Saturday 22 August 2020 12:30 pm

Back to Business: Merlin Labron-Johnson on how Covid could change hospitality for the better

Save our SMEs

We talk to London’s top chefs about how they are dealing with the strange ‘new normal’. This week Merlin Labron-Johnson, chef-founder of Osip, speaks about the silver linings he found during lockdown.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Merlin Labron-Johnson and I’m the chef-owner of a little restaurant called Osip in Bruton, Somerset. 

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

It closed my restaurant. We’ve had to rethink our whole concept, reduce capacity and make redundancies within our team. It’s a real blow when you consider we’d only been open three months and things were going quite well! We finally reopened last month.

How are you managing the ongoing effects of the virus?

We have introduced two sittings to our services: we fill the restaurant once, feed everybody, clean down, sanitise and do it again. It’s a bit like a show. We have taken away all physical menus, don’t accept cash, we take staff temperatures regularly, and have updated cleaning schedules. We’ve introduced floor markings to keep people apart at the entrance and sanitiser at every doorway. We also take prepayment online for the food.

Photograph: Ed Schofield

How did you keep sane when the restaurant was closed?

I took on two plots of land and built two kitchen gardens. I launched an e-commerce shop and a weekly pop up bakery. We launched a hamper concept and started doing a takeaway service called ‘Osip at Home’. It was mental! We also preserved spring and summer fruits, vegetables and herbs for the coming months.

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

Going out for a cosy dinner. The first place I went to eat and drink when lockdown was eased was the village pub. I drank cider and played pool. Nothing too glamorous.

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

I think there will be lasting change and mostly for the better. I know from our side, it has allowed us to make changes that we were hesitant about before. We are far less apologetic about just making the restaurant work for us. We’ve changed our reservations policy, our prices, our menu format, our opening hours, and our staff now have a better work/life balance. All of that is here to stay and I hope my industry peers have managed to do the same in some capacity. The silver lining for me has been building the gardens and learning how to grow fruit and vegetables for the restaurant.

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