The impact of the coronavirus on the Lancashire hospitality sector
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 June 2020
We’ve all had to learn how to live and work at a distance. This is no easy task for restaurateurs and chefs. Here, some of the county’s best reveal how they have responded.
During the lockdown, Simon Wood, the Chef patron of Wood Restaurant Group, has been posting recipes and videos on social media and has launched ‘Wood at Home’, delivering dinner packs so people can make their favourite Wood dishes at home
‘I felt as a restaurant in Manchester – and at our sites in Chester and Cheltenham – we were evolving and getting better so it was hard when we had to close and we can’t wait to pick up again as soon as we can open.
‘Chefs are used to having to adapt on the fly and this is no different. I’ve written a lot of recipes and created video content on my Instagram @simonjwooduk. It is mainly simple things to help people get their foodie fix. I have skills that can help people to recreate some familiar dishes or even try and develop more strings to their culinary bow by learning new recipes.
I love to provide inspiration and pictures people send me of their finished dishes make my day.
‘When we re-open, we will have to work in ways we wouldn’t normally, using seasonality and cheaper cuts to create clever, amazing menus which will help businesses to rebuild. Being closed is difficult because I miss my team, my kitchen and my customers but I know this is critical and to get better this is what we must do.’
‘What am I looking forward to after lockdown? Ultimately, I can’t wait to re-open, I just want to be back in my kitchen with my brigade – cooking, bonding, dropping thyme into foaming butter and listening to it crackle with the ticket machine that doesn’t stop and we are just about keeping up with it! That’s what I miss the most, my team are part of my family.’
Charles Brierley, managing director of Lancashire Life Dining Pub of Year, The White Hart at Lydgate, and Dinnerstone at Uppermill, has galvanised the two businesses to help the community and key workers
‘We initially closed both businesses 24 hours before the government directive. We have since furloughed our entire team apart from the two directors but there will be no redundancies, and the employees at both businesses unanimously waived their March tips and donated more than £3,000 to two homeless charities – they are amazing.
‘Over the last few weeks, we have been busy putting things in place to benefit the wider community. We are providing free guest bedrooms at The White Hart for NHS keyworkers, paramedics or police who wish to isolate from their families while they are caring for or transporting coronavirus patients.
‘We donated our entire beer and lager cellar stock from both businesses to Love Lydgate, our village community group and we arranged a fundraiser on Good Friday. Within two hours all the stock had been given away, with donations received in exchange and we raised £4,947. With donations from Lydgate Brass Band Contest and Love Lydgate, we raised £7,447 in total over six days.
The money is being used to fund a self-service canteen to provide free evening meals and breakfasts for the key workers staying at The White Hart and to make between
3,000 and 5,000 free chef-prepared nutritious meals for distribution to the vulnerable in Oldham working with Age UK and Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council.’
As chef patron of his acclaimed Chinese restaurants, in Copster Green and in Cheshire, Victor Yu is sharing recipes and hosting cookalongs during the lockdown
‘I love this trade and I grew up in my family business which began when my father started a takeaway in the late 70s. We ended up in Hong Kong in the early 80s before coming back to England in 1984 and putting down roots in Horwich, near Bolton. I learned a lot from my father, the founder of the original Yu & You in Horwich. He taught me about traditional Chinese cooking. When you grow up with it you absorb knowledge, too.
‘Horwich Yu & You did very well and, as a restaurant in a side street, we had an exceptional clientele of famous and respected figures. In 2004, we opened in Copster Green. I have always had confidence as a cook, but when we were given an award by Gordon Ramsay for Best Chinese Restaurant in the UK, it gave me more. When Gordon tells says you are the best, it elevates your mindset.
‘There have been sacrifices, it is the nature of the beast. Because of the scale of the crisis globally, I did anticipate restaurants here in the UK would close. I have been sharing some of our recipes on social media which have proved extremely popular. I have been thinking of future plans, too.
