Peter Kinsella, owner of Lunya, a small collection of Spanish restaurants, bars and delis in Manchester and Liverpool, has been overwhelmed with support on Twitter after his heartfelt letter to the prime minister went viral.
Speaking to The Caterer on Thursday Kinsella confirmed he wrote the letter following a get-together with neighbouring local restaurant and retail operators, who had met to support each other and discuss the practicalities of closing their doors. "Then I sat down and did it – I've never typed so fast. I couldn't see the words on the screen, my eyes were streaming," he said. "But it was amazingly cathartic. The thoughts had been in there for days."
"Dear Prime Minister," he began. "You won't know me or Lunya. We are a small, family owned independent restaurant and deli in Liverpool and Manchester. We have never sought, nor expected any help from the Government. Last week, we celebrated 10 years of being. We have rightly and gladly paid £7.1m in tax over those 10 years."
His letter stated that he went into business "fully aware of the risks" and, despite risking losing everything even before the coronavirus hit, his business had made major contributions to the economy and brought an "awful lot of joy to many people."
The empathetic reaction from the industry has opened the floodgates for others to share the emotional burden and strain that the corona crisis is wreaking on their personal and family lives.
Father-of-three Kinsella said the government needs to understand the emotional impact for everyone who has a restaurant, a shop or hotel: "Everyone's got lots of other things going on in their life," he said. "And everyone is coping with very worried staff. We are paying our staff. We want to pay every single staff member every penny they're owed this month. And, if we can, next month."
His most pressing concern is being able to pay his 105 staff and he said he is hoping for an announcement from the government later today that the money for businesses must be used to cover staff wages and, crucially, technical, tangible details on how that money can be accessed. "We need our staff to be taken care of. Luckily for us we've met tomorrow's payroll of around £100,000. Then, for us, it's a week or two until we're out of money. We've done a lot of listening for a few weeks now and on Friday we stopped every single payment going out. The business rates announcement was brilliant but we'd already decided that we'd stop paying it."
Last night Kinsella closed the restaurant and bar side of the business to focus on the deli and online retail operation. "We are quickly diversifying. We're making comfort dishes - lasagnes, meatballs and pastas - that we're freezing and we'll deliver them. We're doing everything we can to fulfil our online orders and I'm going round our sites to give reassurance to our staff. I'm writing up my recipes for pasta bakes, lasagne, meatballs. No one wants a fancy puree right now – we want comfort food that will see us through. Both our delis are opposite a big Tesco, so if people need sugar or shampoo we can bundle that up in our delivery for them too. If the money's there we're going to pay our staff whether they're working or not. We will stay open and deliver locally and across the UK."
Rallying with his neighbours they discussed practicalities such as how to secure their soon-to-be vacant premises, including preventing rodents ("one of the best deterrents for rodents is being occupied and busy") and the issue of removing, storing and insuring valuables, in particular alcohol and expensive olive oils.
While six-month interest free loans from the government are all very well he said he doesn't believe operators should be "saddled in debt" to cover landlords' shortfalls, saying that landlords need to take out loans to cover their own costs. He continued: "We are putting all our faith in the government, we believe them, but there needs to be some details and some kind of process now, as in our industry every single business needs access to that cash."
He said he would spend today closing their sites by doing a "massive deep clean", clearing out valuable stock and finding a way to make use of all fresh produce so that "not a single thing goes in the bin". He concluded that while restaurants and bars played a major part of the social fabric of society, remaining open was not worth the risk. "We've got a strong personal responsibility for our business to shut," he said. "By staying open we're creating a temptation for people to come out - to help us – and it's a strong temptation. We've got to do our part. Every business will make their own decision."