Rob Turnbull Talks Coronavirus Impact on Guangzhou's F&B Industry

By Matthew Bossons, February 8, 2020

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This article is a part of our Appetite for Destruction feature, a series of interviews conducted by That’s staff to examine the impact of the novel coronavirus on China’s food and beverage industry. For more articles from this series, click here.

Rob Turnbull – Guangzhou

Proprietor at Bandidos Mexican Cantina

Rob Turnbull has spent the past 15 years living in Guangzhou, where he has become a well-known figure in the city’s F&B scene. From his prominent role in The Brew Bar & Bistro, a former chain of sports bars in Canton, to his new project Bandidos, Turnbull has been providing Guangzhouers with boozy nights and filling meals since 2008. Below, Turnbull shares his thoughts on the impact the novel coronavirus is having on the Guangzhou F&B scene:

How has the novel coronavirus epidemic impacted your business?
Not surprisingly, sales have dropped quite a bit. Customers have either left, extended their holiday, or prefer to stay home. We have shortened business hours and limited staff scheduled [to work]; more of a skeleton crew. 

How has the outbreak impacted the F&B industry in Guangzhou?
There is a lot of uncertainty. Some restaurants expected business to drop during CNY, so they were prepared. Others, however, expected to do big business at CNY and this has really hurt their bottom line. 

Have you experienced similar challenges previously, while working in the F&B business in Guangzhou?
For my business, specifically, we always expect slower sales in January and or February. I know when SARS hit Guangzhou, just before I arrived, there were casualties like the short-lived Hard Rock Guangzhou.

How long do you think it will take for your business to recover from the current situation?
That’s a tough question, because it depends on how long it will take for things to return to normal. I’d expect that if things don’t start turning around in March, then there will be a lot of places that close. We’ve asked our landlords for rent relief, but they have loans and mortgages to pay too. So, it’s going to be a challenging couple of months. 

Do you think the outbreak, containment measures and prolonged holiday will result in lasting damage to the F&B scene in Guangzhou?
Yes. If we haven’t already reached that point, then soon it will be too late for some businesses and they will have to close.

What could be the possible positive outcomes of this disease outbreak for Guangzhou’s F&B scene going forward?
You have to hope there will be positive outcomes, but it’s difficult to say. If there are positive outcomes, they will likely be on a personal level: Going through this challenge with your suppliers, your staff, your customers; new levels of trust and respect for each other. 

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

For regular updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, click here. For more articles in our Appetite for Destruction series, click here.

[Cover image via Rob Turnbull]

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