Throughout lockdown, restaurants have had to keep their doors closed, but one restaurant in Pooley Bridge has responded by offering a fine dining experience to people’s homes.
Since new lockdown restrictions came into force at the start of November, 1863 Restaurant with Rooms has been delivering its food to homes right across the UK.
During this interrupted year, owners Mark and Anne Vause have looked at ways they can keep going while capacity in the restaurant has been limited.
Mark said: “Of course everyone was worried about the first lockdown, and we weren’t sure what would happen. As soon as we could reopen in July we did, and we introduced 1863 By Day – we opened for lunch, which is something we’d never done before. It’s along the lines of our main menu as it’s three-course fine dining, and it’s gone really well so it’s something we are going to continue doing.
“When the second lockdown came a few weeks ago, we introduced 1863 At Home – our head chef Phil Corrie developed a menu that we could vacuum pack and deliver all over the country. They come with instructions on how to prepare them, and it’s really easy.
“The take-up has been fantastic, and in the first week we sold out within four hours – this week we nearly doubled our capacity and still sold out on the first day.
“We’ve been sending them out all over, from the top of Scotland to Cornwall, purely down to our Facebook audience and mail-outs. If anything, we probably underestimated our following on Facebook.
“We change the menu once a week, and the chefs come in to prepare it.
“It’s not bringing in the same income as if we were open, but it’s helping to keep losses to a minimum.
“It’s certainly proven popular, so we’re considering whether it’s something we can carry on doing when we’re back open fully. Normally we’re full most nights of the week, but it would allow people to have our food delivered to their holiday homes. It’s something to think about for the long-term.”
It is not only Covid-19 that has affected businesses in Pooley Bridge – there has been almost half a decade of disruption since the bridge that gives the village its name was washed away by Storm Desmond in December 2015.
The long-awaited opening of a new bridge last month was a cause of celebration, but the pandemic means that local businesses are having to wait a little bit longer to reap the benefits.
1863 had hoped to be welcoming visitors from all over the country now that one of the main transport links had been restored, so a nationwide lockdown has added to the frustration.
“For a few months after the flood we were without the foot-bridge and it had a massive impact,” said Mark.
“We had no bridge at all for three or four months, and most businesses in Pooley Bridge were down by 50 per cent minimum – it just showed the importance of the bridge to us.
“With the floods and now covid as well, it feels like we’ve had everything thrown at us in the past five years, so hopefully there’s nothing more to come.”
Being in an industry that has been hit harder by Covid-19 than most, 1863 has had to rely on some government loans and a mortgage break with The Cumberland to get by.
Restrictions meant that even when they could be open, their capacity had to be reduced as well as their opening hours.
To their advantage though, they’ve managed to keep their core team intact, losing just one full-time staff member in the first lockdown. When things are back to ‘normal’, 1863 will be in a good position to capitalise on the increased number of holidaymakers staying in the UK.
“We’ve been here 12 years, nearly 13, and the restaurant has been open for four-and-a-half years, but in that time we’ve had a very consistent core team,” said Mark.
“We have won various awards and managed to build up a reputation outside of the local area for good food.
“A lot of this is down to us keeping our team together, and seven or eight of our 12 staff members have been with us since we started.”
It is unusual to find business owners that are feeling positive right now, but with their new initiatives, some improvements in the pipeline and the bridge finally opened, 1863 could arguably be in a better place than ever once lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Mark adds: “Like everyone, we are still losing money. I think we have to be positive though, and these two ideas – 1863 By Day and 1863 At Home – have both worked well. I’m also drawing up alterations to some of our bedrooms, which we can hopefully start soon.
“We need to come out of this stronger.
“Staycations have been on the increase, so we believe the demand is there. Once we’re able to reopen fully, back up to full capacity, and with the new bridge, we’ll be in a very good position to capitalise. It will be interesting to see just how busy Pooley Bridge gets.”