The Riverside at Aymestrey
Phone: +44(0)1568 708440
Behind the Scenes with Chef Patron Andy Link
This year has brought some big changes for us all, how did that impact on your business?
Well, the lockdown was certainly negative. Financially it was just devastating. We did, however, use it positively to develop the business. We took a close look at how we handled food waste, how we used the orchards and we introduced pigs, chickens, and ducks. We planted around thirty heritage orchard fruit trees. We looked at the habitat for wildlife, creating some hedgehog refuges. The two acres we took on was really wild with a lot of bracken, creating toxicity in the soil where nothing would grow. With help and guidance we are working to build the right ecology, encouraging a wildflower meadow and making the land more naturally productive. Over time we plan to adopt a forest garden approach. It has been eighteen months of being very up and down.
Really it started in February 2020, prior to the pandemic when we had floods. This caused £40K - £50K worth of damage. Then Covid hit in March.
We had also just purchased the Bateman Arms, but with the change in clientele habits brought by the pandemic we’ve now put it up for sale. The corporate business has died and larger groups and families stopped coming too – the country pub has died. We are trying to see if we can come up with a strategy to reopen it, but meanwhile it’s up for sale if someone has a vision for it.
Around New Year’s Eve last year it was nerve wracking. We could see the level of infections rising fast, so we held off on our ordering and preparations. We were concerned about another lockdown as each time the previous ones had taken place we lost £6K - £8K. Staff were behind us in this and said they would work 48 hours flat out to do what was needed. Then just 48 hours beforehand another lockdown was announced and we were glad we’d held our nerve!
When we have been open, though, we have never been busier. Since restrictions lifted, and we moved indoors, this year the restaurant has been fully booked. The Hotel is also now fully booked for the next three months. That is all very positive for business.
How did the Lockdown affect your staffing?
I, together with six staff contracted Covid. We think it may have been when we were working to clean down the kitchen ready to close it all down. Luckily the staff just had fairly light symptoms but I was really ill for over five weeks and don’t feel I’m back to 100% yet.
It’s been important to try to keep staff motivated. The team have been absolutely phenomenal, but hiring new staff is very difficult. We currently have five vacancies we are trying to fill. We are lucky to have a very hard working team.
We developed the kitchen garden during lockdown with no gardener and the flood damage to contend with, so we were very busy. It’s how we keep going now and what we do in the future. I want to extend the grounds, create a smallholding and install more cabins. I think we need to keep things very simple. And to do what is safe.
We’re now trying to develop the menu. It’s a question of scenario planning. Previously we would be planning to just grow the business but now we first ask ‘Is it the right thing to do’? Now when we make changes to the business we look at it from the point of view of environmental impact. That is now more our guiding principle. Previously it was finance, then guest experience, then environment but now we are more concerned about the impact. We are considering how to develop menus to minimise waste (eg can we incorporate various techniques such as pickled etc). We are buying more locally. And, for example, we have stopped using vanilla (from Madagascar), using meadowsweet instead. It is forcing us to change in a positive way. We all have to be thinking what are the alternatives. We ask what do we need to survive this and what do we need to do afterwards.
What would you say were the positive things to come out of this?
It has been a useful way to reassess – to look at the things that weren’t working so well. It’s given us time to think about how we use water, what we do with food from the kitchen, what can go to pigs or compost, how we can do thing differently.
Has Brexit affected you much?
In a way the effect of that is hidden. We had an EU Leader grant to create the garden rooms, and install a water and sewerage system, but of course, this will no longer be available. Equally, we’ve seen food price increases and some wine being difficult to get hold of. Across the board it’s probably compounded the increase in food prices beyond the usual. It hasn’t affected us too much on the staffing side as we haven’t had EU nationals working here for a while. There’s just lots of small issues.
What does it mean for you being a Slow Food Business Supporter?
A lot of the the core food pricinples of Slow Food are an integral part of our business strategy, like what’s right for the environment. Those things also makes financial sense. Our values have always been aligned with Slow Food. We are also finding that our customer base is now more interested in spending money on something they know comes from a sustainable base, with local sourcing. They seem more interested in spending money on something that has a cause behind it. There’s still a lot more to do, though! It’s good to have Slow Food there!
We’ve just hired two more young chefs from the area. It’s great to see, if we train them up and they move on elsewhere and take our values with them.