‘Worries for survival have increased’
A restaurateur has described the latest lockdown as “more traumatic than the first” and warns he fears for the survival of the hospitality industry.
Alessandro Biscardi, who runs both Vesuvius in Maidstone and Il Vesuvio in Tunbridge Wells, says he is receiving less than half the financial support from the Government compared to during the shut down last spring.
Alessandro Biscardi, left, with three of his staff at Vesuvius restaurant in Maidstone
While recognising sacrifices need to be made amid the worsening pandemic, he says it is getting harder to trust the handling of the coronavirus crisis.
“The latest announcement was certainly a bit more traumatic than the first lockdown,” he said.
“Hospitality businesses in Kent were already forced to close their doors to dining-in guests since early November, and before that we were forced to invest a lot of time, money and energy in making our businesses safe, so learning that we may not be able to open our doors again until the end of March is a real blow.
“Of course, we appreciate the gravity of the situation and are prepared to make sacrifices for the greater good, but it is getting harder to trust how the pandemic has been handled thus far.”
Mr Biscardi, whose Italian restaurant in Maidstone’s Lower Stone Street specialises in Neapolitan dishes from the Campania region, says that keeping his operation going for delivery and takeaway business is simply not viable.
“We just cannot wait to get back to what we love doing…”
He said: “We did try to stay open for takeaway and delivery the first couple of weeks in November, but the amount of wastage and costs involved to stay open were so much higher than the revenue we were able to make, so we decided to remain closed.
“We made this decision before the latest announcements and timescales, as well as the financial support offered, which does not seem realistic if the government is hoping to save as many businesses within our industry.
“Of course, any help is always better than no help at all, so we are grateful, but the difference in support this time around is considerable, so the worries for the survival of our industry have increased from the last experience.
“Thanks to the furlough, we have been able to keep all of our staff, but we just cannot wait to get back to what we love doing. We are keeping our fingers crossed, that however long this lockdown may be it is what is needed to avoid having to live through another one in the future.”
Vesuvius restaurant in Maidstone
Elsewhere in the town, salon owner Maxine Faulkes – who runs Flicks Hair Studio in Tovil – called on the authorities to do more to support struggling firms.
She said: “We need all the help we can get. It’s just a case of no money coming in, but the bills still going out.
“Our staff are suffering because they are self-employed, they are not entitled to anything, and at the moment there is nothing we can claim.
“We spent a fortune getting screens installed and PPE in place, which we have been continuing to do, but there doesn’t seem to be any help with that ongoing.”
Ms Faulkes said she believes there are some unscrupulous businesses continuing to cut hair despite the restrictions in place.
PPE and screens at Flicks Hair Studio allowed cuts to continue prior to the latest restrictions
“There are many still doing it on the sly,” she said. “But they are not getting caught for it.”
The uncertainty of changing pandemic restrictions is not only affecting businesses.
A council meeting set to focus on the future of the Hazlitt Theatre has been pushed back by a week because of the “ever-changing Covid-19 government guidance”.
Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone
Read more: All the latest news from Tunbridge Wells