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Project Hotplate: connecting eateries with customers during COVID-19

By Hannah Nicholls and Rachael Puddephatt

When the whole of Australia locked down in 2020 to stem the spread of COVID-19, we had no idea what impact we would see over the following months.

We are Rooftop Media, based in Albury NSW, and we specialise in creating digital content for local businesses.

As soon as COVID-19 hit, the demand for our work dropped almost immediately, and it has been up and down ever since. From the beginning, our team sat down to brainstorm ideas. We focused on how we could diversify our offering to get through the difficult road ahead. These conversations are ongoing, with the continued ups and downs of COVID-19. We talked about friends and clients in industries like fitness and hospitality. We knew they had fewer options than we did to maintain business.

Earlier in the year, we had started helping clients use their expertise to create online courses. So, in what seemed like the perfect match between supporting our struggling hospitality community and keeping us busy, Project Hotplate was born.

Putting a new business idea into practice

The idea itself seemed both basic and brilliant. We would offer video cooking classes of well-known local chefs’ best-loved dishes. Of course, we knew that money would be tight and video wouldn’t make it into the budgets of many businesses battling the impact of the restrictions. Our solution was to offer a profit share agreement with any interested restaurant or café. We would produce the video for free and go halves in the profit to recoup costs. This would give our partnering businesses an additional income stream.

So, we had a free product to offer hospitality businesses, allowing them to interact with their regular customers, and giving those customers a tangible way to support their favourite eateries.

With our minds and enthusiasm in overdrive, we set about finding businesses to partner with us.

We quickly secured several local cafés and restaurants to work with on the project. We connected with Albury-based FABRIC Restaurant and Bar, Get Tossed Salad Bar, and Café Musette, and the Rutherglen-based Jones Winery & Vineyard.

After sorting out the logistics of filming in a world of constant sanitisation and social distancing, we got to work. Of course, nobody was complaining about scoring the best seat in the house as our local food superstars whipped up dishes like Garlic Roasted Pork Belly, classic Nonna’s Chicken Soup, Bacon Carbonara, and Duck Leg with Pistachio Ballotine. Yummo!

Shooting with innovative and enthusiastic chefs and business owners lifted our spirits. We were thrown a curveball no one saw coming. But we were filled with fight and confidence that our region’s rich food culture would continue to thrive into the future.

The combination of skills we have in our team was a perfect fit for Project Hotplate. While Hannah and Damian teamed up to shoot and edit the videos, our digital specialist Tyson got to work building the online platform. By creating a standalone website, we gave the project a life of its own outside Rooftop Media and our partnered businesses.

By April we had a small collection of recipes, a tried and tested website and were ready to launch! We were filled with excitement and anticipation. We hoped the project would be well received and seen for what we intended it to be – a genuine way to connect and help our community.

When the launch saw us splashed across our local media, it was like validation that – yep, we were on the right track. It was even more heartening to see our partners’ enthusiasm both in the media and on their own social media channels.

A permanent new venture

It’s now been a few months since our launch and we’re looking to make this a permanent fixture for Albury-Wodonga and the North East region of Victoria. It’s a way for former locals to reconnect, for tourists to take away a part of our beautiful food-loving region, and for locals to get inspired by the chefs they know and love.

Our cooking classes are available at Our chefs guide you through step-by-step, and each video comes with a recipe card to keep you on track. For teasers – including the trademark crackle of cutting into a steaming hot pork belly – look up Project Hotplate on Facebook and Instagram.

This blog piece was contributed by our partners from the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, as part of their work with Everymind and on their Wellbeing in Rural Small Business project.

About Hannah Nicholls and Rachael Puddephatt

Hannah Nicholls is founder and owner of Albury NSW-based Rooftop Media, which has specialised in creating digital content for local businesses over the last 10 years. Along with the Rooftop Media team, Rachael Puddephatt as creative writer, and Tyson Lloyd as digital specialist, Hannah is experienced in producing digital content creation for web, email, TV, and social media. Hannah and her team are passionate about supporting local businesses to successfully present themselves online.

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