While the COVID-19 pandemic might have resulted in F&B businesses shutting down, one of its more prominent casualties eventually found a way back into the game.
Cocktail bar Jekyll & Hyde is reopening on Saturday (Jun 20) after finding a new home – on the second floor of cafe Cheeky’s existing space along Neil Road.
The two F&B outlets will be working together to present diners with a menu that marries the strengths of each business: The latter’s burgers and bar grub with the former’s cocktails.
Jekyll & Hyde’s owner Chua Ee Chien shared that after deciding to shut down the cocktail bar at Tras Street due to falling sales since February, he was encouraged to reconsider his decision, thanks to strong support from his customers and delivery orders for the bar’s bottled cocktails during the circuit breaker.
FINDING THE RIGHT ONE
When Eugenia Tan, the co-founder of Cheeky, heard about Jekyll & Hyde’s lease ending, she thought it would be “a great opportunity to come together”.
After all, she added, there has always been a “strong camaraderie” within the F&B community.
“This collaboration will allow us to reduce overheads in both companies, while coming up with innovative and refreshing concepts that could bring in revenue and transform the market,” said Tan.
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For instance, Cheeky’s outdoor space means the cafe is licensed to allow pets. Toss in Jekyll & Hyde’s weekend cocktails and you transform the standard weekend brunch experience into something “more robust”.
“Jekyll & Hyde won’t just operate as a cocktail bar anymore. At the same time, Cheeky has always been a day space, but will now also open in the evenings. So there’s a symbiotic relationship between our businesses,” added Chua.
Aside from using reservations and safe distancing measures to manage their crowd, the business partners will have six to seven staff in total, although they’re still ironing out processes about how many employees to put on the ground at once without crowding the space.
Underscoring their creative ideas, however, is a practical partnership. Chua said that the two businesses “reached an agreement that makes it viable for both to survive”, such as setting aside a percentage of their revenue for rent rather than sticking to a fixed amount.
“How do you survive in COVID times with fixed rental, or without reduced rental? There’s no way you can survive if you want to do pre-COVID rental,” he added.
Similarly, Tan’s main concern is receiving cash flow in time to pay her staff and her rent. Even with government support, she explained there’s paperwork to be done, which means loans or grant money might only come in months later.
“While we wait, we have to depend on ourselves to survive, and the best way to survive is to survive together. So we saw an opportunity to launch,” she said.
“We just need to think of what’s next and move on. As much as it’s challenging and frightening, we’re honoured to be part of the change. Something new will come from this.”
READ: I miss my regular bar – but I accept I might never get to return, even after circuit breakers are lifted
AN UPHILL CLIMB
The last few months have been “a rollercoaster” of emotions for Chua. Jekyll & Hyde was set to reveal their new menu when COVID-19 hit. Their customers had tried their new cocktails for one to two weeks during a soft launch, and they even had the launch party planned.
Still, the team adopted their delivery model quickly once the circuit breaker kicked in. Throughout the week, the team would collate orders and deliver bottled cocktails on Fridays.
In addition to Government rebates, the amount earned was sufficient to cover the salaries of Chua’s three full-time staff, except for one month when he wasn’t able to pay them full salaries.
One employee has since left the team, but he’s currently filling out the paperwork for two new hires.
Even as dining in resumes in Phase 2, Jekyll & Hyde’s delivery of bottled cocktails will continue for people who prefer staying home, though delivery days are now Thursday and Saturday.
“People are going to be in saving mode and wary of going out. For many F&B businesses, I believe, the challenge is juggling between delivery and their main business,” said Chua.
He estimated that the bar’s earnings might only return to pre-COVID-19 figures around the middle of 2021.
But however bleak the situation might be, Mr Chua admitted he would never have contemplated expanding the Jekyll & Hyde brand beyond a cocktail bar, if not for the circuit breaker.
“Many people have had to put their thinking caps on. We realised we don’t want to be a one trick pony,” he said.