How has 2020 changed people and pubs?

‘I’ve been spending 24 hours a day here not paying myself very much money’

By Jesse Dunford Wood, Parlour, Kensal Green, London

- Last updated on GMT

Proactive person: 'I have no idea what's going on - we're literally just navigating day-to-day,' Parlour's Jesse Dunford Wood says
Proactive person: 'I have no idea what's going on - we're literally just navigating day-to-day,' Parlour's Jesse Dunford Wood says

Related tags: Chef, Food, Freehouse, coronavirus

On the eve of his site's eighth anniversary, Jesse Dunford Wood spoke to The Morning Advertiser about the impact of Covid-19 on his west London pub Parlour.

I'd been working in fancy, posh restaurants and I thought pubs were well beneath me – but I ended up working in one, being a partner, then eventually being an independent operator with my own business. 

We have navigated the pandemic day-by-day, week-by-week, adjusting, tinkering. We've been supporting our locals and they've been supporting us throughout the whole journey – and there's been no break from it. 

We didn't close at all during the first lockdown, we opened a supermarket on the first day. How we navigated lockdown with all of our locals has helped us establish ourselves in the area. 

I’ve been spending 24 hours a day here. Driving the business from its heart, which here is the kitchen, not paying myself very much money, being industrious, giving it real personality, soul and spirit, which it lacked a little bit of before.

We had a head chef and we had a manager, but there's nothing quite like an owner-operator business. It just needed a bit more love, attention and direction and with that the product got better, the customers gained trust and the business evolved into a better one.


People talk about luck, but people also talk about making your own luck. When the first lockdown hit, I didn't know what was going on, like everybody else, but I'm a proactive person. 

On the weekend of 23 March, we thought why not sell fruit and vegetable boxes, pastry items that we already make, flour, pasta and toilet roll. We did that not really knowing what the response was going to be like or if there was going to be any future in it.

We furloughed 30 people and kept five on, but the first week of revenue wasn't even enough to pay their wages. Then during weeks two and three it improved drastically – by week four there were queues around the block and we were doing more revenue than we do at the pub. 

Then we added meat and fish. We didn't do takeaways per se, but we did picnic food, potted desserts, frozen chicken kyivs, cow pies and soup. Then we added alcohol. We brought all the fridges from the kitchen and put them in the supermarket so customers could help themselves. We were selling 150kg of flour every day, sourdough starter and yeast like there was no tomorrow.

When we did open our supermarket straight away, we didn't know how much we were supposed to charge for a carrot or a chicken – none of us had ever worked in a shop before, it was totally weird. Then suddenly we had queues of people wanting to buy things and we didn't know how much we were supposed to be charging for it.  

For the first month we did misjudge the pricing somewhat, then we put all the wine and beer on sale and then we messed up the pricing for that then we had to put the prices up and we looked greedy.

It's all about being flexible – being able to change quickly as the situation does. 

In most other companies there's a process to go through in terms of decision-making and making fundamental changes to the business, but I can have a discussion now and we can be a sushi restaurant this evening. That's a liberating situation to be in, we're in charge of our destiny. 

Boris has got an almost impossible job with an ever-changing situation and communicating changes to a huge demographic of people and I'm not jealous of his situation. But we have to jump to his beat and his beat keeps on changing so we've just got to be really flexible.  

I have no idea what's going on – we're literally just navigating day-to-day. Are we going to have to wear masks for the next year or two years? Probably. We've all been wearing masks now for six months, every day, which is weird but it's not going to change any time soon.

Related topics: Chefs

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