Tell us about your plan…
It’s a strange time for us, as it is for everyone right now. We had been gearing for a big year of growth. Our latest site in London Bridge was set to open soon, and we were also looking at a few other locations, but obviously all that is now on hold. And in February, we opened our first delivery-only kitchen in Battersea, which was a Deliveroo Editions site.
When the Coronavirus hit, we knew we wanted to keep the business running, both to help safeguard the jobs for our teams and as an avenue for allowing us to support and help feed the community. And so, as well as keeping open what sites we could to offer delivery, we spoke to Deliveroo about potentially expanding our reach through other Editions kitchens. Of course we’ve been looking at locations in London, but also regionally, as it a potential opportunity to grow the brand. We’ve quickly managed to secure a spot within the Editions site in Reading, and are expecting to be operational there within the next couple of weeks.
Given that the country is on lockdown, how do you expect this to work in terms of hiring staff?
At the moment this is an area where we are still ironing out our strategy. In terms of staffing, we will explore using members from our current team if possible. We’ve been careful to ensure our staff have all been given the option as to whether they want to work during this crisis, and we wouldn’t want any of those that are still working to put themselves at risk through extra travel if they have to take public transport. We are exploring potentially holding interviews over the phone or Skype if we need to hire one or two local staff, and then giving them a trial shift at the kitchen once it is up and running.
And what about setting up the kitchen space?
One of the big benefits of the Editions concept is that they set up and fit the kitchen for the operator using a spec provided to them, so we don’t have to manage that aspect, which is very helpful at the moment.
Do you plan to establish more Edition kitchens in the future?
We are looking at other sites, both in London and regionally, but we’re being careful in our strategy. The kitchens are a great way to expand our reach, but the commission charged by Deliveroo on sales is much higher; in total the fee is about 40%. The margins are therefore much thinner, and so for us it’s about choosing locations where we’re confident we’ll get a steady stream of business and can make the economics work. A lot of the regional locations rely heavily on the evening trade, which wouldn’t be a benefit for us. But our Battersea site has been performing very well, and we’re in the process of potentially signing for another kitchen space in the capital, which we hope to launch in the next month or so.
Are there other ways you’re looking to diversify the brand during this crisis?
We’ve started doing these live cookery demonstrations hosted on our Instagram page on Saturday night. We did the first one last week, which was for courgette fritters, and it went really well. It had lots of engagement from customers, and so Tim [Vasilakis, co-owner] is currently exploring ideas for doing more of those. But we’re also thinking of exploring other areas, potentially setting up an Athenian deli; or maybe meal kits so customers can make their own souvlaki at home.
In terms of support for the industry, how do you view the Government’s response so far?
Delaying the VAT until next year is certainly a benefit. We certainly welcome the furlough scheme, which has helped us ensure staff who are either unable or do not want to work at the moment are taken care of. And the rent moratorium is a good first step in terms of dealing with the issue of rent. But we do need to see more help offered in the coming weeks.
What else needs to be done?
There needs to be more clarity regarding the loan scheme. We’re lucky that regarding the London Bridge site, we had the liquidity from that, which means we haven’t needed to take one yet. But we’ve heard lots of stories of companies struggling to establish what guarantees are needed by the banks, and that’s putting further strain on the whole situation. But there also needs to be more security and protection for businesses when it comes to dealing with landlords. There have been some horror stories about individual landlords that are being really aggressive in their treatment of tenants that have withheld rent; businesses being told that landlords are going to come down and put padlocks on the door so the premises can no longer be accessed. And that really needs to be addressed if restaurants are to stand a chance of making it out of this.
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