New owner of bistro tells of lockdown nightmare
PUBLISHED: 12:34 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 08:51 16 July 2020
Brendan Gray has had the keys to his Norfolk bistro for almost five months now – but in that time has only been able to trade for four weeks.
He waited almost a year before finally assuming control of the Station Bistro in Wymondham, before finally doing so on February 28 when former owners Simon and Kate Leeder stepped down.
But the dream of his first business soon turned into a nightmare when lockdown forced him to close again just two weeks after opening.
The bistro has now reopened, but like many other business the financial impact has been huge.
At first he was able to place his staff on furlough, but the government later decided his staff were ineligible for the money.
Mr Gray, 29, said: “We got furlough for the first month but then they decided that I wasn’t eligible. I paid the staff with the first claim but it’s now in dispute over whether I have to repay that.
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“The date of transfer was February 28 – the cut-off date – but because they weren’t on a scheme in time the government decided to stop furlough for us. It left me in a spot of bother and sadly I had no choice but to place some staff on unpaid leave. I’m trying to get them all back and once business picks up again they’ll all be back here hopefully.”
But despite this latest in a long line of setbacks Mr Gray, who lives in Wymondham with his partner, is staying positive and focussing on building the cafe back up to its former glory.
During lockdown he operated a weekly takeaway burger night to retain some income, and used the closure as an opportunity to redecorate the bistro and tidy up the “overgrown” garden – with help from family and friends including his partner and their parents.
“Opening on Saturday was great – we had a few loyal customers come back in and it was great to feel that support from the community.
“We’ve got all the safety measures in place, like the distanced tables, sanitiser stations, regular toilet checks whenever anyone has been in there. The staff all wear face masks when taking food out onto the floor and are all trained and Covid-aware.
“Lockdown is easing now and I’m continuing to stay positive. I waited long enough to get my hands on the Bistro – it’s my first business – and now I can start pushing forward again.”
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