Rather than wait for the job market to normalise, barista Stefan Iannace decided to go into business when the pandemic hit. (Image source: Cameron Jones).

By Cameron Jones

In March 2020, the South Australian government forced the closure of many businesses and imposed restrictions on others, in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Subsequently, more than 40,000 South Australians became unemployed towards the end of March and in April, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.

Stefan Iannace was one of those South Australians, stood down from his barista job in the hospitality industry when the pandemic hit.

However instead of waiting for the job market to normalise, Mr Iannace transformed the back shed of his family’s home into a takeaway coffee shop.

“I was at home, just cleaning up and setting up the car one day, and [I noticed] there’s heaps of people walking by, and I was like, ‘oh there’s a niche here’,” Mr Iannace told me.

“Everyone’s obviously reverting back from the city to the suburban areas.”

The Federal Government responded to the economic and unemployment crisis by increasing JobSeeker payments, and initiating the JobKeeper program.

But recalling that his employment was “chopping and changing so much last year,” and he wasn’t with any one employer for 12 months, Mr Iannace found himself ineligible for the JobKeeper payment. Nor did he want to rely on free government support whilst he was looking for work.

This provided the extra motivation for Mr Iannace to start his business.

“I had been stood down from my part time work, which I knew would have happened so I couldn’t do anything about it,” he said.

“I didn’t want to just sit back and do nothing.”

“I could have just sat there and taken the money that the government’s given to everybody. But I was like, ‘I still want to do something and come out of this in a really positive way’.”

Armed with a coffee cart he obtained last year for events work, Mr Iannace went about the legal processes of opening a business.

“I went online, did my research about whether or not I could (operate) within the council,” he said.

“I went through the procedures of contacting the health authorities and associations.”

“Obviously, at the time, [I had to have] hand sanitisers and make sure I’m wiping everything with proper food grade sanitiser and I’ve got my distancing.

“Being a pop-up I’m not doing dine in or anything, it was purely just takeaway,” Mr Iannace added.

With those formalities squared away, Mr Iannace concentrated on getting people through the door, and undertook a grass-roots marketing campaign.

“I thought I’d do a letterbox drop around Anzac Day weekend,” Mr Iannace told me.

“I made sure people brought the flyers in. I was like, ‘I’ll give you a $1 discount if you bring it’, a lot of people caught onto that.”

The coffee shed business was an instant success, and Mr Iannace didn’t look back.

Stefan Iannace prepares a brew at Cheeky Grin. (Image source: Cameron Jones.)

“We just got pummeled in interest,” he said.

“That just shows that the community is behind anything and everything sort of new and exciting and fresh.

“From there, we ended up going four-and-a-half months by operating a little pop-up outside the shed on a Saturday and Sunday.”

Mr Iannace said that while his parents were initially reluctant to open up their garage for their son’s operation, they eventually came around to the idea.

“Dad didn’t like it at first, because he was like ‘I want my shed’,” Mr Iannace said.

“Mum was pretty cool, she thought it was literally going to be a pop-up for like a week or two. When I decided I was going to do this as long as I can, she was like ‘all right, cool, let’s see how it goes.’ And they were basically staff members by the end and they couldn’t have been happier.”

“It brought a lot of the neighbourhood to us.

“We got to learn a lot of new people and meet people we hadn’t met in a long time.”

That pop-up, take-out only service has now moved on from Mr Iannace’s shed, to a café space located just a few streets away in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs. His café is called Cheeky Grin.

“[The shed] died down because the pandemic sort of died down a little bit here in South Australia,” he said.

On June 1, hospitality venues were allowed to admit one person per four square metres.

Hospitality is definitely going to begin a true recovery from today in South Australia,” Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive Wes Lambert told the ABC at the time.

With the easing of restrictions and the revitalisation of the local hospitality industry, Mr Iannace sensed another opportunity.

“I only had a permit to the end of August, and I was like ‘I still want to keep it going, I’ve had a taste now’,” he told me.

“I need to get this shop, so I found one two streets over. And that happens mid-September. And then here we are now…”

From take away coffees from his parents’ back shed, to his own bricks and mortar business, Stefan Iannace’s is a COVID success story.

“Whilst owning his own café was always the goal for Mr Iannace, he acknowledges that the events of 2020 put that goal into action.

“Everything that has happened has led me to achieve a dream that was really just a pipe dream,” he said.

“Words cannot express the way I feel about what we’ve been able to do in the middle of a crisis. I’ve been able to turn every negative possible into the biggest positive.”

“For me, Cheeky Grin is about more than just a coffee shop. I opened my back shed, I opened my family home to the community and that’s sort of the feel I want to bring [to the café] as well. For me personally I want it to be something bigger.”

Originally published in The Junction.