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Kerridge: use the closure period as an opportunity

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Optimistic approach: Tom Kerridge highlights how lockdown could provide benefits to business
Optimistic approach: Tom Kerridge highlights how lockdown could provide benefits to business

Related tags: coronavirus, Tom kerridge

Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge has called on other operators to use lockdown as a chance to re-evaluate their business and focus on the positives.

His Michelin-starred pubs the Hand & Flowers and the Coach (placed in fifth on the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list​), both in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, are fully closed with all staff furloughed.

However, another venue Kerridge runs is the Butchers Tap, also in Marlow, is remaining operational as a butcher but the pub side of it is closed.

The Hand & Flowers, which is number 12 on the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list​, and the Butchers Tap are both leased from Greene King and the Coach is leased from Ei Group.

Kerridge outlined his views on the pubcos’ support amid the coronavirus pandemic but emphasised the importance of pub companies keeping the relationship with tenants and lessees open.

He told The Morning Advertiser​: “[I’ve not had] much in the way of communication other than the fact rent has been suspended. Suspended doesn’t mean you're not paying it, I get that, it’s fine, I understand that as a business.

“It just means it might be added on at the end. How they look at reclaiming that rent when it all comes back will be a further conversation.

“[The pubcos] would be slightly naive to think three months’ rent can then be just squeezed into the rest of the year because all that does is put excess pressure on the businesses coming through the other side. However, if it was a case of looking at it and perhaps extending the lease at the end for another three months, for me, that is probably going to be the cleanest way of looking at it from everybody’s point of view.

“As painful as everything is, everybody, including pub landlords, are probably trying to do the right thing for now. But you have to remember they will be under an equal amount of pressure just with more zeros on the end.

“While I understand their predicament, at the same time, they need to look responsibly on how it comes out the other end but, for the moment, the conversation with them, there have been no issues. We are all in the space of limbo and, at the moment, there’s nobody demanding excess money and wanting it now because there’s nothing open.

“As long as relationships are open and people keep talking, the pub company and landlord relationship needs to be a work in progress.”

The celebrity chef confirmed the majority of his staff across his estate have been furloughed, which includes all the staff from his pubs, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill in London’s Corinthia Hotel and the Bull & Bear in Manchester’s Stock Exchange Hotel, with the exception of those who work in the production area of events and hospitality business Lush, which are continuing to work to help provide meals for front-line workers and the butchers at the Butchers Tap.

Government support

Kerridge laid out how he had received the £25,000 grant for three of his businesses but while that amount sounded a lot, it didn’t go that far.

He said: “It gets lost very quickly, however, it does help from that cash flow point of view, which is massive and we have put in for the Government loans and that’s been approved, which is helpful.

“It’s very nerve-wracking because they’ve got to be paid back and how you put yourself under that pressure but at least it means that we aren’t closing now.

“We’ve got an opportunity to have a go at relaunching and that’s the purpose of those loans. No one’s saying it’s going to be easy, it’s going to be a very, very difficult long road back but at least those Government loans have been from a supporting point of view and if you’re willing to take that risk and take those loans and drive that forward then it has been very helpful.”

Amid the crisis, Kerridge and his teams have put their focus on helping front-line workers by providing them with food with the ‘Meals for Marlow’ scheme.

He said: “[Meals from Marlow] is bigger than anything we’ve done really. We were answering a call from Wexham Park, which is a hospital in Slough, that made a shout out on social media saying they needed help and this was right at the beginning of the crisis.

“Everybody was stockpiling food, their staff were working 16 to 18-hour shifts and when they got to the supermarket, there was nothing there or it was closed or they were just too tired to cook.

“One of our businesses, Lush, is an airline-safe food production unit that we thought, surely we can do some ready meals out of there so we started having a look at how many ready meals we could do.

“We started doing 200 and thought we could do more and we are now doing 1,250 meals a day for front-line NHS workers and through the charity Link Foundation in and around the Marlow, Maidenhead, Slough and Oxfordshire areas with four or five hospitals taking the food.

“It has been huge. We have got furloughed chefs and staff that have volunteered up at the unit and make food.

“We contacted as many businesses as possible to see if they would like to donate money or produce and we have raised well over £160,000.”

Looking ahead

He went on to highlight the positive impact this not only has had on the front-line workers but also his teams.

Kerridge added: “The amount of feedback we've had from the NHS has been tear-jerking, heart warming and hugely appreciated.

“We have got teams of trained chefs going from working in one and two Michelin-starred environments that are now feeling they are being positive and proactive making a thousand potions of beef chilli.

“But they are doing something, utilising their skills, their understanding of produce and being able to create something that goes a long, long way and that’s amazing.”

When it comes to looking ahead, the celebrity chef explained his concerns about social distancing and paying bills once businesses begin to reopen.

He said: “I’m a big advocate and supporter of the Hospitality Union’s National Time Out ​campaign, where everything will be on a time-out for nine months, where you can push back rents and VAT so it gives the hospitality industry that opportunity to rebuild itself for nine months before all those crippling costs are put back on top of it.

“Because if we walk straight back into that but can only operate at 50%, it’s hugely counterproductive, so many more places will have to close and so many more jobs will be lost.

“It’s a very tentative approach to how we look at each individual business and everybody will be doing the same with their business model as well.

“For me, it’s a difficult conversation if we are furloughing 100% of our staff but, when we reopen, we can only operate at 50% then where does that leave 50% of your staff?”

However, keeping occupied on how the business is going to progress once lockdown restrictions are eased is something operators should consider, Kerridge advised.

He added: “You have to think as a business person, you have to build your business model and structure and you’re guessing what it is going to be like because nobody has got any idea.

“The more you start working through in your mind, not worrying but being proactive about how it should feel, what it is going to be like the other side, how your business is going to be there, is key to keeping yourself busy, your mind busy and feeling you’re in control of your business, of where you’re going to be, what you want to do and how you move it forward.

“Probably most importantly, the thing to remember that as human beings, we are incredibly social. We love being with people, we love shaking hands with each other, giving each other hugs and being out and about and socially active.

“We love being at any events where people are there, creating a social energy and even though we might be in the habit at the minute of social distancing, that will end.

“Whether that’s in six months or 18 months, just our natural beings as humans will be a case of physical and mental connectivity and being able to be around people with an energy. It will come back.

“It is just a case of how, when and holding out and re-adapting your business and thinking about how we get to the other side.”

Related topics: Chefs

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