Lockdown Reflections: Croydon Traders

— 17 Sep 2020, 12:52 by Tashia Cameron

The last few months have been challenging to say the least. Our brilliant, ever-growing  hospitality sector has faced many hurdles which we have been fighting to overcome. 

But despite enduring a global crisis, we remain positive about our future and the opportunities that are ahead of us. The lockdown gave us time to reflect on our key strengths, what we are grateful for, and how we might improve ourselves and do business better when we came out on the other side.

As we emerge from lockdown and gradually adjust to the new normal, we’ve caught up with some of our traders about how the lockdown impacted them and some of their learnings which might help to inspire others. 

Meet Brook & John Zhao, Owners of Bao Bao

Tell us what you have been getting up to during lockdown…

During this 3-month lockdown, all our daily lives were limited to our home to avoid getting infected by the virus. This pandemic really changed everyone’s normal life. After enjoying a few days of doing nothing but watching Netflix, we started to make up plans to react to any unfavourable outcomes after this lockdown. Such as moving even more towards online sales due to change of people’s eating habits. More and more people would prefer to eat at home rather than going out. We have also tested a few new dishes, which are originally from Taiwan and China but with our personal twist to make it more interesting. It was one of the fun parts of this lockdown, we enjoyed the food ourselves, and we hope you do too when we launch them. We have also been in close communication with Boxpark during this lockdown regarding any government announcement and business arrangement, which has been very helpful. 

What are some of the challenges you have faced during the COVID-19 outbreak?

The biggest challenge was to change our daily life routine completely. We could not go out to meet friends, we could not make the food we love and serve our lovely customers, we could not go shopping, we could not even see people on the street. It feels like we are on an isolated island, which made us feel lonely, useless, and hopeless. Thank god we have social media and video chat, which connected us with all our friends and families. 

Do you have any tips you can share with other food businesses on how to stay relevant and adapt during a crisis?

 We have 3 words for our peers.

Sufficient Funds

This is not difficult to understand, sufficient cash for at least 6-12 months will be critical for us to survive during this once in a lifetime crisis. Try to explore any possible sources of funding. There are quite few supports provided by the government, such as business rate relief, furlough scheme, Eat Out To Help Out scheme etc. We have applied interest free loans from the bank, which we kept only for uncertainties. You can only win the game when you are still in the game.

Being Positive

Regardless whatever happened, you must be 100% positive. We know it won’t be easy but that’s the only way we can go through all this. Just treat it as a test, only the best will survive!

Being Alert

What we mean by this, is that you need to be aware of what is going on. Whenever there is a crisis, the opportunities always follow. There might be new ways of doing business, one new app may be the next “Deliveroo”. There might be new ways of doing marketing, nowadays young people are more into short video clips rather than photos. There may be the next “Instagram” coming out, who knows? You just need to be alert and open-minded to new stuff, so you won’t be left out of the competition.

After all, don’t forget why you are doing it, keep doing what you love and everything else will just turn out fine eventually! 

What does the future look like for you now – are you looking forward to anything?

We are expecting shortfalls in business as we are not planning to provide eat-in services until October, because we prioritise our staff’s health and safety before business. As I mentioned above, we understand the pandemic has changed our normal lives, and things are not as ideal as it used to be, but we are still looking forward to the future. When we realised how much our customers missed us when we resumed trading, it made us feel so warm and hopeful! We can see that it will be tough and challenging, but as I said, as long as we are doing what we love, everything will be fine.

What has been your biggest learning from lockdown?

Social responsibility is the biggest thing I’ve learnt from this lockdown. We always say we are independent individuals, but no one is really that independent as we thought. We are all linked together in all sorts of ways as a community. This has become one of the factors I consider when I make any decision in the restaurant. For example, to protect our staff and customers when we started trading after this lockdown, we have installed a dry hand sanitiser station in the front of the order winder, a plastic divider to avoid contact. We provide our staff with medical masks and will be available to customers too if anyone needs it. Our shop is disinfected twice a day with 80% alcohol, etc. 


Meet Jack Stones, Operations Director The Gnarbeque

Tell us what you’ve been getting up to during lockdown…

We set up an online shop for our T-Shirts and sold out which was pretty awesome! Unfortunately Covid logistics means we’ve been unable to refill our shirts quickly but we hope to keep this going in the background.

What are some of the challenges you have faced during the Covid-19 outbreak? 

Anyone who has followed our progress knows we come from a street market and festival background. And we still operate a mobile kitchen alongside our permanent one at Boxpark Croydon. Unfortunately all our rad events for 2020 were cancelled. However almost all of them have just been pushed back to the same time in 2021 so keep your eyes peeled for us on the streets of London.

Do you have any tips you can share with other food businesses on how to stay relevant and adapt during a crisis? 

Just make an effort with your customers, react to what people want, and you'll have a loyal following who will still be waiting for you on the other side of lockdown (that was the case for us anyway).

What does the future look like for you now – are you looking forward to anything? 

We're just looking forward to settling in to BOXPARK and getting to know Croydon! We only opened on the 9th of March so had about 5 days of normal trade before everything shut down 28 days later. 

What has been your biggest learning from lockdown? 

Being a 20 minute jog away from the fields and hills of Surrey is actually such a blessing.

Meet Sanjaya Suranga Mudannayaka, Head Chef at K + K Street Food

Tell us what you’ve been getting up to during lock down…

We have been busy coming up with new dishes to showcase the vibrancy and versatility of Sri Lankan Street Food for the adventurous foodies in London. Such as Nasi Goreng, which has been very popular!

We also launched Click & Collect for our delicious Mutton Rolls, Tuna Patties & Polos Cutlets Short-Eat Boxes and Weekend Specials, Lamparis is our first round of Weekend Specials.

Lamprais is probably the most significant and sought after remnant from the Dutch Burghers in Sri Lanka. A true delicacy which is wrapped in banana leaves and baked for a few minutes until the aroma of the banana leaves infuse into the rice.

What are some of the challenges you have faced during the Covid-19 outbreak?

It was hard for us, as we just launched in January 2020 and just after that COVID-19 hit us. We had several customers calling and asking if we were still open for delivery, unfortunately we had to disappoint them which was heart-breaking. But we are glad to be back with some new dishes to serve our customers!

Do you have any tips you can share with other food businesses on how to stay relevant and adapt during a crisis?

Keep fighting and show customers your energy! Customers love when we talk to them about our story, history of our food & Sri Lankan Art & Culture!

What does the future looks like for you now – are you looking forward to anything?

We are looking forward to showcase more of Sri Lankan Food with new dishes, Art & Culture. We want to be known for the best Sri Lankan food in London! We are doing an update to our store with some new surprises from Sri Lanka. Come and see the 39 Masks, each individually unique and hand crafted in Sri Lanka! Travelling abroad has got harder, but you can get a slice of Sri Lanka in Boxpark Croydon, and no one will ever know you left London!

What has been your biggest learning from lockdown?

Down time is always not bad, we reinvented ourselves even though we are a young business to stay relevant and embrace the changes at foot. We also found that customers still love to order food through deliveries, so now we are on Deliveroo, UberEats & JustEat to give maximise choice for our customers.

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