LISTEN: Norfolk TV chef on ‘heartbreak’ of closure and fears for hotel and restaurant industry
PUBLISHED: 14:10 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 18:37 24 April 2020
Norfolk chef Galton Blackiston has told of the ‘heartbreak’ of having to close his hotel and restaurants due to coronavirus - and fears the food and hospitality sector will take at least two years to recover from the impact of the crisis.
Mr Blackiston, owner of Michelin-starred Morston Hall and fish and chip restaurant No. 1 Cromer, told how 2020 was gearing up to be his ‘busiest in 28 years’ before the country went into lockdown.
And while he says he is confident both his businesses will survive, he did admit that they could have to operate differently once lockdown is over.
Speaking to editor David Powles as part of the EDP Norfolk and Waveney Briefing podcast, he said: “Leading up to it, we were really busy and bookings we’re looking better than they have in 28 years. Suddenly, from being full, the next day you are closing all the businesses down. It’s depressing and heartbreaking. Saying goodbye to those last two guests was very hard, especially having no idea when this is going to end. The staff element has been the biggest emotional tug. We probably employ 100 people and sitting down and saying one thing one day and then it changes is very hard. Staff asking what’s happening and you just don’t have the answers. It’s been a massive rollercoaster of emotions.
“We’re not taking bookings (for Morston Hall) unless it’s September onwards as you just don’t know. But Morston will be fine, as long as it doesn’t go on. But every business will need to adapt and reshape, especially with distancing in restaurants and the like. Morston is sort of this oasis of calm and we don’t do massive numbers so social distancing of tables isn’t a problem. It’s whether we stay open seven days a week? There are all questions we need to sit down and work out the best way forward.
“No. 1 will be a different thing as that does get very busy. The way I see it, and it could change, is that both restaurants (upstairs and downstairs) will have to have the same menu, we did do separate ones. We will have to cut our cloth with what we can afford. We will have to take tables away so we will be cutting numbers down.
“I think it’s going to be a real struggle for the next two years for all of us in the restaurants, cafes and hotels. Inevitably there will be quite a few businesses that will fall by the wayside. It’s going to have a huge impact on the hospitality industry. The industry has to pull together as one. It’s a time to make sure your product is absolutely spot on that’s what people need to do. People are going to want to come out and celebrate and spend money, but maybe they’ll be even more picky about it, which is why your product needs to be strong.”
Since lockdown the TV chef says he and his wife Tracy have been ‘doing things we wouldn’t normally do’ like gardening, walking and even cooking at home. He and his son Sam have even started a Youtube show called ‘Two Idiots in a Kitchen’.
They have also been cooking soup for villagers every Wednesday night and he praised communities in North Norfolk for the way they have come together in the crisis. He added: “The village that we live in, Bale, and Morston, have really tight knit communities. There is a WhatsApp group and we offered our services to do a Soup Wednesday for anyone who wants it in the village. We’ve also been contacted by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn to see what we can do and we want to help because at the minute all I’m doing is weeding and cooking. I’m looking forward to seeing what they would like us to do to help.”
The Norwich City season ticket holder described the things he missed most as ‘football, beers with mates and family’ and said he was also saddened by the trade businesses in the coast will have missed out on during the sunshine of the last few weeks, adding: “The skies have been so cloudless, it’s beautiful. We would have had a bumper time on the coast and it would have been great. My hope and wish is that come some sort of end to this people will want to stay in the country and visit the coast - because we will need it.”
To listen to the interview in full log onto https://www.podfollow.com/edp