Author: Louis McDonald
Oswaldo Estrella knows how to adapt.
The effusive, friendly 44-year-old runs Sazón Espresso in Mount Barker’s leafy main street.
Joined by his cousin, José, the duo have owned the cosy cafe for over 10 years, serving up hot Mexican fare and to-die-for coffee to appreciative regulars and curious passersby.
While the current COVID-19 crisis has forced the duo to rethink the way they do business, Estrella is no stranger to unforeseen challenges and tackles them with ingenuity.
The Estrella cousins came to Australia from Mexico City in 2000. With a rich background in food and coffee, they initially worked in hospitality in Adelaide’s CBD, and after nine years, the pair set about establishing a business based around their shared passion: cooking.
“I’ve always loved cooking. José and I worked in kitchens back in our hometown. We often cooked together as a family. We’d make tamales, sopes, quesadillas, and everyone’s favourite, churros,” says Oswaldo Estrella.
“When I moved up here to the hills, I noticed Mount Barker didn’t have any other Mexican restaurants, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity.”
In 2009, Sazón Espresso – known simply as Sazón by locals – was opened and quickly earned a reputation as the go-to spot for exceptional coffee and Mexican-inspired food.
“It was tough to start with, but we quickly built up a regular clientele and I love what I do here. We are on a first name basis with lots of our regular customers and it’s just a pleasure to come to work.”
It’s clear that Oswaldo Estrella’s positive attitude is helping propel Sazón through the current COVID-19 crisis, and he and his team have been able to get creative and adapt. They’ve done this by introducing their takeaway “dinner boxes”.
“From one day to the next, with no prior warning, we had to quickly change our way of operating the business from a dine-in to takeaway-only arrangement,” explains Estrella.
But compromising the dine-in experience didn’t mean compromising the food and drink.
Sazón is a Spanish word that describes a cook’s inherent ability to elevate a dish from ordinary to sublime.
Estrella and his team have implemented a number of inspired ideas to uphold the heart of their business.
“Our café manager came up with the dinner box idea,” he commends. “The customer can put the ingredients together themselves at a time that is convenient for them which reduces the cost of the product and allows more flexibility.”
“We have three options on offer currently: Nachos, Quesadillas and Fajitas. We also offer free delivery of dinner boxes to customers within a 3km radius of the café.”
It’s simple but inventive, transforming menu items into interactive, take-home packages. And it’s generated a positive response from customers on Sazón’s gorgeously decorated social media platforms.
“Facebook and Instagram have played an essential role for communicating with our customer base,” Estrella says. “The nachos have been the most popular by far,” he adds proudly.
It’s difficult for many businesses at the moment, but Estrella’s upbeat attitude is paying dividends as he describes other means of generating business.
“The Grab-n-Go options have been particularly successful and have helped keep the business afloat during these unprecedented times.It’s a useful way to reduce waiting times for customers.”
“We’re very busy in the early hours of the morning thanks to regulars grabbing their routine coffees,” he says appreciatively.
“We encourage customers to pre-order by phone or text to reduce waiting times and the number of people on site which helps us follow social distancing guidelines.”
Certainly, social distancing and self-isolation make this a strange time for all of us. Thankfully, Estrella’s resilience and positivity come in spades, epitomised by his lively staff and cheery customers.
“These establishments help maintain a sense of normality in society which, right now, I believe is important for people’s mental health,” he illustrates.
“Continued trading provides a livelihood for many family-owned small businesses. It also employs a significant number of casual staff.”
“I’m just really grateful to keep working and see our customers smile.”
And smile you will upon discovering Sazón’s authentic, heartfelt food and coffee.
Find Sazón at 1/24 Gawler St, Mount Barker.
This article was written by a student from UniSA Creative’s ‘Content Creation for Media’ course. Glam Adelaide is pleased to support emerging writers.