For the week of Thanksgiving, we interviewed Val Minor, the owner of Sheen’s fantastic American restaurant, Pickle and Rye, about her experiences of lockdown. The pandemic made her restaurant move online for home deliveries, with the restaurant closed and cancelling weekend brunches. But despair not: they’re planning to open at a new location in SW14, perhaps in time for the great British celebration of Pancake Day, and to celebrate their 10-year anniversary in Sheen.
How did Pickle & Rye fare during the (previous) lockdown? And since then?
Alex and I decided to remain takeaway only from the very beginning. Until we felt it was safe for our staff and customers, and thinking there could be another wave, we knew it was the best choice for us. We were incredibly busy during lockdown, with many of our regular customers promising they would support weekly and they absolutely kept us going.
What changes did you have to make?
I went right to work on finding an online ordering platform as the phone was completely jammed up most nights. We also invested in an integrated system so that the orders would go directly to the kitchen to provide faster service than limited any errors from manually entering an order. We also had to think about things differently in general, how long can a burger sit in a box before it’s not up to our standards? How can we maintain the crispiness of chips?
What was the biggest challenge?
Honestly, it was not seeing customers! Imagine the thrill of serving an absolutely stunning plate of food to someone and their reaction the moment they see it. We love food so much and missing those moments are the hardest.
What advice would you give other businesses?
Remember in kitchen nightmares when Gordon Ramsay would yell at the owners for having a menu that was pages and pages long? I think we are living a real example of what smart editing does for your bottom line and also your sanity. By reducing our menu over lockdown we were able to serve more customers more quickly. It’s hard to take a step back as an owner and edit, but the rewards of fine-tuning a menu are hard to ignore. I also feel like the food industry was almost getting to a point where the expectation was to offer everything all the time.
What would you do differently?
I would have had online ordering set up already, but that was impossible to foresee!
You have pivoted to takeaways in March, the moment lockdown as announced. How were your sales affected?
Not being open for brunch on the weekend has definitely hurt us. Takeaways during lockdown were exponential. As things began to open up again, we were much slower. Most of my staff were students, so they were all leaving in June anyway, I would have had to re-hire a completely new staff, in a Pandemic, and we have the August-Exodus in Sheen area so staying with it made sense. We saw business when other restaurants were closed, so seeing the Eat out to Help out Scheme help restaurants during August was nice.
What are your plans for the next 3-6 months?
We have so many exciting things in the works. Pre-covid, we were about to sign a lease on the high street. That fell through due to the Pandemic, but we have since been actively looking for a new location. The plan is to renovate and make it look like the Pickle & Rye we always dreamed of with a small bar, comfortable modern-diner vibe. We want to be more active in the community and by moving up to a more pedestrian-friendly area we feel we can achieve that. Ideally, we’d like to re-open for Pancake Day, but it’s looking more like a little later. Either way, we will plan our move so that Pickle & Rye food will always be available. We feel like using this down-time to make our dreams come true with a new location is just the perfect recipe for helping us mentally get through 2020. I will be able to share the location once the paperwork is signed, I don’t want to jinx it.
As part of the local community, you have been working with other local independent retailers, like your burger/beer pairing with Micro Beers. Do you have similar plans for the future?
We’d love people to shop local. Culver + Nelson is working with us for Thanksgiving this year. We are pairing some of her wines with our dinner!
I have never felt more connected with my community than this year. We are all yearning for connection and to make sure people feel supported this year. I started my ‘neighbour spotlight’ series in June where I interview (much like this) someone from the community about their hobby and/or profession. Please check out our blog if you want to read about some of the amazing people we’ve spoken with. I try daily to share local business info on our Instagram. I feel like people enjoy your account if it’s not all about you! As we get out of lockdown, I plan to start doing more collaboration videos with local businesses – because lets face it that is the most fun!
As 2020 is our ten year anniversary in Sheen, we plan to start crowdfunding for the new shop to get people involved and excited. We have come a long way from the tiny shop at 30 Sheen Lane which we opened 10 years ago. Mostly we feel so connected to this area because we have seen families grow up and made life-long friends here. I’m sure many can relate, but when you live away from your homeland, you find ways and people to build your own family and we truly feel like we have done that with Pickle & Rye and with our neighbourhood.
Read our other interviews in the Lockdown series: