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The hopes and fears of your favourite pubs and restaurants in Kent following the coronavirus outbreak

By Megan Carr, Jack Dyson, Rhys Griffiths and Eleanor Perkins

Pubs and restaurant owners around Kent were left devastated when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced they must close up on March 20. Now, many have spoken out about what they think the future holds for their establishments.

Sharon Cullen and her team at Wellington's have set up a GoFundMe page
Sharon Cullen and her team at Wellington's have set up a GoFundMe page

Sharon Cullen from Wellingtons in Deal has set up a GoFundMe site to help her business get through the next couple of months.

As a relatively new business having only opened in February 2019, she needs to raise £25,000 to survive.

She said: "It is with great distress, that due to COVID-19, the future for Wellingtons looks bleak.

"As a business we still have financial commitments to uphold, including but not limited to; our rent, paying our suppliers, and our gas and electric bills.

"To have survived our first year in business and then see it slip through our fingers is utterly heartbreaking, therefore, we are asking for your help from those who can, during this financial crisis."

Many have had to furlough their staff and rely on other government schemes to help them through.

The Brenchley in Maidstone is one of the businesses to use the furlough scheme.

The Brenchley is closed
The Brenchley is closed

Ade Rowsell, senior manager said: "We have been closed for two weeks and nothing much has changed, we are all just waiting for this to be finished.

"The majority of the staff have been put on the government furlough scheme but we are still waiting for that to be up and running. We are hoping for a quick resolution to this situation, but obviously one that is safe.

"As a business we are just trying to seek all the help that's being offered, but it seems to be a slow and painful process."

Some are feeling much more positive about the future.

“In a business sense, we’re in reasonably good shape because we don’t carry a lot of debt,” said Phil Harris, who runs Michelin-starred The Sportsman, in Seasalter.

The Sportsman pub at Seasalter (27822272)
The Sportsman pub at Seasalter (27822272)

Its entire 39-strong workforce has been furloughed and the landlord has helped the pub save money in other ways.

Mr Harris said: “Shepherd Neame have been a great help; they immediately cancelled the rent and offered all sorts of ways of helping.

“If it goes on for three months, it will damage us, but it won’t kill the business. If it goes on for a year, that’s another story.”

Bosses at the Red Lion in Stodmarsh, near Canterbury, insist that the pub will reopen when the crisis is over and say they have used the time to forage and create new menus.

The upmarket tavern, which created headlines last year for serving Kentucky-fried squirrel, decided against introducing a delivery service after it was forced to close because it was felt it would not be a profitable move.

General manager Morgan Lewis said: “It’s been a total nightmare because everything’s stopped and we’re getting no income.

“Financially, we’ve obviously taken a big hit – but the government’s given some quite decent help.

“We want to stay positive about it and focus on coming back stronger than when we closed.

“Because people have been locked up for so long, when this is over, they will be excited to get out – and we’re the sort of place that people can look forward as we do stuff that’s different.”

Mr Lewis also says that, after the restaurant closed, the kitchen staff were busy preserving much of the leftover stock.

This meant that they pickled 250 eggs, turned a lamb and half a pig bought for Mother’s Day into charcuterie and fermented many of their herbs.

“We’re also taking this time to write menus,” he added.

“I and head chef John Young are using our exercise to go out foraging for things we can preserve for coming menus.”

Although it has been a difficult time, several establishments have been really grateful for the community response.

Nick Barbasiewicz, owner of independent restaurant The Three Compasses in Deal, says the outbreak has caused his biggest setback in two decades.

Nick Barbasiewicz from the Three Compasses in Deal is offering a delivery service to help his business stay afloat
Nick Barbasiewicz from the Three Compasses in Deal is offering a delivery service to help his business stay afloat

He says the enforced shut down timing - just days before Mother’s Day - was an extra blow for restaurants who were fully booked after the traditionally slow January and February months.

