The owner of a Lancashire brewery has spoken of the “trauma” at throwing away food and beer worth thousands of pounds as he looks to fully re-open on July 19.
Lancaster Brewery boss Phil Simpson, who owns The Mill in Ulverston, The Sun in Lancaster and the Duke of Edinburgh in Barrow, has looked back at 2020 – “a roller-coaster of a year” as the hospitality industry prepares for the relaxing of lockdown next month.
Mr Simpson revealed to LancsLive that he was fortunate enough to be able to retain all his staff at The Mill in Ulverston where the team is launching a new menu they have been working on during lockdown.
“The Mill at Ulverston has had a traumatic 14 months and the stresses continue even now,” he said.
“Starting with actual lockdown in March 2020 when we had to throw away hundreds of pounds of fresh food, a couple of thousand pounds of drink and just the incredibly sad sight of all that waste.
“The staff had to quickly get used to the 80 per cent earnings, many of them on minimum wage with rent and bills to pay. We know a lot of our staff at The Mill and elsewhere have found these many months immensely stressful.”
Last year Lancaster Brewery managed to secure extra finance from the banks which meant Mr Simpson didn’t have to resort to redundancies but admits it was “fraught” and the struggle continues.
“2021 has been different, so far, but no less demanding,” he added.
“The table service in normal restaurants and pubs is hard enough, but in The Mill, set over three floors and outside areas it’s been like going to daily gym sessions.
“Our manager wore an activity tracker last week and racked up 25,000 steps by lunchtime with another four hours of work yet to complete. Walking 12 to 15 miles a day whilst carrying plates of food and drinks is something quite different to the norm.”
In recent weeks Mr Simpson, who lives near Lancaster, has added to the kitchen teams at his venues and he also thanked the loyal customer base who have supported his business throughout.
“Demand for our food has skyrocketed and the whole kitchen team has managed to keep their standards very high and their sense of humour,” he said.
“Our loyal customer base keeps coming back, we are always delighted to see new faces but there’s nothing better than building up a bedrock of diners and drinkers who turn up, rain or shine.
“Sam Moore, our Head Chef, has started to push his team’s cooking skills a little harder as well since the lockdown ended.
“It’s something we couldn’t really do last year due to all the constraints and rules, but since May we’ve introduced quite a few dishes that require hours of preparatory work.
“Most of our red meat dishes are now slow cooked over many hours prior to service before being plated, time consuming work but the benefits are in the eating.”
The Mill has just unveiled its new menu which includes Cumbrian game terrine, fell-bred lamb shank, featherblade of beef, Lancaster Blonde-battered haddock and red wine and spice-infused poached pear.
Recruitment hasn’t been easy, Mr Simpson added, with some “frustrating” new issues to tackle post-lockdown.
“Recruitment is now mind-blowingly tough,” he said.
“Prospective interviewees are often just not turning up for their interviews. We’ve had fewer than 30 per cent of our interviewees actually appearing at their scheduled time slot.
“This is an entirely new phenomenon and something that baffles all of us. It’s taken us many weeks to increase our staff numbers, we’re getting there now, but it’s been frustrating.”
Staff at The Mill, and Lancaster Brewery’s other pubs, are all looking forward to getting back “to some kind of normality”.
“We will be able to get people relaxing and chatting around the bar as is the Cumbrian norm,” Mr Simpson said.
“We can open up our Loft Bar again, for the first time in many, many months. And we’ll be able to offer people the opportunity to hold a party, Christening, wedding or baby shower without having to surmount a thousand rules.
“We’re all keeping our fingers’ crossed that the 19th July is the start of a much happier 2021.”
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