Love Your Local: Ex-Construction Worker Skills Come in Handy at Newtown’s Mason
Mason owner Matt Hawkes says his “restaurant disguised as a bar” has a unique formula that has helped his business thrive during uncertain times over the past two years.
“I opened in a suburb and picked a building that was leaking, had holes, and nothing was plumb,” Hawkes said.
Hawkes put his brawn and skills as a former construction worker into converting the site of Newtown’s Death Ray Records store to his vision, which he described as “the juxtaposition of rock music, classic cocktails, taxidermy and of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean inspired cuisine.
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“If you own the business, nobody else will do it unless I do it. If I can fix the sink, I feel pretty good about myself,” Hawkes said.
Mason was complemented by sister bar Next Door, another compact bar run by a single member of staff who siphons off his snacks from the Mason kitchen.
Hawkes said Next Door was another piece of the small but flexible setup that allowed it to ride with the punches of the Covid-19 red light protection frame without compromising the customer experience.
Speaking on the phone as he self-isolated from home, Hawkes was upbeat and confident despite having his business shut down for a week.
“We can pretty much make everything work by just getting rid of a few stools. We can fit enough of that into the room to make money without sacrificing our atmosphere,” Hawkes said.
At the heart of Hawkes’ business ethic was the belief that hard work and good food would win out in the end, but Mason was not immune to the challenges of the times. Instances like the shutdown, difficulties finding qualified personnel and the effect of the pandemic on its suppliers had reduced Hawkes’ margin for error.
“It’s more difficult, everything is more difficult. Normally I order fish on Sunday and it’s on the menu on Tuesday evening. Last week I had my fish on Thursday then the other foods sold out early. It ruins everything,” he said.
The small size that made Mason adaptable might also make him more vulnerable.
“Big companies may be able to operate with an A or B team, but if more than one of us goes down at a time, we can’t negotiate. I have to wait and see, which goes against everything I stand for,” Hawkes said.
Hawkes looked forward to a time when his ability to show his customers a good night out would no longer be influenced by “forces beyond our control.”
“Each step of that, around a level change, an announcement, or an outbreak, the number of diners hasn’t changed, but maybe the attitude about being out and let go a bit has changed. It’s more reserved,” Hawkes said.
Hawkes was focused on his business with an intense, no-frills vibe. He said he was proud of Mason’s two-year growth that has been crippling for other companies.
“We work so hard at what we do, we hammer [it] in our staff. It’s good, it’s seasonal, and we care and that’s why people come back. It’s almost like natural selection, if you can only go out in a few places, you only go out in your favorite places,” Hawkes said.