Covid A Year On: How eateries adapted to the new normal
- Credit: Kaotic Angels Bikers
In many ways I just want to forget the past year, and leave it behind us in a blur of home delivery cocktails and banana bread. Yet food and drink was so central to our lives, and the people who feed us more appreciated than ever before. So what, and who, stood out for me in the local food scene?
I have to start by thanking all the people who chose to help others during this past year. Neighbours shopped for each other, delivery drivers worked harder than ever, and supermarket staff were right in the firing line of the virus. Schools had to scramble to feed their students who needed free meals, with some teachers delivering food themselves and parents cooking.
St Albans Action for Homeless put out a call for help and companies and individuals stepped forward. A big thank you to The Great Northern Pub & Kitchen, Hare & Hounds, Dylan’s, Kiosk, Raihaanah Ahmed, The Cobbled Kitchen, Loafing, My Backyard Kitchen, Kaotic Angels Bikers, My Kind of Cooking, Ridgeway Fish Bar and Street Café, to name just a few.
The food banks have had to work doubly hard to cope with the demand due to so many job losses. That work continues, as many still face hardship. Sopwell Community Trust has been collecting leftover groceries from local supermarkets for distribution to those who need it in the Cottonmill and Sopwell areas. Open Door continues to feed our homeless population and I also heard about people cooking for key workers in hospitals such as Lime Face for The Royal Free Hospital.
Businesses had to navigate the ever-changing rules. Treat delivery was a new big thing, with many of us ordering cocktails, brownies, afternoon teas, graze boxes and hampers for friends and family – and ourselves. My lockdown big birthday was made better with delicious Suckerpunch cocktails from friends. Katy’s Gift Boxes shone out for me, as everything in the boxes is produced in Hertfordshire.
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Some restaurants made the move to delivery or collection, although it wasn’t practical for many, and in no way made up for loss of earnings and many jobs in front of house. We had excellent meals from Oasis, Tavah and Bar Meze among others, but I know they would all prefer to be open.
Pubs were hit hard, with ever-changing guidelines that seemed to be pulled out of a hat. From substantial ‘meals’ of scotch eggs and ordering via apps to putting up pods and gazebos, the speed the pubs had to pivot was incredible. Many staff were furloughed, making the task to stay in business even harder, with landlords working crazy hours to manage.
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Gallons of beer went to waste, and although Save St Albans Pubs set up shop outside Cellar Door, it couldn’t get close to normal sales. On the positives, Sunday lunch delivery has been popular, with people wanting to support local, but also really needing a break from cooking.
It was a busy year for many of our streetfood stalls and alcohol shops. With so many people working from home and not buying lunch in London, the markets have been popular. Supermarkets did very well for alcohol sales – was that really safer than buying takeaway from pubs?
Looking forward, we have new businesses on standby to open, and I cannot wait to visit them all. In St Albans we have Crunch, Leafy, Alban’s Well and a new deli in French Row, poised to open fully. Harpenden is due to get a new branch of The Pudding Stop. April 12 is the date for outdoor bookings and May 17 for limited indoor opening, which seems ages away to me (about a month later than Scotland…).
With more people working from home for the foreseeable future, I am sure that some of the money we spent in London will now transfer to the local delis, market stalls, cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars, which should help their recovery. I can’t wait for more normality and to be able to sit inside a café once more!