A mix of caution and optimism - Sunderland's hospitality sector reflects on a year of lockdowns

Although the roadmap out of lockdown is welcomed, it’s also a plan that’s being met with caution by many in the hospitality sector who’ve had to navigate a year of ever-changing restrictions.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 7:00 am

To mark a year since Boris Johnson announced the country would be going into Lockdown, on March 23, 2020, we’ve spoken to members of the city’s hospitality industry – a sector that’s been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic.

Restaurants in the North East have not been able to open for sit-in dining since before the second lockdown on November 5 after being placed into Tier 3 when that lockdown eased.

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City's hospitality sector reflects on a year of Lockdowns

The Urban Terrace Kitchen deli in Pallion closed its doors for the first lockdown before reopening for takeaway lunches with social distancing measures in place.

Although it’s been difficult not being able to have multiple customers in the shop and interacting as they once would at the family business which has built up a loyal following since it opened in 2016, owners Michael and Zoë Jameson say the community spirit has kept them going.

Michael said: “Since March 23 last year our journey through the pandemic has been challenging, however, the support we have received from our customers new and old has been amazing."

The chef is also part of a swathe of new businesses opening up in the John Street and Mackie’s Corner area of the city centre which has seen much investment in recent months.

Michael and Zoë Jameson at The Urban Terrace Kitchen deli in St Luke's Terrace in Pallion

His first city centre venture, Spent Grain, has transformed an empty unit in John Street, and will be announcing its opening date soon.

Michael added: “I am looking forward to a much positive future in the business and have the added bonus of being lucky enough to have found a new business partner to develop the new brand Spent Grain which will be opening on John Street once restrictions ease.”

Elisa Ricci and husband Ben Harman are at the helm of two city businesses, San Marino in Chester Road and Hanover Place in Deptford.

The latter closed its doors temporarily in October last year at a time when constantly changing restrictions made knowing how much stock to order incredibly difficult, whilst also having to police customers with the tightened restrictions on the mixing of households.

Spent Grain in John Street is set to open soon

It meant the historic pub was running at a loss and, like many in the city, they had to take the heartbreaking decision to let staff go and close the doors.

The pub will be reopening eventually, but Elisa says they are cautious as to when.

"We’re not going to open on April 12, because we want to wait until closer to the time to see if that will actually happen,” explained the businesswoman.

"We’ve been told this before and had to shut down straight away, meaning we had all these barrels of beer that then went off. We are obviously itching to get back to normal and welcome customers once again, but we just can’t afford to open and shut again.

Elisa Ricci and husband Ben Harman had to close Hanover Place in Deptford soon, but hope to be able to reopen again when there's more certainty.

"It’s such a weird time at the minute. If we open and stay open that’s fantastic, but we’re already seeing other countries, such as Italy going back into lockdown.”

The pair are also erring on the side of caution with San Marino, with a delivery only model operating for now.

The much-loved Italian restaurant has been bringing restaurant quality food to people’s doors from Thursdays to Sundays in lockdown, and it’s a service that’s proved popular.

"Lockdown has changed the quality of takeaway food available, with restaurants now offering that service,” said Elisa. “We’ve found that our customers don’t mind paying that bit extra for quality food, rather than your standard takeaway. We know from feedback they miss dining in with us, but a lot of our customers have families and a lot don’t want to be rushing to the pub on the 12th. They want to see what happens.”

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San Marino in Chester Road is continuing with its successful delivery model.