Charlie Robinson, Partner

As we head into lockdown 2.0, contemplating what the future might hold can cause your head to spin. So instead of trying to make a call on that, I wanted to look back for once. And rather than talk about all the great examples of how the companies and teams that YFM works with have done an amazing job in navigating through unprecedented turmoil over the last six months (of which there are many), I thought it might be interesting to look at three small businesses which have inspired me recently.  All are operating in and around the hospitality space, all have been impacted to varying degrees by the pandemic, and I hope all of them will come out the other side stronger than they were in the ‘old world’.  For the avoidance of doubt, all opinions are my own!

1) Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen

This is my new local curry house. Which just happens to be 70 miles away. Pre-lockdown, Clay’s was operating a popular small restaurant in Reading, focussing on regional dishes from Hyderabadi where the owners are originally from. Space constraints meant that re-opening the restaurant and maintaining social distancing measures was going to be a challenge, so they now operate delivery only, but nationwide. I found them by chance via social media, took a punt and was rewarded with a delivery of the most mind-blowingly good food…check out the reviews if you don’t trust me. Now I’m a happy regular.

There are many examples of ‘pivots to delivery’ enforced by lockdown, all of which deserve to do well. But in order to succeed, the basics must be right: you must have a great product which translates well to the home setting, pricing must make sense to the customer, and you must find a way to reach a new audience. Clay’s has nailed all of this.

2) Blok Knives

Ben Edmonds at Blok makes some of the most stunning handcrafted chefs knives around – every piece is unique, crafted from carbon steel, and they are so popular that the order book has been closed. At 1pm ‘Derby Time’ every Friday, Blok releases a small number of knives to purchase online which literally sell out in seconds. Reassuringly expensive, but worth it in my humble opinion! During lockdown, they raised funds for hospitality charities through knife raffles, and more recently came to my attention again as Ben raffled off a vintage van, initially with 20% of proceeds going to a local food-based charity which soon changed to 100% when he saw the response. For me, a brilliant example of a super-creative British brand, doing things right by the industry they operate in.

3) Caffeine & Machine

This place opened two years ago in the Warwickshire countryside, with the founders Phil and Dan converting a run-down pub into a venue for all things automotive, where like-minded petrolheads can meet up and admire whatever happens to have been driven into the yard that day, and eat, drink or stay over. To say they tapped into a rich seam is an understatement – over 100k followers on Instagram alone is pretty decent for what is based around a countryside pub. It turns out that lots of people like cars and bikes and things that go and are willing to travel long distances to visit. I’m hugely impressed with the way these guys operate. They are constantly innovating and reacting – quick out of the blocks to re-open after lockdown in a safe way, running special evenings for particular types of car and, more recently, running a series of evenings called ‘I love you, man’ with special guests talking about the difficult subject of men’s mental health.  I particularly like their ‘open house’ approach – it is not about what you drive or who you are…it is about creating a community where those with a common interest can enjoy themselves.

Seeking out positive responses to the pandemic in British enterprise is not hard.  There are new stories every day of people, teams and companies going above and beyond to not just survive, but to contribute and support more broadly. Finding time to think about a small number that have struck a chord with me has been a big ‘pick me up’ as I contemplate the necessary renewed restrictions on daily life. Why not give it a try and let me know some of yours?

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