It’s difficult to think of a worse time to close restaurants and pubs for eat-in...
What’s really frustrating is that they only gave us a day’s notice and there’s still no clarification about what is happening next week. The hardest thing for this industry is the stopping and starting. People don’t consider the cost of closing and re-opening. Making food from scratch is a long process; we’ve made lots of Christmas puddings that I don’t want to be stuck with in January, for example. This situation is stretching my flexibility to the max.
You’ve been good at flexing thus far. Tell us about your retail offer at Parlour
The first lockdown was great from a business perspective. We created a shop immediately, so we experienced that golden time when very few other restaurants were doing anything and it was difficult to get food from supermarkets. We did more revenue as a shop than we did as a pub. That’s jaw dropping. Especially when you consider we were trading over a six-hour window rather than a 15-hour one.
Why did you move so fast?
I’m a proactive person. I just wanted to do something. I ordered 30 mixed vegetable boxes from our vegetable supplier and cooked a shit load of bread. My staff rolled with it and it evolved over a few weeks. We wanted to keep the conversation going about Parlour. We also felt we had a responsibility to both our staff and the community to keep going. The first day was a disaster. We had five staff on and took £180. But the revenue kept building and eventually we were doing £6,000 a day. We had two people on the tills taking money. It was just like Waitrose, only more expensive and less organised.
What about the second lockdown?
That was totally different. We brought the retail offer back bigger and more beautiful than before, but we didn’t have any customers. The landscape was completely different. The supermarkets were accessible. Delivery boxes were easy to get and nearly all restaurants were offering something. We did 10% to 20% of the revenue we were doing the first time round. We were due to re-open Six Portland (the site Dunford Wood acquired from Oli Barker earlier this year) just before Boris announced the second national lockdown so we opted to launch as a coffee shop and bakery. It was a good way to get a feel for the area and meet people, but we didn’t make any money there either.
With that in mind, what’s your plan for this current period of closure?
We’re not doing a shop in either place. We’re just doing takeaway fish and chips and takeaway roast dinners at Parlour (on Friday and Sunday respectively). The latter has been really successful, we’ve had to cap it at 200 people. But we don’t get any drinks sales or service charge and we can’t sell starters or puddings, so it’s a lot of work for not much return. But we need to stay relevant and keep money going through the till.
Have you had to lose any staff?
We haven’t got rid of anyone. Part of the reason we’ve kept going is that we have new staff that aren’t entitled to furlough. I recently employed a new GM, who is now the world’s most expensive potato peeler.
What attracted you to Six Portland Road?
It’s small and manageable and in a very affluent part of town (Holland Road). As a business it’s done well in the few years it’s been open. What you see is what you get. Five starters, five mains, five desserts. It’s very different to Parlour which is big and chaotic and takes a lot of managing.
You described it as a more grown-up version of Parlour...
Yes. But I don’t want to change it too much. There are a few small Parlour touches, but the framework of the business remains the same and it’s also the head chef (Nye Smith), sous chef and restaurant manager. The only way I have been able to participate is by doing washing up shifts. It’s so small there’s no other way of seeing what’s going on. I’m here in the morning and afternoon but I leave them to it for service and Nye writes the menus. We’ll include a few little touches from Parlour, including soda bread and our Rolo-inspired chocolates
What’s the food like?
It’s simpler and more expensive than Parlour. There are luxury ingredients in the kitchen that we’d never use in the pub. But the demographic is different. Parlour is 30 to 40 year olds with two kids, a screaming baby and not enough money. Six Portland Road is 60 year olds with a bit too much money. I’m keen on introducing some younger blood. I think with my energy and some social media stuff we can make that happen. I want to make it more accessible and perhaps a little bit more fun.
It’s close to your former pub the Mall Tavern...
It is. But as a restaurant it attracts a completely different crowd. I worked in restaurants for 20 years but for the last 10 years I’ve done pubs, which are very different because they naturally attract a far broader audience. Taking on Six Portland road has reminded me that restaurants are always quite specific in their demographic. How you frame it and how you set it up really matters.