'People will remember the businesses that've tried to help throughout when we get to the other side of it'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 27th March 2020

Mark Poynton only began his residency at the Cambridge Cookery School in January, but it had proved successful among locals, and he was optimistic about the future. 

When it began to dawn on the nation - and indeed, the world - that the coronavirus was set to have a gigantic impact on the restaurant industry, the chef was one step ahead: he was one of the lucky (and perceptive) restaurateurs who heeded the government's relaxing of rules on delivery services and swiftly switched up his business model. 

Now, MJP is one of the area's only restaurants boasting any sort of income. 

"We took quite an early decision to flip to takeaway," Mark explained. 

Left with little choice but to continue working while others were closing left right and centre, he explained, it remains his only guaranteed income - even with the government's new grant for the self employed.   

"Because we're a new business, we don't make a lot of money and we don't really pay ourselves yet.

"To get 80% of your wage is a bit of a sticking point for us, because if we're not making enough money to pay ourselves - 80% of fuck all is fuck all isn't it." 

"We've had to keep working and that's what we're going to carry on doing." 

Serving what he calls 'gourmet microwave meals at home,' the chef said the people of Cambridge have gladly embraced the service, with regular customers ordering three days' worth of food at a time. 

"If you look at the Deliveroos, they're doing Domino's and so-on and so-forth, so we've still got a niche market which is quite nice."

Staying safe

Although it is commendable for them to continue working, it is worth noting that they are doing so in compliance with the national medical establishment's safety advice - and because they're only delivering cold meals, there's no chance of them going cold on their way to customers. 

"It's only me and one other person, so we can keep ourselves safe and when we do deliveries, we knock on your door and leave it on your doorstep" 

"If people do have to collect, we've got tables outside where we're working from - we'll leave orders on the table outside and they come and collect it themselves." 

Standing on the right side of the fence

Though we're all aware of the strain put on our national health services, for Mark, it's even closer to home, as his wife is a nurse at Addenbrookes hospital - which is part of the reason why, as well as his takeaway orders, he makes daily runs of food for the staff there.

"People will remember the businesses that've tried to help throughout when we get to the other side of it. Because we've been quite positive with it, I think they'll be positive with us on the other side of it and they'll remember us more than everyone just saying "hello, we're open again, we're here now, come and try us again." 

This goes two ways, he said - and when things get back to normal, employers who didn't take care of their own might see themselves shunned.

"I think we could all see that we were going to get shut down at some point, and if you carried on as long as possible until you got shut down, you could see the help there." 

"A lot of places have closed and I think they've fucked themselves a little bit to be honest." 

The restaurants who, as he sees it, shut their doors prematurely, laying off their staff in the process, "they will get a certain amount of comeback from that in the future.

"And not necessarily from the public - but say you were closed before we were forced to shut down and you laid your staff off - yeah the staff can still get paid now because you can backdate it, but they'll remember the fact that they got laid off." 

"People have jumped the gun and not headed the information like they should've done, I think they're going to struggle big time." 

Better days

Uncertainty lies ahead, that is for certain - as the doubts he will be able to deliver food indefinitely given the rapid spread of the virus. 

As he sees it, it's only a matter of time before the government shuts them down - but he's pledged to continue until then.

"Honestly we don't know what's going to happen do we - that's the worst thing about it." 

"But we'll carry on for as long as possible - because 1, you need money, and 2, I want people to remember that we did the best we could and helped them in times of hardship." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 27th March 2020

'People will remember the businesses that've tried to help throughout when we get to the other side of it'