The owners Thai Rock restaurant in Sydney’s west which was the hub of a major coronavirus outbreak fear it could be out of business in four weeks as social distancing laws and anxious customers drive down trade to a trickle.
Owners David and Stephanie Boyd, 58 and 50, said their business is down by 90 per cent since reopening the Wetherill Park restaurant on September 1.
Thai Rock restaurant was closed on July 17 after one of their employees tested positive to the virus, and in the weeks that followed, the Thai Rock cluster grew to 104 cases, making it the biggest in Sydney.
Making matters worse, the couple’s second restaurant in Potts Point in the inner east was linked to another six COVID-19 cases.
The Potts Point venue shut its doors on July 26 before reopening on September 3, and is also struggling to win back customers; making less than $200 a day, including online orders.
Stephanie Boyd (third from left) flanked by Thai Rock staff members, a COVID marshal in orange and a musician. Mrs Boyd and her partner David say their business could be forced to shut down in four weeks if low turnover continues
Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Mr Boyd said: ‘The two opening nights were reasonably good but then it just dropped.
‘If these numbers continue, in four weeks of doing less than $200 a day, no business can survive that.
‘You can only sustain it for so long when we’re paying more out in wages than we’re bringing in. We may have to make a tough call and close.’
When COVID struck, the 100-capacity Wetherill Park venue, distancing regulations cut the business to 51 seats, while the 200-capacity Potts Point restaurant dropped to just 61.
‘Our maximum earning potential was already down more than half since we had to reduce seats because of of COVID,’ David said.
‘But now we’re doing 10 per cent of what we were even during COVID. We’re down 90 per cent.’
Overall, this represents a drop of roughly 95 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.
Stephanie and David Boyd, their 21-year-old daughter and one of their 23-year-old sons. The four of them work at the Thai Rock restaurants along with 14 staff members
Thai Rock’s reopening night in Wetherill Park (pictured) was ‘reasonably good’ but since then, the turnover has dropped, according to Mr Boyd
Prior to the pandemic, both restaurants employed a total of 30 staff, but when table numbers dropped, this was cut to just 14.
Mr and Mrs Boyd and two of their three adult children also work at the restaurant.
If the restaurants were to close, it would leave their family and their 14 staff jobless.
Mr Boyd said the low level of turnover have been ‘very tough’ for their family-run business.
‘This weekend was Father’s Day, which is normally one of our busiest days but we were dead,’ he said.
‘Sunday’s a nice day where you have a lot of people coming out – we did under $1,000, we didn’t even stay until closing, we had to close early. Some of those days, only have enough to cover two or three staff.’
He said the Wetherill Park location is ‘a little busier’ than the Potts Point venue, which is only open in the evening.
The Potts Point venue only made $140 on Father’s Day, which includes online orders from Uber Eats.
Empty seats can be seen behind Mr Boyd in a promotional picture for Father’s Day. Mr Boyd said it is normally one of their busiest days of the year but on Sunday it was ‘dead’
Mr and Mrs Boyd believe the bad publicity surrounding their six-week closure has ‘significantly contributed’ to low levels of business.
‘Even to this day we see people holding their nose when they walk by as if they’re going to catch something,’ Mr Boyd said.
Mrs Boyd said she was ‘devastated’ by abusive online messages, including one that told her ‘to go and die and to burn in hell’, and she now sees a psychologist once a week.
‘It was quite devastating, there were attacks directly at me personally, that I have allowed an infectious staff member to be working, that I was selfish and greedy, because I still have her employed,’ she said.
‘None of this is true, we did not know that she was infectious.’
The employee who sparked the outbreak worked five consecutive shifts in July before developing symptoms on July 14 and getting tested.
The restaurant was shut down on July 17 and all staff, including the Boyd family, went into self-isolation.
Mr and Mrs Boyd enjoy a dinner date. Mrs Boyd said she was ‘devastated’ by horrific messages, including one that told her ‘to go and die and to burn in hell’, and now sees a psychologist once a week
Mr and Mrs Boyd during a trip to Thailand. The couple have received torrents of online abuse since being linked to Sydney’s biggest COVID-19 cluster
Ms Boyd, who fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia when she was just 10 years old, does not believe the online attacks were racially motivated.
