EVEN before the government turned the key on the nation’s restaurants Marco Giove had acted. Rather than take out tables to preserve social distancing he closed the fine dining business he has run for the last 20 years from a former police station in Archer Road, Sheffield.
And he turned into a one-man-and-his-family ‘Deliveroo’ service, cooking up pizza, pasta and parmigiani for customers who were dining in rather than dining out.
“When Boris came on the television we shut almost immediately because I knew people were going to stop visiting restaurants,” says Marco.
All across Sheffield restaurants are having to rethink their business models. Some, like the Summer House, on Abbeydale Road South, offered a takeaway service and were “overwhelmed by demand.” But they had to abandon it as the sheer logistics of working and finding staff became too difficult.
So did Michelin-listed Rafters, on Oakbrook Road. Tables were taken out and takeaways sold but the moment social distancing came in they knew it it was time to stop, says front-of-house Alistair Myers, co-owner with talented chef Tom Lawson.
The pair have kept their core team of 12 on furlough – the government money came within three weeks – and are using the time wisely, devising new menus and drinks (Alistair has one made from pineapple skins) and cultivating the restaurant allotment.
They realise keeping the talent in the restaurant is as important as keeping a loyal following in this high-end sector of the business. Alistair thinks the accent is going to be even more on local produce when things return – but that will be the crunch time. “There will be casualties, more when we are eventually allowed to re-open when there is no government support. The ones which will survive will be those with a loyal following.”
Others, like the guide book listed No Name Bistro, abandoned fancy meals and offered bangers and mash (although with some style) to NHS and other key workers on the Coronavirus front line.
Others tried to keep a presence on social media so they would not be forgotten if and when their doors reopen. At the George Hotel, Hathersage, where new head chef Carl Riley had hardly time to warm up the ovens after arriving, cocktail recipes such as the racy Porn Star Martini have been posted online.
Over at Thyme in Broomhill, Sheffield, there are plans to put dishes from its 15 year old recipe book online.
But few can have made a bigger splash than Jamie Bosworth. No stranger to the cookery demo – he’s a regular fixture on BBC Radio Sheffield – he streamed a live show on Facebook which has had well over 7,000 views.
“I try and cook simple, easy dishes for three course meals using store cupboard ingredients with plugs for local producers,” says Jamie, who was joined for the second by vocalist daughter Katie for the second, 60 minute cook-a-long. “I could catch up at the stove while Katie sang.”
It was a family affair with wife Jayne holding the camera for a Floyd-esque show, with guest appearances from son, cat and dog.
Jamie has owned and run a clutch of top restaurants and is now a development chef who “keeps his hand in” with regular pop-up bistro evenings at the Rendezvous coffee shop, Totley.
“I had to cancel the last two because of Coronavirus so there’s going to be one hell of a night when we re-open.”
Meanwhile, back at Marco@Milano Marco Giove, with a helper, is busy prepping orders for deliveries. His partner and her son help take the food to the right doorsteps. To emphasise the new informality customers are encouraged to send in photos of themselves enjoying a Marco meal.
But the current crisis has prompted him to take a different direction, one he has been contemplating for a while. “This restaurant will be one of the last to go back. I am going to change it completely, away from fine dining to something more relaxed with a deli and coffee shop for all the family,” he says.
There is no doubt the crisis has been a big jolt for the city’s restaurants. Some will fall by the wayside. The survivors may take other directions. But it has given restaurateurs and chefs the time to talk to each other and perhaps help each other out.
As the government keeps saying, we really are all in this together – restaurants and customers alike.
*If you have a coronavirus story or views on the situation do get in touch.
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