Customers come first on Racecourse Rd

Spencer Fowler Steen

There was a different kind of communal spirit on Racecourse Rd, Flemington to the typical footy fever over the preliminary final weekend.

There was no waving of a red and blue Demons flag on Saturday morning.

A hand-written ad for Charlie’s small sausages was more like it.

And an open door at the New Somali Kitchen was news to the community that their revered lamb cook Abdul was still on the job.

The Kulture Garage opposite Newmarket Station appeared to have closed but there was a mobile number posted on the window for those desperate to make a purchase.

Traders in this diverse shopping strip have been forced to be resourceful, working out ways of remaining welcoming to customers without disobeying the tough new regulations.

Pin Oak Beer & Wine had hot mulled cider available by 1pm in unmarked takeaway cups for consumption at home.

“It was a lockdown idea,” Aayush said. “We have a keg of Willie Smith’s cider. It’s local.”

The normal menu of seven dishes and complementary lamb broth has been replaced by one $20 meal deal at the New Somali Kitchen during lockdown.

But according to one customer, the lamb shoulder, basmati rice and salad is enough to last three meals.

Abdul has little time for his usual niceties such as honouring the guest into his classy establishment with a “welcome home” as he works as both cook and front-of-house at the same time.

There’s no denying that ceremonial life has been curtailed by the virus and that’s the bottom line everyone is facing.

Donatella Picasso, one of Abdul’s customers, got COVID-19 last year on public transport but she’s putting a positive spin on the experience.

“I’m a success story,” the 62-year-old migrant from Italy said. “It is possible to survive COVID.”

She had symptoms for just three days and isolated and was still grateful for the help she received.

“The community came to my rescue. People delivered soups to the door. It was amazing, part of my healing,” she said.

Mathew Bonnici bought the butcher shop two years ago and discontinued the small sausages because of the difficulty of getting skins at a reasonable price.

“Every single child complained,” he said. “But now they are back.”

The sausages are named after Charlie, a local who worked at the butcher shop.

“He was clever but he couldn’t read or write. He wanted to know how to serve customers.” •

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