Over the last 12 months we’ve seen an influx of community spirit after many of us realised the need to support our local suppliers during such a treacherous time for businesses. Usually a booming industry across the board throughout the year, food and drink businesses are now grappling with pressures coming from opposite ends of the scale. While supermarket chains have reported large boosts in sales during lockdown, many cafes and restaurants have struggled to break even without customers filling their tables every day.
The pandemic has hit some of our high street retailers badly, with several grand and seemingly popular stores announcing their doors will not reopen after lockdown. Jenners, Topshop and Debenhams are all chains that occupied large spaces on Princes Street that won’t be reopening. In the food and drink industry the list of permanent closures is dismal. In July we said goodbye to the UK’s longest-running vegetarian restaurant, Henderson’s, while nearby Café Rouge, the iconic The Jam House and Six Degrees North have since announced their own closures. Some had been struggling before Covid restrictions were put in place, but the impact of the pandemic terminated these businesses suddenly and has left the future of our city centre shopping and dining landscape rather uncertain.
Venturing out through Edinburgh’s boroughs there seems to be a different dynamic. Streets appear filled with long queues for coffee shops, cafes and smaller restaurants that have had to transform their shop fronts to offer a visual glimpse of their food to those passing by. Over the last week, Keep Edinburgh Thriving spoke to independent food and drink businesses across the city to hear about their experiences during lockdown.
Now providing Montreal-style bagels to locals across the city with six branches, Bross Bagels have unsurprisingly been popular lockdown takeaway spots. Operations manager, Laure Hann, told Keep Edinburgh Thriving they had received a huge amount of people who were thankful they had remained open in some form or another after they worked tirelessly to keep up with numerous changes in restrictions put in place by the government. Like many takeaway shops and diners, Bross Bagels adjusted their business to allow for a larger profit through online and delivery sales.
“We worked on putting together a home delivery system for DIY packages, which was hugely popular during the first lockdown and migrated a big part of the business to online stores for pre-orders.
“The online shop has been helpful, and I believe will remain a part of the business going forward”, Hann said.
In October Bross Bagels launched a crowdfund campaign to push their business even further and allow its customers to be part of the expansion. A community-driven venture that lets locals be part of the business’s future, giving back to more people by setting up a new bakery and growing their online and wholesale trade. Laure said the support from the community meant a lot to the business, which continued to return that support by amplifying neighbouring colleagues and small businesses.
“We have received a lot of help from our customers who have invested in our crowdfunding, which has helped Bross hugely. We also try to help other businesses through guest chefs, social media campaigns to support small local businesses and raising money for various charities that cannot hold their usual fundraising activities due to Covid,” she said.
Independent businesses are relying heavily on the continued support from their community right now. A fledgling vegan supermarket, Easter Greens, only opened the doors to its first shop on Easter Road in summer 2019 but with support from the community they were able to defy the odds and open up another branch in Morningside during the pandemic.
“Our community has really supported us through the last year,” said the shop's managing director Alasdair Corbett.
Easter Greens has had several transformations in how it operates, always putting the health and safety of customers and staff at the forefront. From serving customers at the door, to setting up a click and collect service, to introducing home deliveries that assist those that can’t get out of their homes, the business has had to rise to the challenge.
Corbett told us, “It’s certainly been an emotional rollercoaster, but our team is like a small family and have pulled together to look after each other. Being a small business, we have the ability to tackle any challenges head on. We’re able to adapt quickly and make changes to overcome any issue we encounter.
“Our customers have really appreciated how we’ve looked after them over the last few months. The support we’ve had since the beginning of the pandemic has been amazing. Being part of the community is a key part of our values and we work really hard to give back and support our community like they support us.”
If you’ve wandered through The Meadows during lockdown, you will have noticed the wooden hut with friendly staff, inviting music and a welcoming atmosphere. The often long queues speak for themselves; Uplands Roasts is a hugely popular community-centric coffee-roasting business that not only provides a good cup of coffee to its customers but also promotes healthy and direct trading with its farmers. Keep Edinburgh Thriving spoke with the founder and owner, Stu Collins, to find out how business has been.
“It’s going really well. We’re providing a really fun, engaging project and creating jobs and a community service that plays music and pays the farmers in Vietnam,” he said. Collins has spent years travelling to and from Vietnam, mastering his trade and doing extensive market research.
Uplands Roasts has worked hard to build relationships with its farmers further afield but also with producers and suppliers within its local community. With the prime location and admirable ethics, it has been experiencing some of its busiest periods over lockdown.
“It’s pretty much been since the start of the last lockdown that it was really busy, which is great from the business perspective.”
Collins highlighted how the new faced-past environment has transformed his business into something that on reflection he wasn’t prepared for.
“What I love about the job, and what I thrived off, is being able to reach the community. To talk to them all, know all of their names, know all of their drinks, to play records, to have conversations with them and to entertain them from the coffee shop.
“Now, I’m not in there. Business is going well but I’m sat outside looking at a laptop and fixing things in the background, which isn’t the fun job role that I enjoyed. The role that I can’t do because I’m now a manager and not a barista. Which is good but also has its drawbacks,” he said.
Despite experiencing a barrier between himself and the community that supports Uplands Roast, Collins still greatly appreciates that Uplands Roasts couldn’t thrive without them.
“Everyone’s been so cooperative and appreciative and friendly and helpful, it’s been excellent. Coming to Edinburgh, it’s a magical place. I got support from local businesses, from the council workers, from the guys on the street, the people who are working around us in the university, the local residents – if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I was.”