A weekend of difficult decisions for Sunderland's restaurants and cafes

Wearside cafes and restaurants have found themselves facing an uncertain future after the Government ordered their closure to help in the nation’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

By Katy Wheeler
Monday, 23rd March 2020, 4:43 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 9:03 am

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The measures were introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he follows medical and scientific advice on slowing down the spread of the virus to help the NHS cope.

It’s thrown businesses across the city into a dark hour, particularly for those in the hospitality industry and their workforce.

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Some hope has come in the form of the announcement on Friday, March 20, that the Government would pay 80% of wages for at-risk workers.

But those with a food offering have still been torn between opening for collection and delivery or closing for the foreseeable future.

Among the local businesses to join national restaurant chains Nando’s and McDonald’s in closing for the time being are: Holmeside Coffee, Grinder Coffee, The Scullery in Silksworth and Roker, Mexico 70, Roker Hotel, Ramside Hall Hotel, Pati cake Patisserie, Love Lily tearoom, Pop Recs and more.

Sunderland Restaurant Week, due to take place this week, has also been forced to postpone its dining scheme until September.

Mexico 70, High Street West, tried a takeaway service but has now closed for the duration of the crisis

After a difficult week of constantly changing advice, some businesses tried to offer a collection at first, but found it wasn’t feasible.

Neil Bassett from Mexico 70 in High Street West, explained: “After one really busy night of takeaway service we just felt that we weren’t doing everything we possibly could to protect our staff, our customers or the wider population, so we took the decision to stop immediately.

“We’re looking forward to doing what we do best as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

Roker Hotel proved popular for its takeaway afternoon teas from its Let There Be Crumbs tearoom on Mother’s Day, but has since closed its doors for now.

Roker Hotel, and other Tavistock Hospitality Group venues have closed.

Jonathan Graham, of Tavistock Hospitality Group, which operates The Roker Hotel and its Poetic License distillery, Italian Farmhouse in West Rainton, S43 Brewery and its gastro pubs including The Lambton Worm in Chester-le-Street, said: “We, at Tavistock, Poetic License and S43 Brewery, have the well being of staff and customers at heart. We offered a takeaway service for pre-booked afternoon teas, however, after that we have decided to close all venues in order to contain this disease.

“We will be back stronger than ever at the end of this and would like to thank our wonderful staff and customers for being so supportive.”

Love Lily, which has a tearoom in Roker and a bakery in Pallion, had a busy weekend of cake sales for collection but has also decided to now close its doors.

A statement on its social media channels reads: “As of 5pm today (March 23), we have made the decision to close for the forseeable future. The safety of our customers and staff is of paramount importance to us.

Love Lily Tearoom, Marine Walk, Roker decided it was best to stop its takeout service

“Although we can operate as a takeout, which we have the past two days, we now believe it is time to close to encourage more people to isolate.”

For other venues, branching into delivery has proved a popular option, with NO 2 Church Lane selling out of burgers at the weekend and tearooms such as Crumb On In brightening people’s Mother’s Day with cakes for delivery.

Gemma Sutherland, who owns Crumb On In, in Holmeside, delivered 42 afternoon teas yesterday and is almost full for deliveries this week.

She said: “The deliveries are the only thing that’s pulling me through, I’ve been overwhelmed with the response. People are obviously wanting to treat their parents who are in isolation so it’s certainly something to brighten their day.

“We’re so pleased our local community are helping independent businesses to keep going in these uncertain times. We’ve also been offering a delivery service if anyone needs any other items dropping off at the same time, such as bread and milk.”

Many businesses are utilising their resources to help the wider community. At the weekend Seaham Hall, which has had to close, gave away its surplus stock to NHS workers and El’s Kitchen in Pallion is giving away all its leftovers at the end of the day to the elderly and vulnerable.

Crumb On In has diversified into delivery which has prove popular

Blacks Corner deli in East Boldon has also launched a community outreach programme to deliver shopping bags of deli produce to those in need around the area.

Pizza UNO in Pallion are also helping to boost the morale of those working at the frontline of the pandemic by giving NHS staff free pizzas for the duration of the crisis.