Prominent Australian chef and business owner Julie Goodwin recalls the conversation she had with her accountant when she discovered there was a big ‘catch’ with the federal government’s JobKeeper scheme.
“I was flabbergasted,” says Goodwin, who owns and operates Julie’s Place, a cooking school and special events business in Gosford in New South Wales.
“I thought you would be allowed to back-pay people, once you got the lump sum, but my accountant turned around and said that wasn’t the case.”
The ‘catch’ Goodwin discovered was that the government’s wage subsidies to help small businesses get through the COVID-19 pandemic would be paid in arrears. Or, in other words, that Goodwin would need to be able to pay her employees the equivalent amount in April, before being reimbursed this month.
The winner of the first season of MasterChef Australia decided to extend the mortgage on her home to cover the wages, to the tune of $15,000, after doing “a lot of reading” and asking plenty of questions.
“I didn’t want to do the wrong thing by anyone,” she says.
She says she feels “fortunate” to have been in a position to do so. Julie’s Place employs a team of two part-time employees, and six casuals, four of which are eligible for the JobKeeper program, and Goodwin says there’s “no way on earth” she would have been able to extend her home loan to be able to cover monthly wages for a team of 10, or 20.
But there are still important financial implications for Goodwin’s family, as the way the JobKeeper system has been designed means she won’t be able to pay back this extension on the home loan for six months.
“Not like turning a little car around”
Goodwin, who also writes and publishes recipes, and until recently was a breakfast presenter on radio station Star 104.5, has operated Julie’s Place for close to six years.
Contained in one large room, Goodwin and a team of presenters lead four-hour-long intimate cooking classes, before their students all sit down together and share a meal. The business also runs kids’ cooking classes and regularly puts on roast dinners, high teas and other special events. In normal circumstances, her team would be working on two publicly booked classes a week, plus several private events too.
Bookings for these classes “stopped dead” as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Australia, says Goodwin, and after postponing a number of cooking classes in March and April, she eventually decided to close the school’s doors when it became clear it would no longer be possible to keep people safe while running classes of the size she needed to.
Goodwin says she closely followed guidelines being set for restaurants and cafes, as that’s the sector her business most closely aligns with, and was not in a position to keep offering classes with fewer people.
“I don’t break even if I do that,” she explains.
“Hospitality has very, very tight margins; it’s not like turning a little car around.”
Like countless other small business owners, this decision to temporarily close, needed to be followed by conversations with employees.
“I thought they would all be stood down, until the JobKeeper scheme came along,” says Goodwin.
“I had already phoned all the team and said, ‘I’m terribly sorry, we have to close our doors and there’s not going to be any shifts.’”
Goodwin says she is devastated that she’s not able to do more to help two of her casual employees who have not been with the business for 12 months, and therefore, do not qualify for JobKeeper payments.
“They’re younger people, who live at home … so I’m not putting them out on the street, but it’s still devastating,” she says.
The extension to Goodwin’s mortgage will be enough to cover her other employees’ wages for April, but speaking to SmartCompany on Tuesday, May 4, the day the JobKeeper payments were expected to arrive, she said she was still waiting to see the subsidies in her account.
Goodwin doesn’t anticipate there will be any issues with her JobKeeper enrolment, given the careful research she conducted before applying, but admits she’s now relying on that money coming through.
“If something goes awry, I’m stuffed,” she says.
“I now need that lump sum to pay the next lot of wages, and I won’t be able to pay my mortgage back until six months.
“There’s interest on the mortgage so it is costing me money personally.
“But I do consider it to be worth it; I’m so grateful people can be earning an income.”
‘A long time to regain momentum’
Julie’s Place has been able to access other forms of government assistance, with Goodwin describing a $10,000 small business support grant from the New South Wales government as “brilliant”.
The grant was to go towards business ongoings, and Goodwin was able to use it to immediately pay electricity bills and other costs. The best part was that the process for applying and receiving the funds was swift.
The business needed to have annual turnover of more than $75,000 and be able to prove its revenue had fallen by 75%.
“It was a very simple process: my accountant wrote a letter … it was approved immediately, and the money was in my bank account in a few days,” Goodwin explains.
“That was brilliant; it’s nice to see your tax dollars flowing back towards you in a time like this.”
While NSW has now begun the process of easing some coronavirus restrictions, Goodwin says she and her team will be “totally guided by the government” about when it will be the right time to reopen the cooking school, and she expects this will be when cafes and restaurants also start returning to normal trade.
It won’t be a quick return full bookings though, Goodwin says, and the business has some hard work ahead.
“We’re a bit different; there’s about a three-month lead time [for bookings]. It’s going to take a long time to regain the momentum we had going,” she says.
In the meantime, she’s taking the time to refresh the fit-out in the school, and busily preparing take-home platters for Mother’s Day for customers, full of her well-known home cooking.
“It’s going to be a massive week, this week,” she says.
“My sons and husband will be out doing deliveries. We are a tiny little business, but it’s nice to have something flowing in again.”