Brothers Joban and Raj Singh are so close they often finish each other’s sentences. They have been running Creswick’s Smokey Town Café, for the past five years and have become an important part of the town’s foodie scene.
When they started, they were pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome they received from the local community and it didn’t take long for them to build a rapport with their customers. That warmth and acceptance has been reinforced during the Covid shutdown.
As soon as the lockdown was announced, Joban and Raj didn’t hesitate to decide to remain open, providing take away food and coffee each day. Joban says, “Sitting around worrying about It wasn’t going to change anything. It didn’t matter if we made money or not, we just knew we needed to stay open”. This sometimes meant that they would remain in the darkened café without a customer due to social isolation, but it didn’t take long before people took advantage of the take away service, especially the pre-made meals. “It has been and continues to be a very uncertain and confusing time, but we believe it will be very positive in the long run” said the brothers.
Raj added, “The shutdown has been a really good thing and we can see some very positive long term things coming out of these changes. It has given us the chance to sit down and look at our business and where it’s headed. We were so busy doing the day to day stuff, we didn’t have much chance to look and plan. We’ve now done that and it was also an opportunity to finish some long overdue decorating – nothing fancy, just refreshing things and also working on our menus.
This is the first business the brothers have operated. Their roles were defined from the beginning – Joban front of house and Raj in the kitchen. Joban said, “I’ve always worked in kitchens, never front of house”, Raj continued, “I pointed out that I was the better chef and he was better at talking and that’s where we’ve settled”. And they have settled very happily in Creswick. “People are very friendly and supportive”, said Joban, adding, “We received a really nice letter from a couple who are regular customers who used to come in about once a week. They normally only have a couple of coffees, but when social distancing came in, they stayed away, however they left a note with $100 inside as a thank you for us being here and paying forward to when they could visit again”.
As restrictions have eased, they say they have been far busier than they expected. “It’s almost like the gates have opened up.”
On the personal front, the Covid shutdown had a dramatic twist for Joban when his wife Preet gave birth to their first daughter, Amanat, a cousin for Raj’s daughter Aria. Joban managed to be at the birth, but no other visitors were allowed. The restrictions were made more difficult as Joban and Raj’s parents and Preet’s parents travelled from India especially for the birth, but hadn’t been able to cuddle the baby until now. Due to travel restrictions, they are in Australia indefinitely. So some clouds do have silver linings.