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Minute on the clock: Peter Kinsella, Lunya

14 August 2020 by

The founder of Lunya in central Liverpool and Lunyalita in the Royal Albert Dock tells Jennie Milsom how his business has benefited from the Liverpool Without Walls programme and why the city is leading the way.

Tell us about the programme to promote alfresco dining in Liverpool.

You could apply for a grant for up to £4,000, which had to be spent on outdoor furniture to grow your outside covers. We got the grant and used it to buy better looking furniture than we could normally afford and, with the landlord's permission, we extended one of our terraces on the Albert Dock. It was brilliant – we've now got 30 extra covers outside and it's a really good-looking space. Our first weekend was great and fantastically busy. Happy days for now.

Should more councils be offering programmes to help cities recover?

All the councils have the same funding from central governments, but I think Liverpool has been ahead of the curve and understands how important leisure and tourism are for the city. If restaurants are doing well, shops and other venues are going to do better, too.

How badly hit has tourism been in Liverpool?

We've obviously lost a lot of the international tourism. Every week there would be three or four great big cruise liners dropping off people and huge coach tours, but there are none of those now. They have been replaced by locals and Brits visiting. The Dock hotels are starting to do much better.

How has business been since you reopened?

We opened both sites [Lunya and Lunyalita] and it's been good. Even though the guidance changed to one-metre-plus, we went for wider spacing and took a lot of precautions and we were sensible.

The feedback we've had has been brilliant. It feels like nothing has changed – it feels safe yet relaxed. If you're feeling anxious, there's no point doing it.

At the moment we're fully booked for August, but if there are walk-ins and we have a table, we'll take them. The locals here have been pretty resilient about going back out.

What's been the biggest challenge over the past few weeks?

Reopening. It was enormous to go from being closed to reopening, even though we didn't reopen from a standing point – we had been doing a really big delivery service and our landlord gave us free space next door so we could move our packing area there. So we had momentum; we had people working. The waiters would say the biggest challenge is that the table numbers have changed!

You made the decision to close your Manchester site for good…

We handed the keys back in the middle of June. Business-wise it was the most difficult decision we ever had to make – we had ploughed our heart and soul into it and we had to make 31 jobs redundant. But having seen how quiet the city centre has been over the last six weeks, it was the right thing to do. It would have brought our two Liverpool sites down – it was our preservation strategy.

What positives have come from the crisis?

It's forced us to innovate. We've now got about seven or eight strings to our bow. For example, we did cook-alongs on Facebook Live during lockdown and they worked well, so we're going to keep them up.

We've always done a big range of tastings – cheese, curing, sherry – and we're starting those again from the end of August, with a focus on Thursdays.

Monday to Wednesday will do well [because of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme], but it may also displace people who would normally have gone out on a Thursday and Friday.

What are you looking forward to during the coming weeks and months?

Building up our bank balance so we can confidently pay our bills. We've gone from nothing in it to starting to build up funds.

Our biggest hope is for really good weather during August. There is a lot of optimism, but we also know something will happen in the next six months that will impact trade again. So we're making hay while the sun shines.

It seems inconceivable that we'll get to next March without more restrictions at some point. I imagine over the Christmas period there will be restrictions that won't allow big groups to get together.

I can't see those work parties happening. Maybe we'll try and have more virtual celebrations.

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