"We have missed normal life": Leeds bar owners share excitement ahead of reopening on May 17
The owners of bars in Leeds which have not yet reopened due to lockdown restrictions said they can't wait to return to normal life and throw open their doors on May 17.
Chris Howard, 45, who owns Aire Bar on The Calls and Stephanie Cliffe who owns The Assembly in Cross Gates, both spoke to the YEP to share their excitement at the prospect of finally being able to see their customers again - having watched on as other venues across the city utilised outdoor space.
Chris has owned Aire Bar in Leeds city centre for more than 16 years.
The Aire Bar is located in the basement of a stunning brick vaulted converted warehouse with amazing views of the River Aire.
Chris said the last 12 months had been the "most trying" year of his ownership - with the lockdown restrictions unfortunately coinciding with the incredible success of Leeds United.
He told the YEP he made the difficult decision not to reopen when outdoor restrictions were lifted, as he didn't want to disappoint regulars or staff with "closing one day and opening the next" due to the inclement weather.
Instead, Chris has been preparing the bar - and the 12 staff who are due to return next week - for a reopening on May 17.
He expects the bar to be "very busy" but is balancing both bookings and a walk-in system to allow all of his customers to benefit.
Chris said he couldn't wait to reopen, with staff receiving many booking requests on social media in the last few weeks.
He said: "The staff are excited to come back.
"It is a way of life for us and we had it taken away.
"Going back to normal is the aim."
Chris believes he made the correct decision to delay reopening until the restrictions are lifted, despite having outdoor space at the bar.
He added: "It was a really difficult call.
"It was a dilemma.
"We would have had to tell staff 'yes you are working' or 'no you are not' depending on the weather and it wasn't fair.
"I would have been second guessing the weather and what might happen.
"When it rained last week, I felt like I had made the right decision."
Chris said he had bumped in to many regulars near the bar during its closure.
Leeds United supporters often flock to Aire Bar before matches at Elland Road or to watch the team on huge screens.
However, the restrictions have coincided with the team's first stint in the Premier League in more than 15 years.
Chris said this was the first year since he owned the bar that the Whites had made it to the Premier League and he was devastated not to be able to experience the season alongside the fans in his bar.
He said: "It is our first season back in the Premier League but we have not been able to benefit from it and had the influx of fans from across the country we would have seen.
"Thankfully Leeds will still be in the Premier League next season so we are hoping to be very busy on matchdays.
"When people ask what has been the hardest bit about the lockdown and closing, I tell them it is not being able to experience this season.
"The atmosphere would have been amazing.
"We have not been able to have that.
"We are going to be very busy for the last game of the season hopefully which will be great."
Chris told the YEP how difficult the past 12 months had been in the industry.
However, he said he believed we are now "through the other side" and hoped for a return to normality in the coming months.
Chris added: "There has been so much uncertainty.
"It has been really tough.
"The bar being closed has been really difficult, but I hope we are now through the other side.
"We can't wait to open."
Stephanie Cliffe, 36, and Matthew, 43, own The Assembly in Cross Gates.
The pair opened their bar, bottle shop and café in a tiny unit in Station Road in 2018.
They spotted a gap in the market, catering for people willing to spend a little more on quality ales, artisan gin and cocktails.
The pair have been planning to open a new site on Main Street, Garforth since 2019 following the success of their Cross Gates location.
They've been astounded by the support of the community and have built up a base of loyal customers, from students and young professionals to older people.
However, the bar opening has been delayed for more than 12 months due to lockdown restrictions and due to the proximity to the road outside, it has not been viable to open outdoor space.
Speaking to the YEP, Stephanie said she was "itching" to open the doors to the new bar on Friday May 21.
She said some loyal staff had been waiting for months after being offered the job and will finally be able to work in the new bar.
Stephanie said it had "not been easy" during lockdown but the pair have used the time to "perfect the bar" ahead of the exciting opening.
She added: "It was really scary [to delay it].
"We have used the time to make sure all the details are there and to perfect the space.
"We found the perfect venue in 2019 but it has been so hard since then, we were due to open in April 2020 but it has been pushed back ever since due to the lockdown restrictions.
"I think we are close to normality."
The Assembly in Cross Gates reopened for customers outdoors after the latest lifting of restrictions.
However, Stephanie said the bad weather had been difficult to manage.
Stephanie said the delay in opening their second bar had affected both her own family and the staff they employ.
She added: "The government has been great with helping job retention but it only goes so far.
"It has been really tough for everyone.
"We are very optimistic and looking forward to opening."