'There's only so much grief anybody can take, but if anybody can weather it, it's this industry'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 23rd September 2020

As of last Friday, the city of Dublin and its surrounding county have been under lockdown.

For a minimum of three weeks, it is advised that people should not travel in or out of the area, and indoor gatherings have been banned, with exemptions for work or educational purposes.

Naturally, restaurants are not allowed to welcome guests indoors, and can operate solely if they can serve people outdoors (to a maximum of 14 people) or provide takeaway services.

With just six hours' notice,  Mickael Viljanen, the head chef at two Michelin-starred The Greenhouse in Dublin had to lock the restaurant down again after last Friday night's service.

"It's a pity, because we would have been full this week," he said, explaining that since reopening five weeks ago, the restaurant has been busy, cautiously recouping some of the business lost in the past six months.

"It's not ideal," he said. "Everytime you reopen it's an excessive cost compared with rolling from week to week, because you have to start from scratch again."

And although he is grateful to be among those who will likely be able to reopen, the chef fears that others in Dublin might not be so fortunate, undoing decades of hard work to raise the bar of the country's culinary landscape. 

"I have a feeling that it's going to be like a plague running through the industry," he said, adding that for the businesses that were already struggling, "I can see closures on the back of this for quite a few restaurants."

"If you were back to the wall already, then you've got to open for a few weeks, and you shut down again, that could be the last nail to the coffin."

Urgent need for a support Stimulus 

With an economy highly reliant on tourism from the UK and Europe, the chef would like to see the government invest in a stimulus package to avoid the worst.

"The way it seems to be going is that they've tightened up the lockdown and their support measures are going down," he explained, as unemployment benefits have been cut by a fifth, it remains to landlords' discretion whether or not to charge tenants full fare, and VAT rates remain as high as ever.

"What they don't seem to see if that with us wiped out, there will be no revenue," he said, and whatever the cost of supporting the industry, is "minimal compared to the destruction that's caused by the virus itself and closing down places."

Positivity, always

However, no matter how bad things may seem now, for Mickael, times like these bring out force of spirit, and he is intend on making that his focus.

He explained that members of his ambitious young brigade were quick to ask if they could still use the restaurant for research and development during the current lockdown, and seems optimistic that come what may, the foot soldiers driving Ireland's culinary scene and investors in its hospitality sector will eventually bounce back.

"Certain things are out of our control, but can decide how we deal with it."

"When we go back, we'll push even harder again and we'll try to make sure that we're better and we've upped our game, and try to keep on top of it and develop and get better and better and better."

"I know it's very easy to say - if you're running a business, you're stressed by the situation. But that situation is not going to change by being negative."

"That negative attitude, it's like cancer, it spreads and it doesn't help anything and I think that's very very important to remember - as bad as things are, it shall pass."

"Eventually we'll come to a point that hopefully will be better, and I'd like to think that we're still there when it gets better."

The reality of it for Mickael is that the hospitality industry is united, and made up of resilient, hardworking, adaptable people.

He said: "These are people who naturally have always learned to adapt to different situations - and there's only so much grief anybody can take, but if anybody can weather it, it's this industry."

"As long as there's the right support measures in place from government - given even half a chance, they will survive. We will come through this."

Christmas might look a little different this year, he said, but "people will want to come out - okay you might not get the larger parties - but it doesn't matter to me if they're two, four, six, as long as they come."

Michelin

Then, chefs will get another gift, with the Michelin Guide set to release its first digital edition for the UK and Ireland on January 25th.

Mickael speaks highly of the organisation, commending its support for the industry throughout the pandemic.

He said: "I think it's great that they are publishing the guide, in the sense that it just shows that there's hope at the end of the line."

"It shows that they're there and that things haven't come to a halt. Michelin is there to show that things move on and we keep going regardless of the situation. It shows the resilience of the industry."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 23rd September 2020

'There's only so much grief anybody can take, but if anybody can weather it, it's this industry'