But the support from loyal customers has allowed him to offer a delivery service and he is hopeful to reopen, and reinstate staff, as soon as allowed.

The 64-year-old said: "We set out on day one almost 20 years ago to be a locals’ restaurant. That paid off last week, because the locals have been kind enough to support us.

"We are doing our best to help another local business by selling free range eggs for Max from the Deal Market which we can also deliver with a food order.

"One problem has been the availability of ingredients. Vegetables are the biggest issue. Despite this we are managing to sustain the orders.

"We plan to open as soon as this is over."

Anna Vidler says closing their cocktail bar in Deal has caused a lot of stress but she is hopeful the government will support them
Anna Vidler says closing their cocktail bar in Deal has caused a lot of stress but she is hopeful the government will support them

A pregnant restaurant and bakery owner from Deal had envisaged strapping her newborn to her back as she continued work, until coronavirus arrived.

Instead, Anna Vidler and her husband Chris have had to close down The Lane cocktail bar and restaurant and sister company The Lane Bakery.

And while the pandemic is allowing them to settle into parenthood at home and enjoy precious time with their new son, it's mixed with the emotions of having to say a temporary goodbye to staff.

They've told KentOnline that they hope to return as strong as before but it is dependent on support from the government, not only to cover wages but also rent and bills.

She said: "To see our businesses have to stop and not being able to provide to our community is really upsetting.

"It has caused us so much worry, stress and makes us really sad that we have had to say goodbye to our staff temporarily.

"We hope that the government can support us as we do not want to watch our business crumble.

"We put so much into it. As long as we get the support we need from the government we hope to stay open, but who knows what the future may bring. "

Depending on how long the crisis continues, the couple say they may attempt a non-contact delivery in response to customers requests.

She added: "The community support has been incredible. If people would like to support us, they can buy a voucher online."

Peter Kray from The Crown
Peter Kray from The Crown

Peter Kray, manager of Shepherd Neame pub The Crown in Rochester said: “It is obviously a challenging time, but we have received great support from Shepherd Neame. We have around 15-20 full and part-time staff at the pub who are all currently furloughed, but we hope that our team will be reunited and able to resume their normal work on full pay as soon as possible.

“Our Deputy Manager Tom Crackett is living on-site at the pub, and I am at home in Hempstead. It is nice having the opportunity to spend time at home with the family. We have a six-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, so they are keeping me busy!”

When the pub closed, the team donated all the unused fresh food, totalling around £400, to local charities to help the homeless.

Managers of Dartford's Wig and Gown Alan Pulfer and Yvonne Rickards said: “We’re currently in lockdown, struggling to get an insurance pay-out even though we have virus cover.

“We’re trying to take everything day by day.

“We are not doing any deliveries, but once this is over, we are hoping to re-open as a community pub, with bands, DJ’s, freedom Nights and other events.

“We’re also bringing in a new menu.”

Licensee of the ship and Lobster, Gravesend, Lizzie Brown said: “We’re trying to make the best of the bad.

“We’re going to deep clean and re-decorate the bar area during the lockdown.

“We’ve had a lot of people phone up to see if we’re open and as we’re by the river path we’ve seen a lot of walkers, more than usual.

“But we’re shut, we’re doing our bit and getting ready for when we can open up again.”

Karensa Miller of The Zetland Arms in Kingsdown says Shepherd Neame has been very supportive
Karensa Miller of The Zetland Arms in Kingsdown says Shepherd Neame has been very supportive

Karensa Miller who runs another Shepherd Neame pub, The Zetlands Arms in Kingsdown near Deal - which was using for filming of ITV's Liar - also praised the brewery for its support.

She said: "Shepherd Neame have been very supportive during this closure. We do not want to close and we will do our best to stay open.

"We would like to be open by August if at all possible so we can get some of the summer before the winter sets in.

"I am busy decorating the inside of the pub so it’s a fresh start after this terrible time."

Read more: 'We're still open for business.'

To read the Secret Drinker’s pub reviews click here.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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