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Sandwich shops feel the squeeze as workplaces adapt to covid crisis

PUBLISHED: 11:28 14 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:28 14 September 2020

Cuppa in Felixstowe, which is owned by Sarah Fitch  Picture: CUPPA

Cuppa in Felixstowe, which is owned by Sarah Fitch Picture: CUPPA

Cuppa

Consumers are being urged to buy a sandwich to prevent businesses which make the lunchtime staple from going under.

Baileys Delicatessen in Beccles, which is owned by Paul and Suzanne Buck  Picture: BAILEYS DELICATESSENBaileys Delicatessen in Beccles, which is owned by Paul and Suzanne Buck Picture: BAILEYS DELICATESSEN

Nick Marshall, director of Ipswich accountancy firm Beatons, warned the pandemic could send the £8bn sector into financial freefall.

Around 92% of sandwich shops and coffee houses closed at the start of the crisis as office workers were sent home.

While the furlough scheme shielded shops from financial meltdown, when lockdown was lifted, some cafes found themselves paying for staff with no customers to serve, he said.

“This was particularly true for those based on industrial estates or business parks or situated in town centres surrounded by office blocks,” he said.

Nick Marshall, director of Ipswich accountancy firm Beatons  Picture: CLAUDIA GANNONNick Marshall, director of Ipswich accountancy firm Beatons Picture: CLAUDIA GANNON

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With social distancing and many staff still working from home, even with the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August, 78% of sandwich and coffee shop owners which have reopened are “seriously worried” about the future viability of their businesses, he said.

Casualties of the pandemic include Adelie Foods – one of the UK’s largest sandwich manufacturers and supplier to Caffe Nero and Aldi – which has fallen into administration. Meanwhile, Pret a Manger has closed 30 of its sites permanently as footfall plummets.

“If the big boys are struggling, the smaller independents are seriously floundering,” said Mr Marshall.

He urged people in East Anglia to support local sandwich shops, coffee shops and tearooms “as best we can”.

Among the sandwich shops which have felt the full force of the fallout from the pandemic is Fresh Fillaz in Coytes Gardens, Ipswich, which shut on March 25 and still hasn’t reopened. Owner Sam Ali said he was extremely concerned about the future of the business and would be forced to make two of his six staff redundant as soon as furlough ended.

“It’s been a desperate situation for us and I feel like we have gone from a busy, bustling, successful business to facing financial ruin,” he said. “I am still unsure what the future holds.

“We rely on office workers to survive and sit opposite three large insurance companies – none of which have returned to the workplace. Some will continue to work from home even after the pandemic subsides. Others may be nervous about eating out. Some might be trying to save money by continuing to prepare lunch at home.

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“We won’t even try to reopen until September when schools return and parents consider coming back to the office but I fear nothing will be the same for our sector again.”

Harvey Allen, owner of Honey and Harvey coffee shop based in Riduna Park, Melton, Woodbridge, near the local council offices said business was good right now but admitted he was one of the lucky ones.

“I have to admit that it’s a little strange in Riduna Park where many offices - including the council - remain empty and it would be great to have that lunchtime buzz again from office workers. However, we have been lucky enough to attract a different clientele in their place - more walkers, cyclists and runners,” he said.

“We all need to adapt accordingly and for some businesses this will spell the end.”

Sarah Fitch, owner of Cuppa, an eat-in sandwich and coffee shop on Walton High Street in Felixstowe, said while loyal customers had returned since lockdown, her profits had taken a hit.

“We never adapted to turn to takeaways because that isn’t what our business is about,” she said. “We wanted a coffee shop experience where people could meet and relax and share a coffee, a sandwich, a cake and feel like they are part of this lovely community.

“Social distancing doesn’t exactly gel with that business vision, sadly. Whereas once we had 60 people in the venue, we can now only have 30. We can no longer hold the charity events we used to and turnover has suffered massively as a result.

“I am extremely worried about another lockdown. That could kill us and many other businesses like ours. It feels like a waiting game.”

Paul and Suzanne Buck, owners of Baileys Delicatessen in Beccles, diversified the business during lockdown.

“We decided against takeaways as there are lots of competitors in town,” said Mr Buck.

“Instead we opted to offer around 300 essential items such as cheese, bread, flour, eggs and ready meals via collection or delivery.

“The service ran all the way through lockdown, and we have actually continued the service post-lockdown for customers who are still not prepared to leave their houses or for those not medically allowed.

“It was a one-man operation as I furloughed our staff and my wife. I’m a chef by trade so it was nice to be able to actually meet our customers.

Now the restaurant has reopened the couple hope to see a few office workers coming in. “We have altered our business over the past few months to offer more food that can be taken away for those who want to pick up a baguette or jacket potato,” said Mr Buck.


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