The chef restaurateur behind the popular Elite Bistros group of restaurants admits that he felt his business would go under because of the pandemic, and that he was prepared to document the closure on film.
“I was pretty negative because of everything that was happening and finding it hard to be optimistic about anything to do with the business” admits Usher in our latest Community Heroes video as part of the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards.
“Every time there was an idea about something to do with cook at home or a way that we could keep the business relevant by doing another business I would downplay the idea. I was struggling with my own mind with the whole business going bankrupt.”
Usher says he spoke with the person who had filmed Elite Bistros’ crowdfunding videos, who suggested also filming the next chapter of the business.
“I said I’ve got a feeling that Elite [Bistros] is going to go bust,” says Usher. “And he said, ‘do you want to film it’, and I said ‘yes, we’ve filmed everything else, so we might as well.”
“We started going round the restaurants and discussing them closing and at what stage each was at financially and how long before it would close.”
Helping the community
In spite of his fears for the business, which runs award-winning restaurants in Chester, Manchester and Liverpool, Usher continued to help out Chester-based charity Soul Kitchen throughout the first nationwide lockdown in March. Before the pandemic the restaurant cooked around 30 or 40 meals once a month to help feed the area’s homeless and vulnerable.
Usher recalls how he was contacted by the charity to provide the meals as usual just as lockdown hit and initially thought his business closure meant he would not be able to continue to support it.
“I felt so stupid saying that because we’ve closed down suddenly the homeless and vulnerable don’t need feeding,” says The Sticky Walnut chef-patron.
“What am I talking about? So, I cooked on that Saturday night.”
Usher and a group of other local restaurateurs then got together to ensure the charity had food donated on a regular basis.
“Every night of the week for the whole of the lockdown there was not a single person in Chester or Ellesmere Port who didn’t want to that hasn’t gone without a meal.”
Elite Bistro at Home
Usher also reveals in the video how he pushed against launching a cook at home business but was eventually convinced to do so by other in the company, a move that has proven successful and helped the business keep trading throughout the pandemic.
Called Elite Bistro at Home, the business offers a range of its restaurant dishes for delivery that can be then prepared easily at home.
“We launched it and the demand was ridiculous. It was overwhelming how many boxes we sold. I realised there is a business here and I was wrong.”
Usher describes Elite Bistro at Home as a ‘really strong brand’ that will continue once the pandemic is over.
“It’s got legs and we won’t give it up. I can’t see it ever finishing.”