At the start of the year, business was booming for Guillaume and Chloe Duperier, co-founders of Apero. Wine Bar Aoyama in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. In fact, January was one of the busiest months since the bar, which specializes in natural wines from France, opened in 2014. However, bookings thinned in March, slowing to a trickle after Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike exhorted the public to avoid night clubs and drinking establishments late last month. Reading the writing on the wall, the Duperiers announced on March 29 that Apero. would begin offering a wine and food delivery service from March 31 until April 30.
“All of our family is in France, where everything is locked down. It’s a very hard year for the winemakers we work with,” Guillaume says over the phone. “Our guests love our wines, but tonight we have no bookings and tomorrow only two. Instead of doing nothing, we wanted to find a way to do more for our customers.”
Apero.’s wines can be ordered at a delivery discount of 30 percent, along with a selection of cheeses, charcuterie and signature dishes, such as homemade terrine, via phone or email. The bar offers free shipping via Yamato Transport for orders of ¥10,000 or more, but the team delivers most of the purchases to neighboring areas by bike free of charge.
“We’re trying to focus on sustainable involvement, delivering directly to keep the relationship with our customers,” Guillaume says.
Japan’s food and beverage industry has sustained significant losses as more consumers refrain from going out amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent survey of more than 4,000 restaurants conducted by TableCheck Inc. revealed that the average daily number of reservations had fallen by 40 percent on the year, particularly among reservations of large groups.
Sales at wine import and distribution company Jeroboam Co. Ltd. began declining in mid-February, and have continued to gradually decrease.
“We’re down about 40 percent from last year,” says CEO Carl Robinson. “Wine shops are not as badly affected, at around 20 percent, but business at restaurants and hotels (we work with) has dropped by around 50 percent.”
Although restaurants account for 70 percent of Jeroboam’s sales, Robinson says that the company is currently “in good shape to see (the problem) out” but worries that looming issues, such as shipment freezes, could lead to wine shortages in the autumn. The more immediate concern is that restaurants and bars will have difficulties paying their bills.
“If it comes to that, we’ll just have to deal with it as best we can,” Robinson says.
Some bars, such as wine specialist Elevage III in the Akasaka neighborhood, have just decided to close indefinitely. Even before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe officially declared a state of emergency covering seven prefectures — including Tokyo — on April 7, many businesses in the Japanese capital voluntarily shut their doors; more temporary closures are sure to follow, and many small businesses will struggle to survive.
The Duperiers, together with business partner Ryuichi Saito, are currently seeking government assistance and have applied for a low-interest bank loan, but are still awaiting approval.
“If the situation stays the way it is now, we will be OK for a month or so, but if this continues for three or more months, we’re done,” Guillaume says. “If we can get help (from the bank), it will be no problem to rebuild, but if not, it will be very hard for us.”