How our restaurant business faced and survived COVID-19

By Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of Stem + Glory

We actually closed our doors before it came mandatory, on 16th March, following the Prime Minister recommending people ‘avoid bars and restaurants’. Sales had already dropped and, with a number of our team falling into the vulnerable category, we knew it was the right thing to do. We also decided not to try delivery only at this time, not wanting to put our staff at risk.

We were absolutely flying as a brand prior to that. We had just returned from the Global Restaurant Investment Forum, in mid-February, where we had won ’Most Investable Concept’, we’d agreed terms on a second site in London, and everything was going super well. We were seeing more than 130% year-on-year growth, were about to do a funding round, and the future looked extremely bright.

The first few weeks

Conversely, by the end of February, sales had started to fall and by early March it was clear where we were heading, as footfall sharply declined and everyone knew we would need to close soon. 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. Every night we would watch the daily briefing, waiting for answers, a lifeline, anything to give us some certainty.

During those weeks we were asked a lot of questions by our team that we were just unable to answer, as we ourselves had no answers. When CBILS was first announced we were excited to hear of the lifeline, designed exactly for businesses like ours, and we had our application in literally as soon as applications were open. What followed then was an extremely stressful 3 weeks, whilst the bank dithered, and eventually declined our application. As a high growth start-up the scheme just isn’t intended for us.

At the same time, 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 £10k grant across the entire business, which over a £1.2m turnover business really didn’t go very far!

Then 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!

Next, the government 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. We’d had enough and set up an account with one of the challenger banks, and within a week had a bounce back loan in our new bank account.

The furlough scheme turned out to be great. The HMRC system was easy to access, the application was smooth, and funds received in time. By the end of April. With some funds in the bank, and the first furlough payments to our employees, things started to look up. Without the uncertainty of the first 6 weeks, we started to plan the future with renewed energy.

Time to planning ahead

We’d been planning our online marketplace and delivery portal for a while, but had been too busy to dedicate much time to it. During May and June we were able to fully focus on this. At the same time there was an 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 of online ordering, delivery, click and collect and also at table order and pay.

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 open again we could hit the ground running with all new tech, new look and feel, and completely notch up the brand to a whole new level.

We were very fortunate to have supportive landlords throughout the lockdown, so we were spared the pressure of rent. The hiatus also allowed us to go back to the landlords of our proposed third site and renegotiate a very favourable deal. And the landlords of a new location in Cambridge that we had been eyeing came to us with a really great package, which we snapped up. The new site in Cambridge will allow us to build our new brand model with our online platform capability built in.

The final piece of the jigsaw in our recovery was the Government Future Fund announcement. Finally, a scheme that fitted our business perfectly. Targeted towards high growth start ups, like ours, that had taken investment in the past 3 years, we were able to get an application in through Seedrs very swiftly. Our application was approved within 10 days. 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. In the end, it has been time that has brought resolve to all the early stresses.

The recent announcement of the VAT cut is of course very welcome, and we would welcome that as a permanent change, as it’s long overdue.

The future looks bright

We’re planning a cautious reopening from 30th July, continuing to put energy into our online development. We’re planning for a big relaunch of the brand once the new Cambridge site reopens, and we are all very excited about that. We are also planning to offer new jobs as part of the governments ‘Kickstart’ scheme in the autumn, and we are plotting our new growth path in earnest.

We firmly believe that we will emerge from this period even stronger as a brand, with new revenue streams, better deals, and better relationships all round. Whilst the Covid crisis has been shocking, it’s given time to pause, time to reflect on what’s important, and time to step off the train and get some valuable breathing and planning space.


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.

Share this...
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *