Speaking on the BigHospitality’s latest podcast, siblings Ifeyinwa and Emeka Frederick - who had only launched their restaurant little more than a month before the lockdown came into effect - say that while there may be increased space between the tables in their 35-cover restaurant, it won’t stop customers from being able to experience the sense of warmth and inclusion that defines their offer.
“Yes, we may have to change some of the operational ways we manage our service, but that heart and that readiness to make sure people enjoy themselves can still be there” says Ifey.
“I don’t think social distancing removes that.”
“It goes beyond numbers and how many people are in the space,” adds Emeka. “It’s about how we create the energy; how customers are greeted; how the music in the space percolates into the atmosphere.”
Being forced to close so soon after opening was, of course, an unexpected challenge for the pair, but they never thought it would mean permanent damage to their business.
“We quickly looked at our numbers and what we would need to be able to cover ourselves for a starting period of three months, and saw that we’d be able to come back strongly,” says Emeka.
“The most painful element was the people side. At the time we’d just spent over five weeks with the team. We’d trained them to understand our culture, and with their own beautiful personalities, they had begun to manifest that in their own way.
“Customers were loving how the staff were embodying our spirit and energy. Having to stop that, and initially not knowing whether we could support them financially, was particularly hard.”
While both Ifeyinwa and Emeka can’t wait to be reunited with their team and their restaurant once it does reopen - at the time of writing they’ve yet to set an official date for this - they have been proactively focused on maintaining the community-minded element of their brand throughout the lockdown by hosting virtual supper clubs and Nollywood Netflix viewing parties online.
“We saw this as an opportunity to look at what we can use this downtime to do, as well as reflect on what we already do,” says Ifey.
“Yes, people know about our physical space in Tottenham and know we serve Nigerian tapas, but that is just one manifestation of what we do, which is celebrate Nigerian culture and build a community that brings people together through good food and feel-good vibes.
“And while weren’t necessarily able to do the food element, we could still celebrate the culture and bring people together, which, as lockdown and social distancing came into effect, felt more important than ever.”
#UnitedWeStand has been created by William Reed hospitality titles BigHospitality, Restaurant magazine and Morning Advertiser and is supported by Britvic, CocaCola European Partners and Unilever Food Solutions.
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