'When is it a good time to open a restaurant? It never is'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th August 2020

Opening a restaurant in the context of a world pandemic is unarguably a gamble. 

Many restaurants, pubs, cafes and hotels are still closed, and others are at risk of closure. In these uncertain times, is it unreasonable to go it alone, or is it a fresh start, a chance to open a restaurant adapted to the current crisis in ways existing restaurants can't afford to do?

 

Kray Treadwell, Great British Menu 2019 finalist and former head chef at The Man Behind the Curtain, and acclaimed chef Kevin Tickle, who earned a Michelin star while at the helm at The Forest Side, are taking that gamble. 

Kray's debut restaurant, 670 grams, launched on Wednesday - and though it might seem like a rash decision, he has little choice but to open. 

"I'd already signed the lease, the bank had already given me the money - I had to open it," he said. 

That's not to say that he isn't optimistic, as, he added, "people do want to eat out and try new places and they're getting excited for stuff like that."

Kevin and his wife, who recently took over an Inn in the Lakes, hadn't secured the lease for another property before lockdown - something he is thankful for. 

"It left open the opportunity to get the place we've got now," he said. 

Happily, the time in limbo gave the couple time to secure a 17th century Coach Inn in Newton-in-Cartmel on the edge of the Lake District, which they plan on opening in the autumn. 

"When is it a good time to open a restaurant? It never is. It's always squeaky bum time. But having that period over lockdown to yourselves to bounce a few ideas off each other - you can start to get a plan together." 

What to look forward to 

Setting Covid aside for just a moment, the chefs gave us a glimpse of what to expect from the venues. 

Aimed at a younger demographic than your typical fine dining restaurant, Kray wants his restaurant to be accessible.

"I don't want a meal to cost people a holiday," he said, describing the food as "less interesting and more tasty."

"I want people to leave here and think: 'I just want to go clubbing now.'"

Bridging the gap between the area's traditional country house hotels and its pubs, The Crown Inn will serve good ales, wines and small plates in the front, and what Kevin calls "the posh stuff" at a chef's table in the back.

"We want the people who go up into that restaurant to go up there, do what they're doing, have a lovely time and then come down to the pub and have a crack with Steve from the village." 

"We want to bridge that gap between high heals and walking boots." 

Keeping people safe

Despite being fully booked until October, Kray naturally has some apprehensions about opening, namely whether guests will respect safety guidelines without too much coaxing.

"As a restaurant you can only do so much, the customer has a responsibility as well," he said. 

"I don't know if you've been coughing all morning - only you do." 

"These are conversations that I don't really want to have, about respecting the rules, especially when there's drinking involved." 

However, not having to adapt an existing restaurant to make it safe in the context of the coronavirus, Kevin said, is "a massive bonus." 

"We can start as we want, with as many staff, we can make the environment in the kitchen or restaurant for the staff safe. 

"We've not had to let anyone go, or cut our tables down for social distancing, we can start with the amount that we need to.

"We're in a position where we can prepare for that without having to make cuts, so it's good for us. 

What about the risk of a second wave?

As for the prospect of a second lockdown, Kray said: "I've not got time to worry about it. If it happens, it happens. 

"Obviously I don't want to shut, I want to open," he added, "But you can only do what you can do."

Kevin is apprehensive at the idea, as it would put him and his wife "in the situation that we'd managed to avoid in the first place," he said. 

"But risks need to be taken if you want to be a successful business." 

Having experienced foot and mouth disease, which "put the industry on its arse," he is confident that the industry will eventually recover. 

"You get through these things. We're all in it together, we're all in the same boat. 

"If mine and Nicola's plans go tits up and we find that the fine dining isn't working, then as business owners we're in complete power to change that to hit the market. 

"If no-one wants to eat fine dining food," Kray said, "I'm more than happy to do mutton and rice. I'm really good at it." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th August 2020

'When is it a good time to open a restaurant? It never is'