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The co-owner of an award-winning cafe has shared some of the business lessons learned during the pandemic
Sarah Heward, with husband Alan as managing director, opened The Real Food Café at Tyndrum in 2005, transforming a derelict Little Chef into a roadside diner with a turnover of £1.6 million.
Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, she said it was making record profits and they were looking to open a new business.
Yet by March this year – if it can reopen – the cafe will have traded for just 15 weeks out of the previous 54 weeks.
Sarah said: ‘I have learned more in the past year than ever before. I guess one of the fundamentals for me is to keep the faith. Keep the faith in your ability and, very importantly, in your supporters and colleagues around you. No one gets through things like this on their own.’
The business invested heavily in Covid-19 safety and built extra handwashing facilities outside. It also kitted staff out in new high-vis uniforms to take and deliver orders to customers’ cars.
The inside of the café was also restructured and it registered with safety schemes such as VisitScotland’s ‘Good to Go’ and the AA’s ‘Covid Confident’.
Before reopening in July 2020, the business also invested in a new online ordering platform and went cashless.
She said the system had yielded some ‘astounding statistics’, with revenues of £435,000 during the 15 weeks it was open – equivalent to 80 per cent of the sales for the same period in 2019.
Sarah said: ‘This learning has been without a doubt the best thing to come out of the pandemic. We may never have come to understand the value of online retailing if we were not forced to do so.’
The business still plans to look for a new location in central Glasgow to create a flagship fish and chip takeaway and delivery.
Sarah said the business had remained in constant contact with furloughed staff and provided training and learning plans so they can continued to learn new skills.
‘We host a weekly team Zoom and 1-2-1’s for their mental health and wellbeing. It is important to us that our team feel included and are fit and ready to come back to work when we eventually reopen,’ she said.
Having seen how the Highlands was overwhelmed as lockdown was lifted, the business has also formed a new local action group to tackle the ‘poor’ rural infrastructure for mass tourism.
Sarah said it aimed to secure funding for an improvement project which includes tourist information, public car parking, rural housing, waste facilities and new upgraded toilets, including a Changing Places toilet.
‘We hope that this will be a tangible and lasting legacy from Covid-19 that will benefit the local community, tourists and disabled travellers,’ she said.