Wednesday 21 October 2020 6:49 am

Back to Business: How a Dalston cafe-owner stayed afloat

Save our SMEs

As coronavirus restrictions continue to squeeze the hospitality sector, we asked Dalston’s Snackbar owner Freddie Janssen how she stayed afloat and got back to business.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Freddie Janssen, owner of Snackbar in Dalston. It’s a bright and buzzy little neighbourhood cafe serving good coffee and quality comfort food. We’re now working on a new delivery service, Snackbar At Home.

Tell us how you have coped and what you have been able to do for the last six months.

Within 24 hours of lockdown being announced back in March 2020, we turned the cafe around completely: we removed all the tables from the dining room; rewrote a menu with food items that would be OK to bop around in a backpack on the back of a delivery bike; took photographs of all the menu items and uploaded them to Slerp; we were one of the first people in the area to start doing delivery. 

We were also one of the only cafes that were open for take away, and as supplies were running dry in local supermarkets we opened a grocery store selling essential items like flour, tomatoes, pasta and fresh bread, alongside the more treat-yourself items like truffle flavoured crisps, homemade kimchi, chocolate, and ice cream sandwiches.

Read more: Back to Business: How East London baker Lily Vanilli changed direction to cope with covid

We haven’t closed and have rolled with the punches since day one – applying for and receiving our alcohol license, turning our backyard, which had a chicken coop with three chickens and zero space for outdoor dining, into a lovely patio which now seats 10 people.

In July we re-opened for dining-in, and from next week we are back on the delivery game, working with Slerp, Big Night, and Deliveroo.

What are your biggest fears going into Christmas and beyond?

The constantly changing restrictions, the curfews, the number of people allowed out in mixed-household groups – it all stops people from wanting to go out. We have seen a huge decrease in numbers and it’s only going to get worse now people can’t sit outside comfortably. Our outdoor area is tiny and the cost of heaters versus the covers we can get in there just doesn’t add up. 

So we’re focusing on relaunching our delivery service, Snackbar at Home, and will try to get our food out to people. The positive side is that lots of people are still working from home, and everyone wants a bit of fun and comfort delivered to their homes – hopefully we can help with that!

Could your business survive a second lockdown? 

The squeezing of the hospitality industry is absurd and it needs to stop. We have been constantly adapting since day one and we are all exhausted. Either they need to lock us down for two weeks and financially support us, or stop the restrictions – it’s clearly not working.

Read more: Back to Business: Jason Atherton on how he dealt with lockdown and how his empire will strike back

Do you think things in the restaurant world will go back to ‘normal’ in the new year?

I don’t see restaurants going back to ‘normal’. The virus will still be around to that means social distancing, not being able to go say hi to a friend at a table next to you, QR codes for menus, ordering digitally rather than speaking to a knowledgeable sommelier. We’re stuck with all this until they come up with a vaccine.

What are the positive lessons you have learned dealing with the crisis?

Taking time out is incredibly important. It allows you to refocus on what’s important. Living in London, we all work hard and have so many social engagements. I feel like it’s been good for everyone to have had a bit of time-out to think about what actually matters. What that means for hospitality is shorter shifts to match restaurants being open fewer days and hours. It’s nice to see people who normally work 15 hour days actually have a life. I hope that this life/work balance will be something that sticks.