Who are you and what do you do?
I am Mohammad Paknejad, director of Nutshell, a modern Iranian Restaurant in Covent Garden. My wife, Marwa Alkhalaf and I have been operating the restaurant since we opened last July.
How are things?
The last six months have changed a lot at Nutshell. It’s our first restaurant, so it’s been a steep learning curve to make sure our business survives. When we reopened after lockdown we had to learn how to run an 86 cover restaurant operating at half capacity and with fewer staff.
We had to come up with ways to drive in diners. Our Taste of Nutshell menu is incredible value for the area at £25pp, and we have a Nutshell at Home offering we plan to launch in time for Christmas.
What are your biggest fears going into Christmas and beyond?
With the Tier 2 restrictions imposed on London hospitality venues, my concern is what comes next. At mid-September it was the rule of six, and by the end of the month there was also a 10pm curfew; neither had any visible effect on the rising number of cases.
I’m worried about what the government is going to do in a few weeks’ time when the numbers are still high. We are paying rent, utilities and wages with much lower revenue due to the distancing restrictions and now things are only getting worse.
Could your business survive a second lockdown?
Frankly, I don’t know. The furlough scheme was helpful and our landlord and creditors were also understanding, which took some of the burden off our shoulders. However, with furlough coming to an end, I don’t know how we would support our staff. We would also be forced into a new round of negotiations with our creditors to see how we could stay afloat and pay our debt. It remains to be seen.
If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would you do?
It would have made sense to try a “circuit breaker” lockdown for a couple of weeks while the furlough was still available. That might have had an effect on the infection rate and businesses may have survived it. Now that’s out of the window, of course, so who knows what they will come up with next?
Do you think things will go back to ‘normal’?
It will take a long time – longer than the 2008 financial crisis. This whole affair has changed consumer behaviour and it will take time for everyone to adapt. If I have learned anything over the last six months, it’s how unpredictable life is – we just have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
*• To book a table at Nutshell go to nutshelllondon.co.uk, call 020 3409 7926 or visit 30 St Martin’s Ln, Charing Cross, WC2N 4ER