particular concerns for people who may be immunocompromised. However, all but one were in a position to come back in Level 3.  

Teresa also faced the task of completing her own training with Briar from Coromandel Town no longer able to visit Whitianga. Instead, she organised to learn from her existing staff. As was permitted, she and Sam went in a couple of days early to order all of the fresh food needed and to install a new Perspex screen. 

And so, with a massive team effort and plenty of trial and error, fish and chips were back on the menu on the first day of Level 3. By Friday last week, Teresa says demand was so high that the business returned to pre-lockdown opening hours. While there inevitably been have been “a few muck ups” while everyone got familiar with the new system, Teresa says all the customers were extremely understanding and patient.  

As a novice fish and chip shop proprietor, Teresa believes the information provided from the government was thorough and useful. The regulations around mask use in the business could however be much clearer, she suggests. While it’s rather hard at times to hear through the screen and masks, everyone is coping and getting on with the job. 

Most of all, she feels fortunate to have family and staff who have been through the lockdown process before and could offer solid experience. She is looking forward to further drops in alert levels and is hopeful that customers will continue to be generous with their patience as she gets up to speed. She also very much appreciates the efforts of so many in the community to support a local business during these challenging times.

Pictured: The Kereopa family, new owners of Whitianga Takeaways and Fresh Fish. From the left - Sam, Paiggon, Nixxon, Maddison, Quinnzon, Teresa and Fergie.