Louise Palmer-Masterton, the founder of vegan restaurant Stem + Glory, reveals how they kept going when the UK locked down in March 2020 due to COVID-19
We closed our doors on 16th March before it became mandatory, following the Prime Minister recommending people ‘avoid bars and restaurants’. Sales had already tumbled and, with a number of staff falling into the vulnerable category, we knew it was the right thing to do. Prior to this, we were absolutely flying as a brand.
The early weeks
By the end of February, the writing was on the wall. Nevertheless, it was a shock when it happened. Losing 100% of income overnight is something we weren’t prepared for. Our team too were of course also in shock, and fearful of the future.
Those first few weeks we were asked a lot of questions by our team that we were unable to answer, as we ourselves had no answers. When CBILS was first announced we were excited but what followed was an extremely stressful three weeks and eventually the bank declined our application.
Simultaneously, the retail grants were announced, but with one site over the threshold, and the other site with rent over the threshold, but annoyingly rateable value under the threshold, we ended up with a mere £10k grant across the entire business. £10k over a £1.2m turnover business didn’t go very far!
During the time we were waiting for an answer from our bank came the chancellor’s announcement of the furlough scheme. This was a huge sigh of relief all round for us and especially all our staff.
The government then realised that almost all businesses didn’t fit the CBILS criteria, and the bounce back loan was announced. The pain didn’t stop there though, our bank had a technical malfunction on their website which meant that more than 50% of their customers had an error message when applying. At this point we’d had enough. We set up another account and within a week had a bounce back loan in our new bank account.
By the end of April, with some funds in the bank, and the first furlough payments to our employees, things started to look up.
The layout of Stem + Glory before Covid-19 hit
Looking to the future
We’d been planning our online marketplace and delivery portal for a while. During May and June we were able to fully focus on this. At the same time, there was an absolute explosion of new technology for the food and beverage sector, so finally it was possible to integrate all our systems to create a seamless customer experience.
With our ambitions growing by the minute, we took on new partner, Afroditi Krassa, to do a complete branding and design overhaul, so that when we opened again we could hit the ground running with all new tech, new look and feel, and completely notch up the brand.
We were also fortunate to be awarded a post-Covid capital grant by Cambridge & Peterborough Combined Authority, so that combined with the landlord package meant we are able to move swiftly to occupation at the new site later this year.
The final piece of the jigsaw in our recovery was the Government Future Fund announcement. Finally, a scheme that fitted our business. Targeted towards high growth start-ups, like ours, that had taken investment in the past three years, we were able to get an application in through Seedrs very swiftly. We are now live on Seedrs raising the match funds for that.
So all in all, the months have been a heady mix of hits and misses.
We’re planning a cautious reopening from 30th July, continuing to put energy into our online development. We are planning for a big relaunch of the brand once the new Cambridge site reopens, and we’re all very excited about that. We are also planning to offer new jobs as part of the governments ‘Kickstart’ scheme in the autumn.
We aim to emerge stronger, more sustainable, greener and more conscious into the new post-Covid world.
Find out more about us on our website
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem + Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients, 100% made on site. Stem + Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge.