Is it wise to open a restaurant during a pandemic, asks Chantelle Nicholson

03 November 2020 by
Is it wise to open a restaurant during a pandemic, asks Chantelle Nicholson

While some may say it's mad to open a restaurant in a pandemic, Chantelle Nicholson is taking the challenge in her stride

Who opens a restaurant in a pandemic? Well, I decided to do it. Faced with the harsh reality of feeling helpless and somewhat stuck, All's Well was the thing that revived my energy and motivation.

Pre-Covid, I was looking for a big shiny space into which I could move Tredwells. I had a tentative ‘yes' from the bank for a loan and I was actively looking, almost signing up to a site in the City.

Fast-forward eight months (and what feels like one million years later), Covid has certainly changed things. One of those for me was learning more about the notion of the circular economy, which affected my perspective on moving forward. Shiny and new has lost its appeal in some respects; repurposed, used or pre-loved wins. And it's much more achievable financially to allow things to happen.

So, on to All's Well. Am I mad, some may say (and have said)? To be honest, it is a relatively low-risk venture, and the risk of not doing it seemed much greater from an emotional perspective. It's a short-term lease and most of the operational infrastructure was in situ. We did a lot of DIYing and bought what we needed second-hand. My intention was not to purchase anything new. Apart from a handful of things where I couldn't find an alternative, we managed to achieve it.

I have never actually opened a restaurant as ‘the chef'. I was always on the operational side of things – so slightly at arm's length from the critique of the food. Not so these days, but I'm happy I waited until now to do it.

Unfussy, tasty food and great produce is much more important to me with the benefit of experience on my side. Downsizing to about one-tenth of the kitchen space I have been used to at Tredwells has been an adjustment. At a squeeze, we can fit three of us in the kitchen (which I found out, rather brutally on Friday night, is needed). I'm enjoying cooking again, without the formality of needing to organise everything to the nth degree, which was the whole reason I got into this industry in the first place: for my love of food and cooking. A circular economy of my own, perhaps.

Writing this on Sunday, I now need to think of what to do during this next lockdown. I always knew it was on the cards when I signed on the dotted line for the site, thus I feel more prepared, both emotionally and operationally than the first-time round. The timing is frustrating, as we have had a really great opening week, but there are still bills to pay and people to keep motivated, so we will crack on with creating a delivery and takeaway offer. Being part of a neighbourhood community was always top of my list, so I am keen to keep that moving forward.

There is not much more to say at this point in time apart from good luck to everyone trying to navigate these uncharted, and very rocky, waters. Look after yourself and let's hope all's well that ends well.

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