Eight weeks into the city’s mandatory lockdown as a result of measures introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19, the majority of London’s restaurants, bars, and cafes have closed. Sustainability focused restaurant Fallow opened a week prior to the lockdown; since then, co-founders Will Murray, Jack Croft, and James Robson have ridden a rollercoaster of ups and downs, from the highs of opening to the lows of being exempt from any form of financial support.
As part of a series hoping to explore the experiences and perspectives of restaurant workers in the immediate aftermath, we’ve spoken to and shared a few of the stories from those on the frontline. Four weeks on, Fallow has gone through its fair share of highs and lows. We recently caught up with chef Will Murray, who shares the reality of applying for financial aid, the hustle of lockdown, and his optimism for a post-COVID restaurant landscape. Here’s what he had to say.
Read the first conversation here.
We recently had a Crowdfund. We saw the Pay It Forward [crowdfunding initiative] that came out by the Mayor of London, and we just thought it was a good time to jump on it — we’ve got a lot of vouchers for hampers, and good discounts for when we reopen. The support’s amazing on that, it’s really incredible. There are a lot of very good causes out there at the moment that it makes it all the more special that people have taken the time to worry about a little restaurant.
Regarding support from the government, because we were so new, it was hard for us to catch some of the loans. We still can’t access any of them. The business starter loans that just came out, they’re based on revenue and because we only had a week’s worth, we weren’t able to get those either. So it’s amazing if it helps a few more businesses but ultimately, it’s not going to help us. I think we’ve applied for every loan possible — we’ve looked at banks and at the moment, we’ve not had anything back, which makes it pretty difficult considering all the revenue that we’ve lost.
We’ve very much fallen through the gap. Me and Jack are having to get universal credit, you know – we’re on every single thing that you can apply for, and basically, we don’t qualify.
So we have to make a bit of money then, otherwise we’re going to be pretty hard up. The classes that we’ve launched are doing really well. We’ve been able to support our sous chef by doing it. We’ve been doing these online classes over Zoom — we just did a few for some industry people at first. But there’s been a really good reception. It’s going to keep him in regular income every week.
We’re going to start doing some of the classes from the restaurant. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some more out-of-work chefs who are in hardship. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some places available for them and start offering some courses too. I think people are really seeking guidance from professionals, because they’ve realised how hard it is to make a loaf of bread or pasta.
They’re not expensive — they’re 45 quid for a two-hour class. We did fresh homemade gnocchi the other day with a really simple sauce and tiramisu for these women in Burnley, and they absolutely loved it. We’ve got a website up and running now, which is posted to our Instagram.
With our new delivery menu, we’re starting small, with quite a simple menu, and then we’ll look to expand if there’s demand. We’re just being really careful with our stock, because cash flow is still pretty tight — the money from our crowdfund doesn’t come in until June. We’re launching with some vegan jackfruit chicken bites, and we’re doing a dairy cow burger with our housemade brioche buns.
We’re going to be using a combination of different delivery companies. [Slerp] don’t charge anyone that much commission — it feels like it’s helping people out a lot more. Deliveroo offer a lot of different support and obviously have a big market. But I mean — they offered us a reduction on the commission that they take, but still, you sit down and actually do the maths of how much you have to sell to make a profit, and it’s pretty biting. But we’ll see. It might take off and then we won’t be complaining too much.
The only real concern that we’ve got is to make sure that our staff are fine, and that we can offer them any support we can. As soon as the shop’s up and running we’ll be getting them to help. Very clearly, we’re not plotting to make — this doesn’t make a lot of money. We just want to cover our staff and try and grow a little bit more of a following.
It’s a pretty terrifying time in the restaurant industry at the moment, but because this was our first restaurant — we’ve never made a lot of money in restaurants — we don’t really have anything to compare it to.
It’s very clear to me that, running a restaurant, it’s probably never going to be the same again in the UK. I know that sounds really dramatic. We were struggling enough before.
But if we all like eating out, there’s going to have to be a rent release from the government. And restaurants are going to have to do more — they’re going to have to offer more services. I think a lot of the old operators, like the big players, they’re going to suffer a lot more because they’re not able to be responsive to a lot of fixed costs. So I’m optimistic because we’re young, we’ve got some good ideas, we’ve got a good team. And we still have some loyal staff members waiting to get their jobs back. And we’re doing right by them.
So I think we’ll adapt, I think we’ll change. I think people who do that will come out of the other end a lot stronger than possibly if this crisis didn’t happen. It’s going to bring up new talent, new ideas. And hopefully, looking into the future, it might help to improve the industry.
Will Murray is the co-founder and a chef at Fallow in Mayfair.