‘People who pour their heart and soul into what they do always end up doing rather better than everybody else’

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

On June 14th, the team behind Daffodil Mulligan made the tough decision to close down its kitchen for seven days when a staff member was advised to self-isolate by the NHS Track and Trace app

As hard a decision as it was, chef and owner of Corrigan restaurants Richard Corrigan, said, he wouldn't have had it any other way.

"As much as you want to feel 'my gosh, what else can hit you,' you do the right thing, because everyone in our business cares for our people, our teams and our guests, and the safety of everyone is most important - not the business."

Having opened a mere few months before the industry was shut down, the restaurant group's latest addition is standing tall, teams and guests alike glad to return to the joyous atmosphere of the restaurant, oyster bar and live music venue set on the Old Street roundabout in Shoreditch. 

'God only knows what awaits us by April next year'

"It's one of the most enjoyable openings I have done, because it's just so different to anything we've done before," with a different offering to Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill and Corrigan's Mayfair not just in terms of the food but the atmosphere, described by food writer Jay Rayner as "a pulsing sign of life," which "thrums with a certain optimism."

Richard said that for it "to be cruelly sunk by Covid" was heartbreaking, "but most importantly, we resurrected it." 

When they reopened on April 12th, he said, guests were "outside in the yard, icicles hanging."

"Brave London came out to support us and they did it with such panache and style - I've never seen so many layers on people in my whole life."

 "Eating trying to hold a knife and fork with leather lamb mittens on... God almighty, it really was funny."

‘The pressures that we're under now are going to completely change the environment’

That isn't to say that the past year has been easy for the industry, nor that there aren't any more battles to be fought. 

The recruitment crisis, Richard said, is novel both in nature and in scale.

"I've never seen staffing like this in my working career," he said, pointing to the re-education occurring within, but unable to pinpoint a single triggering factor.

"Of course, movement of people has drastically changed things, certainly in London," he added.

"But there is something deeper going on. Minimum wage is ridiculous, it's unliveable. London living wage is unliveable for most people. So the economics during this shortage is certainly going to change the whole picture and the colouration of hospitality - and probably end up making it into a place that people might want to come into." 

"Trying to pay people a London minimum wage isn't attracting anybody - and rightly so." 

"The pressures that we're under now - the economics and the political - are going to completely change the environment." 

Soon, business rates, VAT and rent will come back and bite, and one can only hope that businesses can keep their heads above the water.

"God only knows what awaits us by April next year." 

"We're going to have to make hay while the sun shines this summer, because I can't see anything getting back to normal until next summer."

‘They're rolling out the red carpet for people these days’

But there is opportunity in chaos, Richard said, and those who seize on the chances offered to them could revive what he sees as a market which has been overserved for decades. 

"For all the opportunists and entrepreneurs in the hospitality business, there is no finer time to get off our arses and do things." 

"Sites that you couldn't get hold of before, landlords who just wouldn't give you the time of day before. They're rolling out the red carpet for people these days, so for all of you who want to be young cooks out there who really want to get into something, there's probably never been a finer time to go into a business."

And while it is a tragic loss to the industry that so many have been hurt by it and left, those businesses who can dig deep could find themselves in as lucky a position as Richard's. 

"I'm an eternal optimist,” he said. “I see opportunity in every storm. That's what I've always done. Every business I've opened, I've opened in the middle of the depression."

And yet, he said, "we're still there, blowing into the sails, keeping it going." 

‘CVAs, CVAs and more CVAs’

Reflecting on the changes that have permeated throughout society because of the pandemic, he said, "there's a rethinking of where and on what people want to spend their money, that's for sure." 

"Look at the tear out of the high street by chains, they've ran to the hills... CVAs, CVAs and more CVAs. If they can't pay their bills, it means they're unviable. And if you're unviable you should close down." 

"Just opening restaurants for the sake of just running to the stock market, I mean come on. Private equity companies, hedge funds in our business, that has distorted our industry and made things totally unviable for so many people by pushing up rents in central cities and towns around Britain." 

"I think that's been put to bed for a while - and that's why I think there are real opportunities for people within our industry to get their own ideas off the ground." 

"After all the glamour and the glitz, people see through the smog of bulls**t, and they will find out and seek out real places with real people doing real things." 

"I'm not too dreamy this morning," he smiled, pre-empting the remark, "I honestly think that the people who pour their heart and soul into what they do always end up doing rather better than everybody else."

‘Let's go back to the values that created this wonderful industry’

With Daffodil reopening on Tuesday June 22nd and both Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill and Corrigan’s Mayfair booming, Richard would be strained to be too pessimistic about the future. 

And this is partly because, as his children - Robbie, Richie, and Jessica, all three of whom work in the industry - have pointed out to him, "we're really punching well above our weight personnel-wise."

"We're a family business: we make sure they eat brilliantly; we pay well and they're working in a caring environment. It has its tough moments as well, but nothing that would make you want to go away. 

"So many large chain restaurants let their staff go out and get a sandwich for lunch or buy pizzas in other restaurants as staff food. We sit at the table, we've closed our businesses in the afternoon, we allow a couple of hours for all the team to sit down and have their lunch and have something to make them feel good," able to vouch for the quality of the lunches "because I sit down and eat it myself - always have."

"I think that's what it's about - creating a caring environment so people want to be with you."

"Let's go back to the values that created this wonderful industry. Create a team, create a place, create an environment where people laugh and celebrate."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 28th June 2021

‘People who pour their heart and soul into what they do always end up doing rather better than everybody else’