MARK Brennan was just days away from opening his first ever restaurant venture in Bendigo, when Victoria shut down its eateries in the fight against COVID-19.
The View Street restaurant Alium Dining opened three months later, only to shut again within weeks.
On Tuesday Bendigo eateries mark a year since restrictions first slammed their doors shut, limiting their offerings to takeaway.
Mr Brennan's experience of shutdowns and uncertainty were felt throughout the city's hospitality industry.
Bendigo Tourism chair Finn Vedelsby said eateries had faced a crisis like nothing they had ever experienced before.
Mr Vedelsby, also managing director of The Dispensary restaurant, said early on eateries had no idea how much restrictions would affect their lives.
He had plans to reopen within a month at first, but as time went by it became clearer the situation was far larger than he had expected.
For Mr Brennan, the situation was "a nightmare". In the week leading up to the restaurant's planned opening party on March 22, the situation seemed to change completely every 24 hours.
At noon on March 23, restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels were closed, limited to offering only takeaway or home delivery.
Mr Brennan had spent thousands of dollars preparing to open the restaurant.
It meant ongoing stress for staff, as their shifts disappeared. Mr Brennan said he couldn't even offer them JobKeeper support, as the newly opened business was ineligible.
He was hearing people to say shutdowns would last three weeks, three months, or even until October.
"No one really knew what was going to happen," Mr Brennan said.
"It was just a really bizarre, surreal experience, no one's ever said, 'You're not allowed to open a business' before."
When the restaurant did open in June, it was a bit of an anticlimax, Mr Brennan said. Numbers were limited to just 10 people. Weeks later, it was shut down again.
Mr Brennan said the business was still recovering, both from its shaky start and Victoria's five-day snap lockdown in February.
He said the restaurant was struggling to get people onto seats, despite positive feedback and good reviews. But he hoped the newly opened Mary Quant exhibition would make a difference.
Across the industry, Mr Vedelsby said the stress of 2020 was still being felt. He said many professionals were suffering mental illness, or had moved on into new fields.
Mr Vedelsby said the community and tourism and hospitality proprietors had banded together to support each other like never before, but many were rebuilding from the ground up.
"So many people have lost decades of hard work and savings, and that's the hard truth of it," he said.
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