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He re-opened The Quarter for outdoor dining on April 12 and says he’s ‘really happy’ with how things are going so far.
“It’s great to see people, to see smiling faces, to see that eating out is integral to humanity and people’s well-being,” says Gary. “People are excited.”
Gary says the 40% of tables that can be reserved are fully booked for the foreseeable future, and the other 60% are constantly busy.
“It feels quite normal at the moment,” he adds.
But the decision to re-open before May 17 when restaurants can open indoors was, he maintains, a ‘brave’ one.
“It was a brave decision and a conscious decision, but it was also that entrepreneurial spirit, that we were going to make this work.
“We were doing the maths and working out how much we needed to take with regards to paying wages. At the moment we have got rotas with staff on for three days, on stand-by for a day and on furlough for a day – we are using furlough to get the business back up and running and keep staff happy.
“Our main aim now is to get staff back full time and get back to some sort of normality. Hopefully that will happen on May 17 but there’s never going to be a normal as there was pre-Covid. There’ll be a new normal with a new way of working and delivering the product, and a new set-up.”
Gary says Covid has already cost thousands, not just in terms of having to be closed, but with each of the three lockdowns and re-openings. “It costs £10,000 each time with losing stock and having to close and clean down, and then get staff in to retrain and re-educate when we re-open. With three lockdowns, that’s £60,000.
“That’s not including the heating we got in winter before the last lockdown. That was a big investment, especially coming at the end of last year.”
Gary has created the perfect outside space at The Quarter, on the corner of Falkner Street and Hope Street, to make re-opening viable.
He says he has been helped by the fact that the restaurant had already established itself as an outdoor eating area many years before, with tables like gold dust when the sun shines.
“That’s why we’re known as the Toxteth Riviera,” he says, “and that certainly helped. Not everyone is as fortunate as us, with a south-facing outdoor area, with the sun all day. We can capitalise on our position.
“The average age of people coming here is lower at the moment but we are seeing that increase as older people get their vaccines and start to come back again.
“It’s good that we are seeing a lot of new customers as well as the regulars – that’s why we set up the booking and walk-up system, trying to adapt and accommodate everyone.
“It helps that we are city centre but a little outside, so people feel safe, and that we are doing everything we can to accommodate customers and the regulations. We are definitely a destination.
“We are still challenged on so many levels. Hospitality thrives on positive revenue, that’s money coming into the till, and when lockdown happened that was like a tap being turned off. Going forward we need better communication – it helped when Boris gave us a plan because it helped us to plan!
“At the moment there are headaches, but they’re positive headaches. We have managed our way through – with new systems, new producers, how people behave, with managing staff and bringing them back to work. There is a new way to work, but it feels good that we have opened now.”
Gary closed down his fine dining restaurant 60 Hope Street during the crisis but says it was a commercial decision after 22 ‘good’ years, and which included raising standards of food in the city and training chefs who went on to ‘bigger and better’ things, and being part of the renaissance of Liverpool.
“Times change,” he adds. But he says with some staff moving from there to The Quarter, its standards will now be raised even higher and, he continues, he still has Ginger in Duke Street, and he is looking to expand.
“There are a lot of positives going forward. We are already thinking about summer and Christmas, and analysing what we did right then for this winter.
“I am quite analytical, and the aim is to create and deliver, to have happy customers and I’m feeling positive about that. I’m positive with how busy we are and in a few weeks’ time, we will be okay.
“It will take us until the end of the year or early next year to feel comfortable and be in the position we were in pre-Covid. There’s a long hard slog ahead, there’ll be a lot of tough love – we’ll have to be careful – but we will get there, and I’ll never give up.
“Hope Street is a unique area and it feels good to have re-opened and that we’re back again. It’s good news.”
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