A very PUBLIK pivot
Big Issue|Issue 289
David Cope, founding director of PUBLIK wine merchants, reveals how his local business adapted to the COVID-19 challenge, and continues to do so.
DAVID COPE

PUBLIK is a niche wine business that began in 2013. Our objective is to introduce oenophiles to the exciting world of smaller independent South African producers whose wines don’t make it onto supermarket shelves. What started as a tiny bar in a shared basement space in Cape Town evolved into an online wine store and then distribution operation.

We opened another wine bar in Rosebank, Gauteng last year, to make these wines more readily available in Jo’burg, and were very pleased by the reception. Like so many countries, South Africa has a very diverse relationship when it comes to alcohol. We are mostly a beer-drinking nation that also loves spirits. Wine is popular as an inexpensive drink, but far less so as a premium option in comparison to whisky or cognac, so a small bar that offers wines made by obscure producers in tiny volumes is hardly a mainstream venture.

It’s been said the alcohol business is a good one to be in regardless of economic or socio-political climate: when times are good, people celebrate with a drink (“Let’s party!”); when times are bad, people drink to commiserate (“Let’s drink to better days!”). But this outlook certainly changes during a pandemic, specifically when a government puts a nationwide ban on the legal sale of alcohol (“Let’s drink anything we can find!”).

A few days into the first lockdown, we found bars going into survival mode. With no wine sales allowed and a team of employees to take care of, we quickly repurposed them into alternative offerings. We roped in a chef from one of the many closed restaurants and our Cape Town bar became a fried chicken takeaway.

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