We want to open this week to avoid 'catastrophe' say Leeds restaurant owners in 'survival mode'

With the announcement of the lockdown exit strategy roadmap looming, we spoke to a number of your favourite restaurants in Leeds about the prospect of possibly not being allowed to open until May.

Saturday, 20th February 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 22nd February 2021, 12:37 pm
Lily Prescott, aged 24, is the newest owner of Wapentake in Leeds city centre

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told all restaurants they must close from November 5 at the start of the second national lockdown - and in Leeds they have not reopened since.

He is set to make an announcement on Monday which will set out his exit strategy from the third national lockdown, detailing dates of when hospitality venues such as restaurants can reopen.

It is expected that the Prime Minister will say restaurants can reopen their doors in May - but with a maximum of two households allowed to sit together and with the return of the Rule of Six.

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Sam Fish, from The Tetley Bar and Kitchen on Hunslet Road in Leeds said she wants to see the "evidence detailing why hospitality needs to be closed until May".

She added: ​"Whilst I'm all for keeping people as safe as possible, hospitality is consistently being treated with tougher restrictions than most and the effects are going to be catastrophic for the industry."

Lily Prescott took over Leeds city centre's Wapentake as co-owner with friend Connor at the start of November, so the pair have never had the chance to open the restaurant, café and bar as owners.

The 24-year-old said "things haven't quite gone to plan" for them.

Lily added: "When we took over the lease at the start of November, we really thought that by now we would have been able to open.

"We opened for takeaway for a bit but it really wasn't worth it for us with the amount it costs to run.

"Town is so dead at the moment and one staff member has already had to leave us and get another job.

"It's really difficult for them because if you work in hospitality you just have no idea if or even when we'll be back.

"We don't know our staff having barely had the chance to work with them and because we're new owners we've only been eligible for one Government grant.

"We were 16 days too late for the other one."

The owner of the Kirkgate venue knew that taking over a restaurant venue during a pandemic was a "big risk" but she didn't expect it to be such a long road before opening.

Lily, from Bramhope, said: "This roadmap will put us in yet another difficult situation because last time with all the restrictions given when people were allowed to open it just didn't work.

"We don't need curfews and to serve meals with drinks because in a restaurant environment, it's controlled anyway.

"I knew that newly owning a venue in a pandemic would be a risk, but not like this.

"It has been stressful and a long road, but I'm hoping it will all work out.

"I just can't wait to get to know all my customers, I'm really excited to open properly and it can only get better from here."

--> Simon Fogal is the festival director for Chow Down at Leeds Indie Food and he thinks "we have all had enough on locking down amongst other arguments as to what constitutes a substantial meal or 10pm curfew".

Simon added: "If waiting till May means the end of all that, I believe it will be hugely beneficial, the hospitality sector has been victimised and used as a scapegoat for too long now, whilst proving that it can run safely, and probably far safer than most retail and supermarkets."

Dale Wynter, co-director of Beehive and Chophaus, is "dying for a pint" and "would like to open this week" - with a wait for May meaning things will start "getting tight".

Dale added: "Whenever we will be reopening we have no capital and we need to invest in restocking and remarketing.

"Places require maintenance when closed and we're going to need another round of grant funding as a start up boost.

"We wouldn't have survived without the grants we have had so far so they've been great but we've got some key dates coming up that we will probably miss, like Mother's Day, and we're now gearing up in the hope of being able to open in April for Easter weekend.

"If we have to wait for May, things will start getting tight."

Beehive is a restaurant situated in Thorner and Chophaus, located in Oakwood near to the clock, is a steak house.

Dale said: "From a business point of view we'd like to open this week.

"We just want to be given a proper date and time to run up to and gain some interest and plan some events.

"At the moment we're at a loss and we just have to wait but we can't be expected to open with too many restrictions because there's no point in opening without the right amount of people or we will lose more money.

"I'm just hoping for a big resurgence and to be honest I'm dying for a pint."

--> Dave Olejnik, Laynes Espresso, said: "The optimism of a truly dependable opening date has long gone, we’re in survival mode and will confidently move forward with reopening when we can."

When lockdown hit, Alfies Burger Joint in Beeston shifted its focus from restaurant to takeaway, and has been making its success through customers having to eat in the comfort of their own homes.

Now, co-owner Raf Huque is reducing his seating capacity as takeaways get more popular, and expanding his kitchen to introduce a new brand to the Joint.

He thinks it will be a "long time" before hospitality sees any type of normality.

Raf said: "We're expanding our operation and growing as a business.

"Our plans have changed because we were originally just a restaurant but now with the uncertainty we're focusing more on takeaway.

"We're going to bring American style Chinese and Japanese food to the business.

"We've done this to be prepared because I don't think anything will happen for us to reopen even by May.

"The data will inevitably change and we've been given dates and timescales before and it just doesn't happen.

"It could be a long time before we see any type of normality in the hospitality industry."

--> James Ooi, Little Bao Boy, said: "The hospitality trade has been absolutely villainised throughout this pandemic and should the closures continue to May it peoples local pubs, indie music venues and restaurants will close forever.

"I hope everyone's in the mood for a Saturday night at Wetherspoons for the foreseeable future.”