COVID-19 Our Story
At the beginning of 2020, the world started to learn of a virus; COVID-19, it seemed this virus was beginning to cause havoc around the world. On Friday 20 March 2020 our prime minister went live on national television to advise that all pubs and hospitality were to close their doors at the nearest convenient time on that very day. I remember Alex immediately received a telephone call from his brother to check we had heard the news. The bar had started to fill with regular, Friday locals coming in for their weekly early evening drinks. Little did we know then this would be the last time we would have drinkers sat at the bar for awhile. We decided to remain open for the evening until 11pm, offer a takeaway menu and send out a message on the village Facebook page advising of the immanent closure and a drink the bar dry plea. No one knew when we would be reopening. The pub filled with locals, and friends and we drank together discussing what was happening around the world. At 11pm the last customers left, and Alex and I locked the main door. I remember we sat up and chatted until about 3am with worries on what was going to happen, we had only been trading for 18 months, What now? We had Mothers' Day meats ready for the 120 covers we had had booked, what do we do with that? etc.
The following morning (we got a lie-in on a Saturday!) we woke to a new plan, we would do Mother's day as a take away option, allow all those families who had wanted to treat mum to still treat mum to a day off cooking. I went about contacting all the tables we had booked and successfully converted 85 to a takeaway option. Then it was into the car and off to every single shop we could in search of enough vegetables to cater for them all; as all our suppliers had that same day we had been forced to close, to close themselves or had sold out of food as the country began to panic buy.
Mothering Sunday came and the four members of staff we had set about cooking, and serving and delivering takeaways. One of the wonderful ladies in the village stopped me that morning with a large basket of daffodils she had picked from her garden and asked me to give them out to people in a hope they might find a moment to be positive in what was escalating into the chaos that soon followed. The delivering of takeaways had started earlier in the week, when people who were vulnerable or had been ill and worried it was coronavirus has begun to isolate; and contactless, doorstep food service within the village began. On Mothers' day mind you, I wish I'd put a step-o-meter on, with the sheer number of doorstep deliveries I made. But this was the birth of 'Gilliveroo', the village takeaway and delivery service Alex and I started.
Once the full lockdown was announced on Monday 23 March, Alex and I had already planned to continue the Gilliveroo service and every day published menus that were bookable for the same day for a contactless collection, or a Gilliveroo delivery. We offered this takeaway service every Tuesday- Saturday and Sunday lunch. It not only offered the village and surrounding a dinner date to look forward to, it also allowed us to remain working and doing what we could, and were able to do for others.
On July 4th 2020, we were allowed to reopen. Though the world had not recovered from the pandemic the UK had sustained it to a level of being able to open up. We saw a fabulous summer of stay-cations and many regular customer returned. Although many restrictions were in place, and many people were still fearful of coming out and so we still offered Gilliveroo and takeaways and we were able to feel like we had got through it and were trading again.
As the autumn drew in, the story of COVID-19 darkened our thoughts as new strains and rising infections caused more of a stir and on 5 November we went into lockdown 2. Gilliveroo was reintroduced and as we knew the lockdown was only 1 month, we decided the menu to run would be the favourites from the first lockdown. Although, the weather was truly not as lovely as the first lockdown, delivering in the rain and cold; was horrid. As the lockdown drew to an end the country learnt of the governments Tier system; aimed at assisting the economy to continue to trade, whilst protecting regions with lower infections etc. We were to open up into Tier 2. The one Tier all the pub and hospitality industry dreaded. You could only sit with your own household, you HAD to have a substantial meal whilst drinking, a curfew of 10pm was introduced. How do you open without loosing money under these rules? Truthfully,. looking back you can't. We opened on a Friday and Saturday evening and Sunday lunch. It was December after all, and there needed to be some Christmas cheer, despite a financial hit we knew we would have to endure in the dark months for the trade that loomed (During the 2nd lockdown myself and a friend decided to get the whole village lit up in Christmas lights to cheer everyone up, the village responded with a fantastic display of varying lights for all to enjoy).
Christmas Day was a day we both loved, the whole village would come in for drinks. This time December 25 2020, there would be no Christmas Day, we chose not to open, people would not want to be enjoying a substantial meal and drinking with just their households. The pub reopened after Christmas Eve that year just once more for a final hoorah; Sunday lunch 27 December. The government had announced we would be moving into Tier 3, so would be forced to close again as a result of moving into this Tier on the 28th. The country went into its' third lockdown in the new year.
What do we do now? We had already tired of the lockdown takeaways we had offered in the first two lockdowns. How do we motivate ourselves to offer something? We had been hit hard after loosing December trade including Christmas parties, we were at our possible lowest point we had been at since the pandemic began almost a year before. Then in a frosty morning I suggested to Alex we take our menu on a weekly basis and theme it to a world cuisine. Thus, the start if what was to be a hugely popular takeaway offering. Every Monday social media post would announce where we would be getting our food inspo from, on Wednesday the menu would be published and bookings open for the Friday and Saturday around the world menu, or Sunday lunch. We weren't able to travel, so we brought the world to Black Torrington.
Week 1: India
Week 2: TexMex
Week 3: Malaysia
Week 4: France
Week 5: Peru
Week 6: Chinese (in line with Chinese New Year which fell in this week)
Week 7: Palestine
Week 8: Caribbean
Week 9: Spain
Week 10: Mozambique
Week 11: American Diner
Week 12: Morocco
Week 13: Japan
Week 14: Italy
Pubs were allowed to reopen for outdoor hospitality from the 12 April 2021. Sadly Alex and I couldn't open then as we not only had a very exposed beer garden (and the weather was truly not in our favour, with unusually cold fronts), but we also needed some funds to come in to be able to restock, to be able to open. So a week later than most, but still opened finally, we welcomed customers back into our beer garden on 17 April 2021. Boy was it great! our of the 5 weeks beer gardens were open we opened for three weekends. We served in downpours, fought the cold, wore every layer possible while working, and never before had we advised customers to bring a blanket to dinner. But it was worth it just to be serving again, seeing customers, hearing the chatter from the garden we had so missed.
On Thursday 20 May we reopened inside, and we haven't looked back. Both myself and Alex and all the fabulous guys who work with us have sincerely enjoyed every minute. The restrictions might be in place, and who knows how long they may remain or when they might go and be brought back, but we are open, and we like many people are enjoying an opportunity to socialise again in the pub. It's amazing how you don't realise how much you miss something until you get it back.
This story is only a brief version, I have ummed and ahhed about publishing this much. But so many people have asked me to document briefly what COVID-19 has meant to us. In short it has given Alex and myself time to re-set both mentally, but also the business. We have had the chance to build our wood burning kitchen; taking a conversation we had years ago and making it a reality. We have had a chance to switch all our suppliers to local one, start growing our own food items for the kitchen and cut out a lot of faff so many people are victim to when running businesses, not just pubs. Although we haven't properly stopped since March 2020, we have had fun, made the most of the situations thrown at us and got to know so many more customers both regular and new alike through our Gilliveroo. Thank you all so much for the support you all showed us during the lockdowns and forced closures and reopens. Alex and I are genuinely more grateful than can be put into words.
Click the button below to view our COVID-19 certificate.