Yorkshire restaurants 'terrified' in fight to survive under coronavirus

Restaurant and pub owners in Yorkshire have spoken of how independent businesses may not survive as bookings plummet over coronavirus fears.

By John Blow
Sunday, 15th March 2020, 6:33 pm
Updated Monday, 16th March 2020, 11:54 am

One restaurateur in Leeds said that COVID-19 could mean consumers “lose the high street”, while the owner of a pub on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales fears its implications for trade could be worse than the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001.

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Many independent companies have voucher schemes and web stores, and are appealing for support that way if people do not wish to go out in public.

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Paul Klein, who has owned the Blue Lion in Wensleydale for three decades and employs around 25 people, says coronavirus is “bigger than” Foot and Mouth.

“It’s certainly the biggest thing that’s happened since I’ve been in business,” he said, adding: “I’m terrified of being closed down.”

Luke Downing owns Vice and Virtue and two Feed restaurants in Leeds, employing 10 main staff.

“We’ve had the most cancellations we’ve ever had this week,” he said today.

A meal at Vice and Virtue, Leeds. Picture: Tony Johnson.

“We didn’t have anybody in on Wednesday or Thursday.

“On Friday we woke up to 22 cancellations.

“We’re in a reasonable position but we won’t survive if this continues for six weeks or months.”

He added: “We do talk to our friends in the industry around here and everybody’s having these cancellations.”

Luke Downing, owner of Vice and Virtue in Leeds. Picture: Simon Hulme.

On Mother’s Day, his restaurant Vice and Virtue would usually anticipate serving between 30 to 60 covers, but yesterday was expecting just 12 for next Sunday.

“They’re the ones you are always full, you have to turn [people] away. Not being full on Mother’s Day, it’s very unusual.”

He warned: “We could lose the high street because of this – it’s very serious. And it will happen very, very quickly.”

Paul Klein of the Blue Lion in Wensleydale. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Simon Fogal, of events and public relations firm Chapter 81, is founder of Leeds Indie Food, a team which puts on annual festivals where businesses work together and which liaises with a range of eateries and bars.

He said: “This week is seeing reduced hours come into play and we’re just asking people to help by buying vouchers or using online shops, like a pay forward scheme.

“As we know many run on very close margins, this is a must for those businesses to survive.”

But he said that sales have been down by about 25 per cent in recent days.

The company had been receiving supportive messages from customers, however.

Mr Townsley said: "That's definitely the positive for me - that there's an incredible indie community of restaurants, shops and bars in Leeds which contributes to what Leeds is."