I've been running Yardarm, a local wine and provisions shop, with my partner since 2015 in a close-knit east London community. In 2018, we fully took over the 20-seater restaurant next door. With our new chef Joe, it had become popular, and we had plans to expand the bar at the back of the shop to cater for the extra customers we had visiting in the evenings because of it.
Then coronavirus struck, and we had to make tough decisions very quickly. Before social distancing was even officially announced, we'd already come to the heartbreaking conclusion that we'd have to shut the restaurant. It's an intimate space, people would be sitting too close together, and we couldn't in all conscience put our staff and customers at risk. Luckily our employees all work across both businesses, and we'd set our head chef the task of thinking up an alternative option to get up and running ahead of lockdown.
Emotionally, our response to this was "sh*t". We were scared. We were worried for our family – we have two small children – worried for our community and for our livelihoods. We'd been receiving messages from our suppliers, many of whom had become friends over the years, saying, "We can't go on." I spent a lot of that first week crying.
But I also had messages from locals checking in to ask if we were OK. It was so kind and lovely. Then there was the emotional response we had from people who needed us to stay open for them. They needed to come in and buy essentials from us, but also offload about the terrifying situation we all suddenly found ourselves in. We might not have the restaurant, but we could adapt the shop to give our community access to the necessities and a place to go that made them feel a tiny bit more normal.