How Crazy Nonna has powered through lockdowns with great Italian cuisine

Crazy Nonna

From kitchen damage to bushfires to lockdowns, it hasn’t exactly been business as usual for the first two years of Joshua Abou-chedid’s Sydney restaurant Crazy Nonna Pizza Pasta Bar. This article was originally published on Kochie’s Business Builders.

“I’ve never had this many grey hairs in my life,” Joshua tells Kochie’s Business Builders of the pressures of running a hospitality business during lockdown – and in one of Sydney’s COVID-19 hotspots. 

In just over two years of operation, Crazy Nonna has earned a reputation for providing authentic Italian cuisine – specifically Naples-style pizza and a highly recommended lamb ragu – to the suburb of Campsie, in the Canterbury-Bankstown local government area. 

“It hasn’t been easy. Believe me, talking to other restaurant owners, it affects you. It affects you a lot,” he says. 

Watch Josh from Crazy Nonna share his story (and get a look at that pizza!)

Like so many small business owners dealing with the impact of lockdowns, Joshua has had to adapt to changing restrictions – but his commitment to keeping his product “top tier” has never failed. 

“We’ve been able to source out some of the best suppliers and in those suppliers, some of the best products. For example, we get some of the best cheese that goes on top of our pizza,” he says. “We use the best tomatoes that goes on top of our pizza bases. At the same time, using the best flour to make our pasta or make our fresh gnocchi.”

The idea behind Crazy Nonna

After earning a marketing degree and working for a bank for five years, Joshua decided he wanted to follow in his family’s footsteps (his parents and extended family own Grandpa’s Dairy, also in Campsie). 

“My family have always been in hospitality. My dad’s a chef, my brother’s a chef, and my mum currently owns a shop next door,” he says. “We’ve always been kind of that hospitable-type family where everyone came over to our house for dinner, for lunch. We’re always the ones cooking.” 

In 2019, Crazy Nonna was born as “a homage to grandmas or nonnas everywhere”, says Josh. 

“I think no matter where you’re from, your grandma or your nonna will know how to cook the best,” he says. “I think it stays true to the Italian cuisine more than most just because it’s such a rich history. A lot of these dishes come from a very dramatic time in history for Italian culture where there wasn’t much going around so they had to make something from nothing. A lot of these dishes have come from that.” 

Joshua’s other goal was to create a space that had the same feel as shinier city establishments, right in the suburbs. 

“As anyone who has kids or as anyone that lives at least 20 or 25 minutes from the city knows, it’s still very hard to go out and feel like you are going out for a meal,” he says. “So, I’ve decided to create that feel in a suburban area… You have the vibe that you kind of get in those places such as Surry Hills or Newtown, and it’s close to home.” 

A bumpy road to la dolce vita

Crazy Nonna’s journey has been a winding road – one that Joshua says has left a “huge burden on our cash flow”. 

“In my first year, I had two sprinklers go off and wet my entire kitchen damaging a lot of stock and a lot of equipment,” he recalls. “At the same time, we had that massive heatwave and the bushfires which caused a lot of havoc even here where you couldn’t actually sit outside.” 

Then COVID-19 happened. Joshua lost staff who had to return to Italy. The lively eatery he’d built had to pivot into takeaway-only for the first lockdown, and depend on delivery for the second (and current) lockdown. 

This time around, Joshua has focussed on making the online ordering process as smooth as possible for users, and upped his social media advertising. And while he says online orders have given his business “a decent cash flow during the pandemic”, he looks forward to really stepping it up once restrictions lift. 

One of the things that has helped Joshua smooth over these periods of unstable cash flow has been flexible funding from small business lender, Prospa.

“Nothing comes cheap these days and for us to kind of manoeuvre through those situations while getting better at what we did, Prospa was kind of our partner in that,” he says. “And it wasn’t just, ‘Oh, here’s the money, here you go’. We worked with them toggling back and forward making sure rents were on time, making sure the cashflow is there and making sure we’re upgrading our equipment.” 

With the benefit of continuous cashflow, Josh has been able to think about what he can do to make Crazy Nonna’s even better when restrictions lift. 

“We’re looking at building a permanent structure because we know how outdoor dining is going to be really important,” he says. “I think going that next level with a permanent outdoor structure that looks really nice that’s covered, that can be heated, that can be cooled down in summer, and allows us to guarantee those seatings outside is pivotal to moving forward, especially coming out of lockdown.” 

Sometimes you just need some extra dough

During the latest lockdown, Crazy Nonna has been able to benefit from the NSW Government’s  JobSaver payments, as well as the Prospa small business loan. 

“Italian food is simple but effective so in order to get those right tastes and flavours and quality, we needed to stay up there in terms of our purchasing,” Joshua tells us. 

When Joshua was behind on supplier payments during the first lockdown, he was able to get a small business loan from Prospa within 24 hours. 

We were able to help our suppliers with their payments that then inadvertently helped us continue our relationship with those top-quality suppliers to keep us moving forward,” he says. 

“That’s helped build the relationship up until now where we’re able to get access to goods that first hit the country and put that on our menu as soon as possible.” 

Optimism for the future  

Being able to keep the lights on during one of the toughest times for hospitality in recent memory has given Joshua a sense of optimism for post-lockdown life over the months to come. 

“People have been in lockdown for a long time and all they want to do is catch up with friends,” he says. “And I think a new appreciation for these environments, for these restaurants, has come to light – and the effort that goes behind it.” 

“Hospitality is not just, ‘Here’s your food and eat it’. Hospitality is definitely a lifestyle and you’ve got to live it to be successful. I think if you concentrate on who’s coming in your door, who’s coming into your home – it’s called hospitality at home, too, not just in a restaurant. People have got to remember that.” 

It’s a sentiment that will surely resonate with the millions of Australians who can’t wait to dine out with their loved ones once again. 

Watch more on Crazy Nonna’s story

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