3 Yorkshire restaurant owners on surviving the lockdown and the future of the hospitality industry
- Credit: Archant
As the world starts to open up again, we talk to well-known owners of top some Yorkshire’s dining establishments about the trials and tribulations of lockdown and beyond,
owner of the Michelin star restaurant The Star Inn at Harome
‘One of the biggest challenges of opening up to this new normal, particularly in rustic, rural properties is that the wonky walls and cosy spaces don’t lend themselves to drinkers and diners being inside,’ he says.
Until the announcement was made for restaurants to open up again, Andrew thought it was going to be solely outside dining, so he was pleased to hear establishments could open up inside as well. But, one of the main challenges for the hospitality industry is how much they’re having to cut their usual cover numbers inside to maintain social distancing.
‘As well as our decking, garden and terraces, we’ve made the paddock a ‘drinking field’,’ says Andrew. ‘We’ve called it The Star in the Garden’ and we’ve got an outside bar with hand pumps – so all we need to do is add sunshine. It’s good fun and Yorkshire folk are robust. We’ll put another layer on, stick a hat on and away we go!
‘It’ll be really nice and it’s about adapting. We’re talking about putting a rotisserie and a barbecue outside, it’s all quite exciting.’
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Clearly, it’s about balance and taking each week as it comes through the next few months. ‘We’ve got a brilliant al fresco dining area, and a menu that suits inside and out,’ says Andrew. ‘But we’re not encouraging our tasting menus to start off with as it means too many visits to the table.
‘We’ve lost a few home comforts with everything having to be stripped back, but from what I can work out, people just want to be able to have a drink, in a glass, in a sociable area, even with it being a metre apart.’
‘We’re very much part of the community here in Harome, we’ve been here 24 years, and people have supported us all the way along, so now it’s time to give something back,’ he says. ‘This year will be a write off financially but it’s not always about the bottom line. We want to feed and water our regulars, and then it will be a job well done.’
There have been huge challenges – especially with managing stock. The Star had around £10,000 worth of produce and 17 barrels of beer ahead of the sudden lockdown.
‘I’ve done my best to get through the lager, I must admit! But in all seriousness, there was a lot of wastage so I decided to cook what we had in our fridges for the NHS. We did around 3,500 meals with my seven children and myself, I’ve got quite a good brigade! ‘We want to get back to our high standards that we strive for all the time,’ he says. ‘It’s about the whole package though, and it won’t be perfect by any means, but hopefully guests will understand the new normal.’
owner of The Pipe and Glass in Dalton
‘It has been very tough and challenging, and a rollercoaster of emotions all the way through,’ concludes James Mackenzie. ‘Alongside juggling the home schooling of two children, it’s been the not knowing that has been hard to deal with. We didn’t know whether it would be autumn or Christmas when we might reopen and that has been really hard to plan for. We were hanging on the briefings to see what they were going to say.’ One positive of the situation though has been being able to step off the treadmill and reflect on elements of the business that they want to change. ‘We can change certain things for the better,’ smiles James. ‘We’re planning for a more efficient business moving forward too, as we don’t know what the future holds.’
For James, the fear is of a second lockdown. ‘We’re trying to operate with less stock, less staff on a shift and a reduced menu to cater for this,’ he explains. ‘At the same time, people still want an experience, but it’s going to be different to what it was before. It’s the challenges of doing that while still offering great food, and great Yorkshire hospitality with a smile. Hopefully, people understand the challenges we’re going through.’
James and his team chose to open on Thursday July 9 to allow his staff time to prepare mentally and be confident in the new normal running of the establishment. ‘It’s about taking a cautious approach. It’s gone absolutely mental since we opened up bookings though, which is great! My wife is up until midnight every night sorting through emails and our reservations team working from 8am-7pm,’ explains James. ‘We’re taking bookings for the bar area, and bookings for the outdoor tables only open up on the morning of the day so that we can ensure the weather conditions. We also have to take deposits off everyone because we can’t afford to lose tables. It’s almost like starting a new business, but in the same building with all this experience.’
owner of The Foundry, Leeds
Imagine going from working in a bustling kitchen every day, to sitting at home not knowing when you can get back to normality? Matt Healy recalls the strange start of lockdown.
‘We were a bit stuck as to what to do,’ he says. ‘We did some fundraising and fed 3,600 frontline NHS workers from the restaurant, and raised £11,000. We then tried a takeout menu at The Foundry, but it was more about staying present than making money.’
Fast-forward to the newly opened restaurant and The Foundry has removed half of the tables and is working on a skeleton staff, so it has been a test to see what they can do with the resources available.
‘The reopening was complete mayhem but it went really well with the customers,’ smiles Matt. ‘I’ve learnt a lot of patience through all of this – we don’t have the ability to change everything, and we just have to go with the flow at the moment.’
He’s grateful to have the outdoor terrace to offer to diners, as it has meant Matt can make up for the loss of covers in the restaurant and still work to old cover numbers. But this comes with a whole host of challenges, particularly when you consider the volatile nature of the British weather.
‘We completely booked out our outside tables ahead of the opening, which in hindsight was a bit of a mistake as it started chucking it down from about 2pm. It was challenging to say the least!’
But people have learned to deal with challenging situations throughout the last few months, and Matt feels people are thinking on their feet and embracing the unknown a lot better now. ‘People are better at thinking, ‘what’s the worst that can happen’,’ he laughs.
A large part of the challenge faced by restaurant owners such as Matt is still having to take everything week by week, without being able to plan too far in the future. ‘We are doing what we can now by being as seasonal as we can, changing the menu every day depending on what we can get and are being as fluid as we can be,’ he says. ‘It has been the hardest part of it. At the beginning, we thought it might only be three weeks but then we were hanging on to announcements month after month. It’s about being proactive now, and being reactive to everything. Managing customers, their expectations and trusting them to be sensible is a big part of it too.’
But like everyone else, Matt does feel as though there might be some positives that come from this. He’s passionate about the local Leeds community and pioneering provenance, and in times of struggle, Matt feels people really band together. ‘Everyone has been really sound,’ he says. ‘People are leaning to the indies now and are more understanding that local restaurants aren’t sitting on piles of cash. People are supporting local a bit more.’
And another huge positive for Matt has been in his other brand. ‘The other side of the business I own is the Grön Kafé brand, which we evolved into grocers to do takeout coffees, pastries and bread with veg boxes and a larder-style offering,’ he says. ‘That went from strength-to-strength, so much so that we opened in Harrogate three weeks ago!’