‘We need to now push down further on that curve, and so, following agreement between all the formations of the United Kingdom and all of the devolved administrations. We are collectively telling, telling cafes, pubs, restaurants to close tonight, and not to open tomorrow.’
This was the speech made by our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, that sent a shiver down the spine of the hospitality industry.
Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of Wetherspoon reacted to this ‘last orders’ call by publicly commenting ‘There has hardly been any transmission of the virus within pubs. I think it’s over the top and that is a commercial view but it is also a common sense view.’
More locally, The Glass Strawberry, which opened in 2018 after a remodel but has been a premises occupied by the same owner since 1983 also had to close their doors.
Owner Beverly took a deep breath; ‘We were preparing to close on March 20th, whilst watching the Prime Minister speak on the television and he told us that was it. We were shut down that minute, and not to reopen. We didn’t know what was going to happen to the business, the staff, or ourselves. We had hundreds of bookings for Mother’s Day.’
Two weeks later Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: ‘We recognise the extreme disruption the necessary actions we are asking people to take are having on their lives, businesses, jobs and the nation’s economy. Times are tough …but I know that together, we will pull through’, a call for resilience and pliability, it would seem.
Cooplands’ reaction was to create one-stops for local communities. They adapted by stocking their shelves and counters with items that they wouldn’t normally sell. They introduced milk, cheese, eggs, ham and bacon to their range and were working to add fresh fruit, vegetables and other fresh meats.
Nando’s supplied meals for NHS workers. Almost 2,000 pubs, breweries and cider makers nationwide offered a takeaway or delivery service.
The Rustic Pizza Company based in Doncaster pushed their DIY Pizza Kit, consisting of fresh dough balls, mozzarella, dusting flour, tomato sauce and fresh basil.
The Glass Strawberry, unable to open, telephoned all bookings and asked if they would like to take afternoon tea at home. A lot of the bookings were saved. ‘And out of that The Glass Strawberry Takeaway Afternoon service was born.’
Beverly explains further, the takeaway service was ‘Initially to fulfil our commitment to our customers and then to help pay the wages of the few staff that were not able to be furloughed. It increased in popularity so much so that by Easter the few staff overseeing the process could hardly keep up. We had family members volunteering to help and by VE Day we were taking our first staff out of furlough’
Weeks later, ‘No, this is not the time to simply end the lockdown’ echoes in UK homes. ‘We are taking the next steps to modify our measures. At the earliest by July and subject to all these conditions and further scientific advice; if and only if the numbers support it we hope to re-open at least some of the hospitality industry, provided they are safe and enforce social distancing’, the PM concluded.
What does this mean for The Glass Strawberry, a business which ‘after spending a colossal amount of money’, was just about to start showing a profit when Covid-19 hit? ‘We are preparing the premises to open. We will initially be open as strictly takeaway until the government allows us to open fully. We will have a sanitising station in the doorway, marked queuing areas at two metre intervals. An IN and OUT one way system will be in place. No toilet facilities. The counter and kitchen area will be behind protective screens and we will have to limit the number of staff allowed to work,’ Beverley explains.
The business woman, who puts the coffee houses’ success in the past year down to catering for nearly every kind of food demographic, whether they are vegan, vegetarians, meat eaters, coeliac or on a health kick in a way that doesn’t just tolerate them, added that: ‘Once the government allows us to open fully we expect we will have to take some seating out so as to ensure social distancing.’
The foodie, who by her own admission lives and breathes food and drink, with a passion for following restaurants and eating establishments around the world to see what is trending, said of her businesses resilience and pliability; ‘We opened in a mining town in the middle of the miners’ strike and survived. We hit rock bottom when the financial crisis hit the high street in 2008/2009 and survived, and we will survive this too.’
The café, whose house favourites include pancakes, eggs royale, Buddha bowls and their renowned milkshakes has a mantra. A huge tree painted on the wall that winds up the staircase, with the premises history intertwined amongst its branches, has an inscribed message; ‘When the roots are deep there is no reason to fear the wind’. Beverley feels ‘Nothing is truer than the message on that wall’.