The pub is the latest in the city to announce that it’s closing for the forseeable future after ever-tightening local lockdown restrictions have meant that the pub was making a loss when opening.
Elisa Ricci took over the site in April last year with husband Ben Harman and prior to lockdown had built up a loyal following thanks to its food offering.
Due to the pandemic, they had to take the tough decision to make redundancies at the business, but were able to cover costs when operating in July and August.
Last month’s local lockdown, however, which has seen increasingly tightened restrictions has had a catastrophic effect, in particular the law against the mixing of households in indoor settings which led to immediate cancellations and a drastic dip in footfall.
Elisa says it’s a hugely frustrating time for the hospitality industry who’ve been faced with ever changing rules and regulations and little guidance.
“The majority of people going to pubs and restaurants are going with friends, even families are often mixed households these days,” she said.
“It’s so frustrating because we have adhered to every rule, but pubs and restaurants have been made the scapegoat. I read that the hospitality industry account for 5.18% of cases which is a lot lower than schools and universities. I’m not saying schools should be closed, but why can’t people meet a friend in a safe environment with track and trace but you can go to a supermarket, with no one making you sanitise, and touch a cereal box that 30 other people have touched and put it back on a shelf?
“The hospitality industry is one of the safest places: we have track and trace, we have sanitiser, we have spaced out tables, we have disposable menus, we have regular cleaning.”
Elisa says the “yo yo” effect of the restrictions makes it incredibly difficult to plan the business, to order the correct stock and retain staff.
She and her husband also operate San Marino in Chester Road which has been running in the city for 26 years. It ran a popular delivery service in lockdown and will continue to do so, should restaurants have to close again.
“Customers themselves are frustrated,” she said. “The feedback we’ve had across both sites recently is that they feel safe in our venues and people want to support their local businesses, they need to be able to socialise for their mental health, even if it’s just within rule of six.
“This virus is something we have to learn to live with, but we need to allow businesses to open in a safe environment, without this level of restriction.”
Alex Kirtley is landlord of Hanover Place and stopped rent during lockdown, reduced it for reopening, and has once again stopped it so the pub can try and survive.
She said: “Every day you’re opening, you’re about £200/£300 in the red and it’s ever spiralling. Everyone in the town is taking a hit and people need to understand the bigger picture.
“It’s not just the pub: it’s the landlord, it’s the local butchers, it’s the fish quay, it’s the fruit and veg supplier, it’s delivery drivers, it’s beauticians because people aren’t having their nails done to go out, they aren’t buying a new outfit for a Saturday night from Aphrodite. It has a real knock on effect on employment in this city.”
Alex says there’s been “fantastic support” from Sunderland BID, but says elsewhere there’s been little.
“There’s no financial support there when these changes are made,” she said. “There’s the £10,000 grant, but that’s about a week of outgoings in a pub, even the bounce back loan doesn’t go far.
“Sunderland can’t afford for its employment to be affected like this.”
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