How three recently reopened Essex restaurants got COVID-secure
PUBLISHED: 10:31 06 August 2020 | UPDATED: 11:39 10 August 2020
Running a COVID-secure restaurant is quite the challenge, but these three Essex eateries reopened in July ready for the challenge
Galvin Green Man, Great Waltham
Chris Galvin and his brother Jeff own five restaurants, four in the capital and one in Howe Street near the village of Great Waltham. The restaurants all closed a week before the official lockdown and when Chris went back to try to see what else, as a business, they could do, he found it very difficult.
‘It was really emotional the day when we came back to the business. We said to each other, “Do you feel ok?” and the answer was unusual for men who hide their feelings. “Well actually, no I’m not.” However, seeing the many messages of support from our customers via our social media was such a boost for us. We answered each and every one of them, particularly our customers from the Green Man. Those Essex boys have been amazing, supporting us by buying gift vouchers and just sending us their messages of positivity and support.’
Chris has continued to work on the business, despite lockdown, coming up with detailed plans of how they can safely socially distance both in the kitchens and with the customers.
‘We like to call it physical distancing, as our whole industry is social. It sounds much more appropriate. Where there are pinch points in the kitchen, we will wear PPE. We have been role playing it. Our first job is always safety towards our customers and staff. It’s what we do already and we do it very well. Our Chefs need to wear masks and face shields and in some cases both. It’s going to be very hot, but we’ve got to do this.’
Chris continues: ‘The difference between one metre and two metres is the difference between us going bust or not. At two metres we’ll be doing 50 to 55% less business, we therefore couldn’t pay rent or wages. The Green Man is around 120 seats. At one metre it will be 76 seats, but at two metres it would be only 36 seats. It’s just not workable. At the Green Man we have an acre and a half of gardens, so we will open that restaurant first. We can have safe physical distancing, and also inside the pub too where there’s space to make it safe for diners.
‘We have got to get that hamster wheel going again. We just need to be kinder to one another. My brother and I have worked in this industry all our lives and I actually feel really positive about the next six to nine months. Going forward we are really looking forward to seeing families around our restaurant tables again.’
Main Road, Howe Street, Great Waltham CM3 1BG; 01245 408820; galvinrestaurants.com
The Hoop, Stock
Michelle and Phil Utz run The Hoop in the pretty village of Stock. Phil is head chef and wife Michelle runs the operation from front of house. This 15th century, traditional pub offers real ales, popular pub classics and even has a fine dining room on the first floor. Despite the lockdown, the couple were determined to make the best use of their unforeseen free time.
‘For the first week we held back, fearing an even tighter lockdown. But then, between Phil and I, we redid the cellar floor. Then we moved on to polishing the wood floors and we have been painting and doing pub maintenance, which took up the first four to five weeks.’
Next the couple got on board providing a takeaway service for the people in the village. Then it was time to turn their attention to their sizeable pub garden: ‘Unfortunately, we’d already ordered all new garden furniture and so it arrived the week of the lockdown. Plus, we’d invested in a two-tonne pizza oven and pizza hut.’
Some business owners would see this as at least a stumbling block if not an all out disaster, but not Michelle. She has turned the whole lockdown experience into a positive one for their business: ‘If we’d tried to do the redecorating during normal opening hours it would have been a nightmare. So the fact that we’ve been closed has actually worked out for us. The High Street is quiet, so ideal for using ladders to do the exterior of the building. Our landscaper has been able to work on our garden and building our brand-new pizza hut too. Our grass has been reseeded and watered and it’s the best it’s looked in 14 years!’
The couple have also had the chance to take a step back from their business to look at the model and make some changes: ‘We’ve decided we will continue with the takeaway service for at least the next year, if not two years — specially now with our new pizza oven. We also do fish and chips every Friday to take away, as there’s no shop in the village. It’s been really popular.’
Even the arrival of a pizza oven without any hungry customers hasn’t fazed them: ‘Because we had no customers, the company we bought the oven from came to our garden and put on a special, socially distanced, five-day course for Phil and the rest of our chefs. They learnt how to use the oven and how to handcraft the perfect pizza. If we’d been full with customers, we wouldn’t have been able to give Phil or our other chefs that time off.
