Takeaway Heroes – Clayton Wells
When Clayton Wells opened A1 Canteen in Chippendale as a casual eatery and younger sibling to his fine diner Automata across the Kensington Street laneway, he always hoped he’d gain a reputation – and a solid business – for good takeaway food. However diners enjoyed the space and the service so much that takeaway ended up playing only a small part in the business. The irony is not lost on Clayton, now that A1 Canteen is doing takeaway only, and Automata is closed, until the COVID-19 crisis is over.
After being blindsided initially like everyone in hospitality, Clayton is determined to make the best of a bad situation. “We just have to suck it up and get on with it. I was angry and upset in the first week, and having to let go staff nearly killed me. But there’s no use crying for the next six months.”
The menu at A1 Canteen didn’t need much tweaking, and popular breakfast dishes (available 8am to 3pm) include Prawn and XO chilli omelette, with shallots, steamed ginger and garlic rice, and a Steamed wild rice bowl with poached egg, avocado, kimchi, charred corn and pickled wood ear mushrooms. Epic sandwiches, for which A1 already had a reputation – including a Fried prawn roll with jalapeño hot sauce and a Grilled halloumi bagel with za’atar and fermented cabbage – round out the lunch offer.
Although A1 Canteen was previously open for dinner, Clayton is content to stick just to breakfast and lunch. “Many of our industry friends and restaurateurs are doing dinner takeaway, not breakfast and lunch. So we’ll stick to what we are well known for, and let them do dinner,” he says.
Clayton has been buoyed by the hospitality community coming together to share information, support each other and think about what they can do as a group. “I’m in five different WhatsApp groups – which has been so helpful, especially in the legalities side of business where everything is shifting constantly,” he says. “It’s not an ‘every man for himself’ situation.”
Despite the difficulties Clayton is managing to see the upside of the situation.
“This period gives us an opportunity to check ourselves, ask ourselves what is truly necessary. And it is allowing us to get all the things done that we always wanted to do,” he says. His list includes creating a great training program, and producing detailed food books for the front of house team so they have all the information on every dish.
“We’re going to use this time, while we’ve got it, to push ourselves, to learn more and be better, to know what we want and what we need,” he says. “We’ll train people in all the aspects of the business. At the end of this every person will know how to do everything.”