'I'm frozen, I don't know how to progress. I've never been in this situation.'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

When it dawned on chef Adam Handling that he was going to have to close his restaurants, but that staff across the group would have to be let go, he broke down in tears.

"That was the time when I hid in the little cave in Eve Bar and I cried my eyes out for - fuck me, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't do anything." 

Thankfully, once the furlough scheme came into effect, the staff from The Frog restaurants, Eve Bar, Ugly Butterfly, and Adam Handling Chelsea were retroactively put back onto the payroll - but the experience was traumatic, to say the least, and just the beginning of many sleepless nights for the chef. 

"Do you know how many times I've been in tears in this coronavirus?" 

With all of his plans put on hold, he said: "I'm frozen. I don't know how to progress. I've never been in this situation." 

Asked whether he thought the outbreak would have longlasting effects on people's mental health, he said: "100%. I try and be very strong minded but sometimes I break down. I do it in private, I'm not one to show my emotions publically at all.

"Some people can handle things a little bit different." 

Has the hospitality industry been left to fend for itself?

Concerns over the future of his highly successful restaurant group are piling up - not just affecting him, but his team, his investors, his board of directors, and even his family, who've put their own assets down as guarantees for the chef's loans.

He expects the number of casualties in the industry will be huge and points the finger at the government for making promises it couldn't keep.

Deploring that the vast majority of grants, business continuity claims and loans are being denied to restaurants up and down the country despite leaders' assurances that they would pressure banks and insurance companies and spend billions on rescuing the industry.

"The government needs to stop bullshitting everyone. If you can't support them, be honest. Don't get everyone's hopes up and then take it away, because it's only going to make you crumble harder." 

"Everything that you pay stupid amounts for, nobody's protecting you, no-one, you're left on your own." 

Will the industry recover? 

The chef believes that if the government ramps up its efforts to ensure  rent holidays for restaurants (as he, like many others, is still paying rent on many of his venues, as some landlords have maintained that these should be paid as normal) as well as continue the furlough scheme, allowing for flexibility when it is time to reopen, the industry will come back strong. 

"The one thing about our industry is that everybody needs to eat and everybody needs to drink and we are born to have fun. 

"Come December time, that's when it's going to get back. It's a time when you're forced to socialise and celebrate, because it's Christmas time. I think that will be the turning point when people go: 'you know what, it's Christmas, let's do it. And then, from January onwards, things will go back to normal."

Keeping busy In the meantime

One thing which has lifted his and his team's spirits, he said, is their involvement with the Open Kitchens organisation. Thanks to a crowdfunding campaign the team is delivering 1,000 meals a week to the most needful - from key workers to people struggling to make ends meet. 

"It's good having people back around you, you've been in isolation bashing your head against the wall for a month and it's good to see people," he said.

In his own time, the chef has found solace in two things in the pandemic. Firstly, he's spent a lot of quality time with his son, with whom he usually rarely gets the chance to eat a meal, and secondly, he remarked, it seems to have brought out the best in people. 

"There's no more of this horrible dick fight. Everyone is really looking after each other and coming together.

"Those are two nice things: connecting with your family and the whole country coming together."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 18th May 2020

'I'm frozen, I don't know how to progress. I've never been in this situation.'