‘We have 15 new tables each seating six people and they are all two metres apart, which means we can cater for 60 to 90 people. You will need to prebook to enable the social distancing.’
For their opening night Michelle is planning a Les Miserable themed evening in the garden festooned with soft lights, with West End star turned local man Phil Cavell [Jean Val Jean] making a guest appearance.
‘We hope our customers will understand we are easing ourselves in gently and keeping it simple with our menus to start with. Our staff have to learn new ways of working. We just have to try our best and there will still be a lot of places who won’t open at all. After all, I can’t just sit at home with the husband – we’ll end up divorced!’
21 High Street, Stock, Ingatestone CM4 9BD; 01277 841137; thehoop.co.uk
Toast & The Chophouse, Braintree
Rob Ely owns and runs three Essex-based businesses and is looking to expand further despite the current crisis. The Chophouse Restaurant, based in Braintree, closed suddenly at the very start of the lockdown. Toast is Rob’s second business, a coffee shop serving toast with a plethora of toppings also based in Braintree. Toast was launched just four weeks before lockdown and it promptly closed again on March 20.
‘We closed Toast on the High Street, but by May 28 we’d reopened again. Initially we were running as a coffee shop serving toast. So, we managed to reopen just for takeaways using a oneway system. Although it’s a small building we can serve up to eight people at any one time. For Toast it has been a bit of a strange one. We had four very successful weeks and then had to close it all down. We are very much still finding our feet.
‘Predominately Toast serves 150 different spreads, from Tiptree Jam to peanut butter, and we even have a vegan coconut butter topping. We also do toasties and of course great coffee. The lockdown was a bit of a kick in the teeth to lose the momentum. I had had the idea for the business for about 10 years, so it was very much scratching an itch for me. We are very quirky, on point and modern.’
If successful, Rob is hoping to branch out into a chain of Toast shops. ‘Since we’ve reopened, we’ve added milkshakes using the spreads, so you can have strawberry jam, Nutella or Biscoff shake, for example.’
Their bread is baked across the border by a baker in Bury St Edmunds. ‘He lives in Braintree, so he bakes for us and drops the bread in each day. It’s proper, freshly baked bread, not massed produced slices.’
Despite already reopening a brand-new business and having to close his restaurant, Rob has still seen this time of uncertainty as a useful one.
‘We have used this time to do a lot of the jobs. Everything we do is customer focussed and therefore if there are two jobs to be done and one is behind the scenes, we always do the customer focussed job. So this time has given me the opportunity to make us more efficient. I’ve also been redoing the cellar and our staff area. Now I’m looking at new menus making sure, when we do open, it’s the best menu we’ve ever had.’
Rob has also taken on new staff. ‘I’ve already appointed a new manager. Our aim is to be the strongest we’ve ever been. We have ideas to maintain our footfall too. When you press a pause button on a restaurant it stops, but the bills continue to come through. It’s important to pay them up and keep our suppliers happy, which has been hard. The £10,000 grant we got did not even scratch the surface. We will just have to see how it pans out over the next couple of months. We hope to do something a bit special with our reopening which gets people talking.’
In May, despite being in mid lockdown, Rob launched Brit Dish – an all new takeaway service. Meals are available to order online each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening, plus Sunday lunches too.
‘We are offering a higher quality takeaway. Not necessarily in presentation but in quality of produce, where its sourced and how its prepared. For example, tonight we have on the menu haddock with calamari and fries, with a katsu curry sauce and a tartare sauce. The fish was caught last night and delivered to us fresh this morning. So it’s fish and chips, but just done better. Order online at www.britdish.co.uk. You phone up and order and we take payment via the phone. We prefer people to collect if possible and we cover a three-mile radius of CM7, with a £1.50 per mile delivery fee beyond that.’
Rob is keen to stress that this business is a completely separate arm. ‘It’s not Chophouse standard food, it sits somewhere between that and an ordinary takeaway.’
34 New Street, Braintree CM7 1ES; 01376 345615; thechophousebraintree.co.uk