Lockdown was catastrophic for small businesses, but the team at Von Matt Hospitality Group didn’t skip a beat. With four restaurants to fight for, they found strength from within and supported the entire small business community with their #savezurich initiative.
There were trailblazing leaders during the Corona-crisis and we caught up with Kirtanya von Matt, Founder & Owner of Von Matt Hospitality Group to find out more about how she has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep her business and her team afloat during these uncertain times. She is one of the true #CommunityCultivatorsZuri because as the nucleus to her business, she is dedicated to nurturing and growing everyone around her and we are thrilled to share her story…
Name. Kirtanya von Matt
Heart. Von Matt Hospitality Group…better known as The Bite, Brisket, Yardbird and LA Brea
Backbone. We have the most incredible team working at the restaurants. There are nearly 65 employees in our company, and I’m blown away by the level of passion they bring. When I walk into the restaurants, it makes me proud to know that they represent us.
My family means the world to me. I run a family-owned business together with my husband, Thomas, and his brother, Stephan. We’ve got a great working relationship, but we’ve also figured out how to balance the personal side of it. That’s what keeps our team so strong. It’s nice to know that we always have each others’ back. My parents and brother live in my hometown of Vancouver, and we speak on the phone almost everyday. I also have incredible in-laws, so being part of a tight family keeps me grounded.
Inspiration. Tell us about your restaurant group. How did you jump from idea to building your dream?
My first job was when I was 15 years old at a McDonald’s while I was in high school back home in Vancouver. That was the start of my gastronomy career. After graduating, I worked at different bars and restaurants to save up for college. When I was 22 years old, I moved to Berlin to go to Business School, and while studying, I continued working at restaurants part-time. My husband and his brother went to the Hotel Swiss Management School in Lucerne (SHL), so they also come from the industry. After graduating, we decided to open our own restaurant. When we started building our group seven years ago, we saw an opportunity in Zurich’s market for high quality comfort food, which is a style of dining that we personally know and love. In 2013, we opened The Bite. Before we opened, we spent some time in Berlin and in the U.S. learning as much as we can about burgers and great quality ingredients. Actually, before we open each of our restaurants, we always plan a research trip to gain as much knowledge as possible about the cuisine, the products and trends.
What is the story behind each restaurant name?
When it comes to naming our restaurants, we like simple ideas. For example, “The Bite” just sounded like the perfect match to a great burger. “Brisket” is named after a cut of beef from the chest and has become our signature dish. “Yardbird” is a slang term in the Southern States, which refers to a chicken running around in your yard. Our newest restaurant, “LA Brea”, is named after a street in L.A. with rich cultural diversity. It inspired us to create tacos inspired by international tastes, such as Korean, Indian, or Lebanese, but balanced with traditional Mexican flavours and techniques. It’s probably the restaurant I eat at the most at the moment!
Evolution. How has your business changed from the day you opened, through to before the Corona crisis and how it evolved as of recent?
Our restaurants are in the casual dining segment and our menus are served within a lively atmosphere. We like that our restaurants are vibrant, energetic and can sometimes get a bit crazy. I think it reflects our personalities pretty well. We’ve worked hard over the past years to create a stable and growing company and to ensure that each of our restaurants have an individual voice. Something you often see when restaurant groups expand their business is that that quality of food and service sometimes gets compromised. This is something that we continually work at, we want to ensure this never happens. Our approach is very hands on, so we’re always back and forth between the restaurants making sure that we’re always on our A-game.
Before the crisis hit, we were having an incredible start to the year. The restaurants were doing really well, our teams were solid and we were excited about the upcoming months of having a strong Spring season. The impact of COVID-19 is something that most of us couldn’t have prepared for. Gastronomy is an especially sensitive industry – rents and fixed costs have increased over the years, but menu prices stay the same. Price sensitivity of customers is high, and the margins in our sector are relatively low. This makes it difficult to plan for liquidity longer than 3 months at a time. So when the lockdown happened and we had to close the doors to our restaurants, it definitely became concern about what the future would look like, since our costs remained the same. Up until now, we still haven’t received any rent concessions from our landlords, yet our revenue went down to nearly zero.
We have network of friends in Zurich who are small business owners and a lot them started reaching out to us after the crisis hit. They shared their stories with us about how they are managing and it’s been a struggle for everyone. There’s so much uncertainty at this time and everyone is doing their best to make it through the next few months with as little damage as possible. We are hopeful that the Bundesrat will make a ruling regarding rent relief, this is something that will be decided next month.
The Corona Community. You’ve been a trailblazer in adapting quickly. How did you do it?
Things have changed drastically since we were forced to close our doors to the public, but we adapted immediately opening the delivery channel. Almost immediately after the lockdown, we partnered with Uber Eats to serve our food and we also provide Takeaway. However, these two channels still only cover about 20-30% of the costs to run each restaurant. We were thankful that the Bundesrat decided to allow restaurants to reopen as of 11. May, but the pace of business is different now. We’ve had to drastically scale back our headcounts due to the health and safety requirements. Now we’ve lost about half of the seats in our restaurants, as we need to ensure a 2-meter distance between tables with a maximum of 4 people per party. There’s also very strict hygiene regulations that we have adopted to ensure the minimum contact between our staff, our food & drinks and also our guests.
The Future. How do you foresee things changing in the short and long term for your restaurants?
In the short-term we’ve reacted quickly and are finding our stride with the new social distancing measures during operation. It’s taking some getting used to, but we’re hoping that that the restrictions will start to be lifted soon. We just want to do the thing we love and get back to business as usual. It’s going to take many months, if not years, for the economy to recover from the financial impact of COVID-19. We just hope that as measures are lifted, the community in Zurich will remain as strong and intact as we currently are. It would be devastating to lose the very thing that makes us unique – the diversity of small businesses.
Network. Small businesses you support that we can highlight here?
There’s some incredible small businesses here in Zurich. We’re lucky to have so many great options at our fingertips. When it comes to my morning coffee, I drop in nearly everyday to COFFEE – they serve up a fantastic flat white. You can also find me most days taking in a workout at Velocity, where they offer Spin classes and a full-body workout called “Power”, a derivative of Pilates. Sunday brunch is something I did a lot of before the lockdown and one of my favourites spots is Restaurant KLE in Wiedikon, where they make amazing homemade cinnamon buns. I try to shop local as much as possible, and there’s some great fashion boutiques, like Streetfiles and Making Things, both with fantastic women’s clothing options. The market at Helvetiaplatz is also great if you’re looking for fresh vegetables and flowers.
Thank you Kirtanya for sharing your heart’s passion with us! Best wishes for the future of your restaurants and we encourage you to check out their spaces below:
Gather your team, kick off your shoes and grab a beer to celebrate Olé, olé, olé au Lac. Available for groups of 15+ through 11 July.read more
60 varieties of habaneros, rocotos, ajis, chiles, peppers & wild varieties…Plus tomatoes, veggies & herbs. Now through 17 July.read more