The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, due to the closure of bars, restaurants and hotels during the lockdown. It has sparked a year of uncertainty and disruption, with complex Covid-19 legislation and costly site re-openings followed by sudden closings, leaving business owners to struggle to stay afloat.
The key to surviving the crisis was resilience, and like many in the industry, Tim Roberts, owner of No. Twenty9 bar and restaurant at Burnham Market in Norfolk, had to dig deep.
With a background as a real estate developer, Roberts had spent two years converting the Grade II listed property at a cost of around £ 1.8million ($ 2.5million). It had been trading for just two years when the pandemic struck, triggering the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020 and the immediate closure of all reception facilities.
“It was announced at 6 pm on a Friday that we were to close our doors at 11 pm that same evening,” he recalls.
Originally from Cambridgeshire, Roberts had apprenticed in construction and by the age of 24 was running his own successful building development business. Three years later, he joined the fire department and worked as a firefighter for 17 years before an injury forced him to retire.
In 2013 he moved to Norfolk. A regular visitor to Burnham Market, an affluent village near the coast, Roberts noticed that a store in the village was closing. He says: “It used to be a hardware store, a fruit and vegetable store and a home interiors store, but I thought it would make a good bar and restaurant, which the village badly needed, and j decided to give it’s a go.
Offers were solicited, Roberts won the offer, and he began planning the conversion of the Grade II listed Georgian property, the history of which dates back to the 18th century. It was a huge project that saw the entire building stripped to the bone.
The floors were lifted, numbered, treated and re-laid in the same position, and modern plaster was stripped and replaced using traditional techniques. The kitchen, dining room and outdoor courtyard also had to be built.
For the interior design, Roberts broke with the tradition of sand dunes and seagull-themed artwork so typical of coastal locations, and instead adorned the walls of the bar and restaurant with black photographs. and white of iconic Hollywood stars.
He said, “I wanted something a little weird. It might not be a typical North Norfolk look, but it fits in perfectly with the building’s history and Grade II status, and customers love it. “
No, Twenty9 finally opened in 2018 and over the next two years has attracted a growing clientele, a mix of tourists and second home owners, as well as locals.
When it had to close in the first lockdown, the business flourished by operating a lucrative open-air bar, serving drinks through the entry window, licensed under the rules, and take-out and delivery service. very frequented.
“All of our staff had been put on leave, so it was just me, my chef and my general manager to make things work,” says Roberts. “The weather was amazing and we were incredibly busy.”
On July 4, hospitality businesses were allowed to reopen, but under strict social distancing guidelines that reduced the number of tables in the restaurant. Undeterred, Roberts opened two sister companies, a bakery, Number Thirty3, and a pet shop, Eric and Dolly’s, on the same property. The addition of six luxury bedrooms and obtaining a civil marriage ceremony license has opened up the lucrative marriage market.
Four months of dynamic trade came to a screeching halt in early November when a spike in Covid-19 cases caused a sudden four-week nationwide lockdown. The restaurant has closed, leaving Roberts and his team to once again plan for an uncertain future.
While most of the 33 employees returned on leave, the chef team spent two weeks creating a new menu in preparation for it reopening on December 4. In the end, it only lasted three weeks, because after Christmas Day the UK was back again. in lock-out. “It was a waste of time costing me around £ 30,000 in wages,” says Roberts.
The first three months of 2021 were the most difficult, as limited trade made the opening unsustainable. Business has stopped. However, Roberts has bolstered an already strong social media presence with a proactive marketing strategy designed to keep thousands of his customers engaged and eager to return. On April 12, when the restrictions were relaxed allowing food and drink to be served outside, they did.
He said, “It was raining and freezing cold, but we provided heaters and rain covers, and we filled all of our outside tables. The staff were amazing, and this first week without a lockout has been one of the busiest ever, even under normal circumstances.
Weather protection for outdoor facilities comes at a cost, and some sites have chosen not to open despite the space needed to generate much-needed revenue. “After so long without any business, it didn’t make sense not to open, and going back to work was good for everyone’s mental well-being,” he says.
During a difficult year, the resilience of Roberts and his team has not only allowed the company to survive, but also to thrive. But he insists that maintaining high standards during the toughest times is just as crucial. He says, “Whether it’s facilities, food or service, you set your own personal standards and expectations and take on the challenge of upholding them. We’ve been doing this throughout the pandemic, and that’s what keeps customers coming back. “