‘We will still have a traditional menu at Copster Green when we re-open but I also want to open a cookery school by the end of the year. We will continue our Yu Express service, but I want that to grow to more than just a takeaway. We’ll offer meal kits with ingredients for people to cook their own restaurant quality food at home.
‘I have been preparing food for NHS staff and members of the fire service locally too. Every week I have a Zoom call with the management team too, even if it is not about work it is nice to have a general catch up.’
Craig Wilkinson, Chef patron of the family-run Bay Horse Inn at Ellel near Lancaster, has, with wife Nicola, been providing take away meals to the local community
‘I joined my parents at the Bay Horse 27 years ago, fresh from college and intending to help them out for a year or so. I never left. ‘I knew the situation would be serious when Covid-19 hit but the speed everything changed took us all by surprise. There has been a lot of worry and anxiety while we are closed but we have tried to help with our ‘kerbside takeaway’. It has been a challenge, but we are finding our feet. It gives us the chance to trial new dishes, too.
‘Now we’re open limited hours, we’ve been able to enjoy time as a family with our two-year-old, Hugh. Regular meals together are lovely, especially in the sunshine, which my usual working hours often prevent. We’ve also been able to get stuck into maintenance jobs which have been on the to do list for ages, so it’s not all bad.
‘Inevitably there will be big changes and a long period of adjustment. Potentially it offers the opportunity for exciting innovations and business evolution though, as a clean slate can take businesses in new directions. We will begin with a small, locally sourced and seasonal menu.
‘In the long term I think it will focus everyone on the sustainability of their business’s supply chains, environmental impact and resource use. I hope it continues to bring communities together with local supply chains strengthening. In a sense we are embracing this opportunity and hope it will provide a fresh model when we re-open.
‘What am I looking forward to after the lockdown? I miss cooking fresh fish and plating it and I can’t wait until I’m back at it. We look forward to developing our vision for the business when we re-open. We’re also looking forward to a day out in the Lakes. A trip to Haverthwaite Railway, a walk with the dog and a play at Fell Foot, lunch somewhere and then a glass of wine at The Swan at Newby Bridge. We’ve also been dreaming of a night of music, probably Bridgewater Hall and Strauss.
Chefs whose restaurants are completely closed are planning for brighter days ahead
Steven Smith, chef patron, The Freemasons at Wiswell
‘I don’t think any of us realised how serious the Covid-19 crisis would become but it was devastating when we realised we had to close. Although it may take us all some time to recover, I think there will be much more appreciation of what the hospitality industry does; the service we provide and all we offer.
A lot goes into creating a wonderful experience for people when they dine out and I think places will be busy when they re-open, if they can survive this period of lockdown.
‘I’ve never had this amount of time away from the pub, so it feels alien to be closed. I’m spending time with my daughter, who’s only eight months old, I’m out walking the dog and trying to make plans for when we can re-open, to make sure we hit the ground running.
‘We all need to work hard to get ourselves back on track, this is the time we all need to be shouting about each other collectively. We have a fantastic team in the kitchen, I miss spending time with them, developing recipes and coming up with new dishes. It’s a great feeling to walk round a busy, thriving pub and see lots of happy customers. I’m looking forward to opening the doors, welcoming people back in and seeing life return to normal.’
Tom Parker, head chef, The White Swan at Fence
‘The most important thing for chefs to keep in mind is to stay positive - keep reading books, going for walks and eating good food. I can’t wait to get back to work and to create some lovely dishes for our guests once again. This is the most time off work I have had in the past 15 years. I don’t know what to do with myself, going from working 16 hours a day to doing nothing. I am cooking at home and making some nice meals - eating properly is something chefs are usually terrible at, so it is nice to have three proper meals a day rather than picking at something while you work.
‘Our menus are seasonal, so it is hard to say what will be on the menu when we reopen but we have a lot of time to look at things while we are closed. We will come back with great ideas and be motivated to do some outstanding food.’