‘People have said that it is my grubby virus, that I should be put in jail, almost alluding that I have cooked it in the kitchen and served it,’ she said.
‘I’ve been called all sorts of names, that I’m an ex-sex worker. Recently there was a very dirty email, its just devastating to read that someone has that much hate and anger to someone they’ve never met.’
She also said there have been a number of fake reviews on Google that they have tried to get removed, but the tech giant refused.
Mr and Mrs Boyd have a daughter Chelsea, 21, and twin sons, 23, one of whom is named Dylan.
Daughter Chelsea (pictured), 21, also works at the restaurant. While in isolation, she was photographed in her bedroom by a photographer, which her mother says was an ‘invasion of privacy’
Their children have helped ‘shield’ them from online abuse but have also received their fair share of flack.
‘My son has been looked at like a walking virus, they look at him like he’s dirty. It hurts when you see your son seen like that,’ Mrs Boyd said.
‘There were photos taken of my daughter in her bedroom. There was a photographer camped out of our house for two days, it’s an invasion of privacy.’
During the restaurant closures, Ms Boyd said she hardly slept and constantly cried.
‘I just thought there was no future because I had no restaurant to go to, I was very, very lost. I was thinking how could we recover financially when we’ve worked so hard to build this restaurant,’ she said.
‘Now, I’ve run out of tears. I just need to move on, I’ve dusted myself off. I’ve got two kids relying on me for income, staff members relying on me.’
Both restaurants have FLIR thermal cameras to check the temperature of everyone entering and use ozonated water, which is commonly used by dentists. Pictured: A screen grab from one of the cameras
Since reopening, the restaurant has gone ‘above and beyond’ with high-tech preventative measures to ‘give customers another level of confidence’.
Both restaurants have thermal cameras to check the temperature of everyone entering and use ozonated water, which is commonly used by dentists.
They have also upgraded their alcohol-based sanitiser to Zoono, which provides 24 hours of proactive protection.
Zoono chemicals that last 30 days are also sprayed on tables every 28 days to ensure that the virus does not spread via contact, according to Mr Boyd.
They also have a microbiologist perform unannounced testing to ensure that everything is up to par.
‘The cost is a lot, thousands of dollars. The chemicals themselves cost $200, which is five times as much as normal sanitiser,’ he said.
‘When customers see all the steps we’re taking, they say “you’re actually one of the safest places to go to”.’
Mr Boyd said ‘we need customers now more than ever’ but ‘people are frightened to go out, just in general’.
Son Dylan (pictured), 23, works at the restaurant’s bar. Mrs Boyd said people have been looking at her son like he is ‘a walking virus’ since the cluster
A supportive message from a customer on an Uber Eats order. Mrs Boyd said she appreciates the support from their loyal customers, many of whom have doubled up on visits just to help them
Mrs Boyd said she appreciates the support from their loyal customers, many of whom have doubled up on visits to help boost revenue.
‘They all said the same thing, “we’re really sorry for what’s happened to you”,’ she said.
‘They genuinely cared, they can see that we’re in no way being blamed for it.’
Fairfield Mayor Frank Carbone, who oversees the Wetherill Park area, has called on locals to support Thai Rock and other businesses hit by the pandemic.
‘Like many businesses, Thai Rock were simply unlucky to get caught up in the spread of COVID-19,’ Mr Carbone said.
‘It is important that we support our local businesses during COVID-19. When you go local first, you support local families and jobs.’
Mr Carbone said politicians have been using Thai Rock and his area ‘as a stomping ground to promote themselves’.
‘The fact is, our city has been the frontline when it comes to the virus,’ he said.
‘Our city has done a wonderful job when it comes to looking after the virus. It’s not our fault that we were the frontline, but it is our fault that we fought hard.’
Fairfield Mayor Frank Carbone (left), who oversees the Wetherill Park area, has called on locals to support Thai Rock and other businesses hit by the pandemic