This Michelin-starred restaurant was closed by coronavirus. Now it's feeding vulnerable people
Posted March 27, 2020 9:15 a.m. EDT
CNN — Every restaurant and pub in the United Kingdom has been ordered to close as the country seeks to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. On the outskirts of Birmingham, one award-winning restaurant is riding out the crisis by assisting people in need and accepting help from German supermarket chain Aldi.
Hampton Manor, which includes a hotel and restaurant called Peel's, needed to act quickly in order to avoid huge losses as the coronavirus swept across Britain, decimating the restaurant and hospitality industries.
"We were looking at losing £150,000 ($180,000) a month if we didn't do anything," James Hill, the managing director of Hampton Manor told CNN Business. "We had to contract our team to a core for us to be able to survive."
James Hill has been running Hampton Manor for 11 years with his wife, Fjona Hill, who described the start of 2020 as an "emotional roller coaster." Earlier in March, pressure on the business was mounting, putting dozens of jobs in jeopardy. But then, Aldi offered to take on dozens of Hampton Manor staffers.
The German company's head office in the United Kingdom is near Hampton Manor, and it sometimes uses the venue for events and conferences. Faced with panic buying of food and supplies, the discount grocer was in need of workers. So Aldi temporarily hired 30 Hampton Manor employees.
The UK government has since pledged to pay 80% of employee wages during the crisis, but at the time Aldi's intervention was a "miracle" for Hampton Manor. "That was a huge moment of relief for us," said James Hill.
But faced with a loss of diners at Peel's, which boasts a Michelin star, and revenue from weddings, the entire estate temporarily closed its doors.
"We've closed everything. We were basically unviable because we relied a lot on weddings to keep our revenue up ... without the wedding business we will be in massive losses," Fjona Hill told CNN Business.
A coronavirus reinvention
The Hills, who describe themselves as "foodie diehards," quickly sought to reinvent their operation. The goal was to give back to their community as it adapted to social distancing rules.
"We wanted to come up with a model that both met the need of the community and kept some of our team working as well," said James Hill.
One program the team came up with has been dubbed "Peel's on Wheels," under which meals are prepared by chefs and delivered to customers. For every meal purchased, the Hills supply another to a vulnerable individual or elderly person in isolation.
"It's advertised as one-for-one model but in reality we'll probably give out more meals than we are selling," said James Hill. "The goal is to encourage people to support their community by buying from us," he added.
Urban Devotion, which works with vulnerable young people and families around Birmingham, is benefiting from the initiative. Andy Winmill, who leads the charity and helps coordinate the distribution of food parcels to other groups in the region, acknowledged it was early days but said he was excited by the partnership.
"We have been working closely with one local primary school, so we using their kitchen to cook up the stuff provided by Hampton Manor," Winmill said. "Some businesses are just having to shut down, but it's exciting to see business getting creative in how they can survive."
A second initiative Hampton Manor plans to introduce is called "drive thru." Customers in cars will be able to pick up hampers, which will be full of homemade ingredients and vegetables, sourced from the estate. The goal is to provide quality meals while adhering to social distancing requirements.
Wanting to 'give hope'
Although James Hill acknowledges that government support is having the biggest impact on saving the business, he said the initiatives being deployed now are valuable for his team's mental health and in giving them all "purpose."
"It would be very easy to hunker down, shut the estate ... and just do nothing. We just feel that isn't the right way to respond to a crisis ... We wanted to give some hope in what is a very hopeless time for many people."
The Hills are optimistic that they might be able to weather the storm.
"We are in for a very different world on the other side of this ... we are all going to have to think long and hard about what our businesses look like," James Hill told CNN Business.