How Milky Lane survived a COVID scare and avoided any transmission

Milky Lane burger restaurant in Parramatta. The store interior looks different now due to COVID-19, with tables spaced further apart and shared items (such as cutlery and menus) removed.

On July 15, Elvis Sabapathy received a call no business owners wants to receive: someone with COVID-19 had dined in his restaurant.

The popular Milky Lane burger joint had already been impacted by the pandemic. Maximum capacity had reduced from 200 to 90, and lunchtime trade dwindled with the lack of office workers in the Parramatta CBD.

Now it was time to see if their COVID Safe plan had worked.

“Our plan was always to follow all the government advice and do a little bit more,” Elvis said.

“The two big things we focused on were contact between people and contact with surfaces. That meant changing how we dealt with suppliers and customers, moving tables further apart, removing any shared items from tables, sanitising tables and chairs between bookings, that sort of thing.

“There were lots of little changes. For example, if a group arrives early we give them a call-back service, just to minimise people passing each other by the entrance.”

The restaurant also required all customers to check in online, which greatly helped the Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Public Health Unit in contacting any close or casual contacts.

Elvis said he was grateful for the support of the Public Health Unit, who commended the restaurant on their safety precautions and advised they could stay open.

Regardless, he took the extra step of closing for two days of cleaning while all his staff got tested.

The result: after three weeks, NSW Health officially declared there was no transmission linked to Milky Lane.

Unfortunately, the stigma of being linked with a case meant the store had very few customers for six weeks after the incident.

“We were down about 80-90 per cent on our normal trade and just relying on deliveries,” Elvis said. “I actually saw people cross the road to avoid passing the restaurant!”

“But we also have people who still don’t understand why we ask for contact details, or why we can’t take big group bookings. There’s still a lot of misunderstanding out there.

“Overall we are in a good place when you compare NSW to other places. We can’t complain, we just have to live with it and do everything we can to avoid it.”

WSLHD’s Public Health Unit thanked Elvis and the staff from Milky Lane for their recent efforts.

“Elvis has been remarkably philosophical about the impact on his business,” said Dr Conrad Moreira, who led the contact tracing effort with Milky Lane.

“We wish Elvis the very best in getting his business up to capacity again, and thank him for doing his bit to help keep our community COVID safe.”

WSLHD has created a support page to help businesses remain COVID Safe: www.wslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/covid-19-wellbeing/businesses/businesses

The page covers key things businesses (and their patrons) need to be aware of, including the reason for checking-in, plus extra information for businesses about what to do if customers won’t comply with regulations, support available, and free tools and tips.

For the latest COVID-19 news and advice, see the NSW Health website.