Friday 24 July 2020 3:13 pm

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

In the first of a new series of how chefs are dealing with the strange ‘new normal’ we now find ourself in, Jason Atherton talks about the chaos covid caused to his supply chain, and the silver lining of getting to spend time with his newborn daughter.

Remind us who you are

I’m a Michelin starred chef and founder of a portfolio of global restaurants including Pollen Street Social and Social Eating House.

How has coronavirus affected your business over the last four months?

I watched my restaurants close across the globe over a seven-day period; it was very frightening. With every income stream turned off, it creates disruption to the entire ecosystem built around my business. I have spent the last four months working to secure the business for the future, keeping in regular contact with my team and suppliers and thinking ahead about how to run a business in a socially distanced, post-lockdown world. 

When will you reopen your restaurants?

We will be opening Pollen Street Social and Social Eating House on 1 August and 5 Social and City Social will open on 1 September. Berners Tavern and The Betterment will open soon, but due to them being in hotels, the opening dates are still to be confirmed. My restaurants in Shanghai and Dubai are now fully open and doing well, The Clocktower in NYC is yet to open. I’m happy to be back but I won’t be celebrating just yet, we have a lot of work to do. 

How are you managing the ongoing effects of the virus?

We now have a Covid policy in place in all our restaurants. Tables and chairs have been re-positioned to increase space for all guests, capacity has been reduced and outdoor seating increased, sanitising stations have been implemented throughout the buildings and staff temperatures and symptoms will be checked prior to every service. We’ve always run very clean and hygienic restaurants, so a lot of what we need to do we have in place already, however we’ve had to ramp processes up a gear.

How have you kept sane when the restaurant was closed?

Although it’s been an incredibly tough period for everyone, lock down life has shown some signs of positivity. It’s provided more time to spend with my family and with our newborn daughter. I’ve also spent the time supporting our long-standing charity partners, including JDRF, Hospitality Action and The Felix Project. From day one, I launched ‘Social Isolation Kitchen’, offering daily Instagram cooking tutorials on my channels, as well as launching ‘Jason at Home’, an online homeware store created with Goodfellows. Since lockdown was lifted, I have been back in the restaurants preparing them for opening, meeting with key team members to ensure we are ready to roll from that start of August. 

What did you miss most when the London dining scene was shut down?

I missed normality – the team, customers and my kitchens. I also missed dining out, as my wife Irha and I like to try out all of London’s wonderful restaurants and bars. I missed the restaurant doors being open and being able to live life without the worry of the virus and loved ones becoming ill.  

Where was the first place you went to eat/drink when lockdown was eased?

I visited my good friend Paul Ainsworth in Cornwall and dined at his restaurant Caffe Rojano and his pub The Mariners. 

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

I definitely think there will be a new ‘normal’ and the world will continue to be more aware of personal space and hygiene, but eventually we will get into the swing of things again and resume where we left off. It’s going to be a bumpy ride with lots of hard work but I’m confident the restaurant world will be booming again soon. 

Are there any silver linings to what’s been an awful few months?

It’s definitely given me time to slow down and put everything into perspective. Before the virus I was working constantly, travelling all over the world, I didn’t stop. I think it’s good sometimes to take a step back and give yourself time to analyse, be creative and plan ahead. It’s also been lovely to spend lots of time with my family.