Let's Eat

Lockdown losses and new horizons

2020 brought much for our caterers to contend with


This has been a hard year in hospitality. For most caterers and restaurateurs, it was a fight for survival — whether or not they contracted the coronavirus.

From early March, simchahs fell like dominoes. Now in December we’re still no clearer on what the future holds, but they have soldiered on and even found new ways to feed us.

Last December, Celia Clyne was prepping for Limmud. But now her kitchens lie empty and her staff are on furlough. “I haven’t worked in banqueting since March. I caught Covid-19 at the start and was floored for six weeks. We kept thinking the pandemic would end. In the summer, when the rules were relaxed a little, we tried to do a few smaller functions for thirty, but it wasn’t worth taking staff off furlough for. We’ve been in Tier Three for weeks here in Manchester — I’ve had brides change their weddings dates five times!”

This time last year, Arieh Wagner was on his lead-in to the 2020 Kedem Food and Wine event. But the ball room at the Sheraton Grand is dark, the kitchens cold.

But neither he nor Clyne have given up. Wagner has redirected the annual kosher-catered December ski holiday he offers in St Moritz to a rather warmer Dubai. He’s also offering couples the chance to hold weddings in Dubai, with many more guests than they could have here.

In north Manchester, Clyne and her son, Mark Clyne, have been busy since September refurbishing a former restaurant into a kosher deli and takeaway. It opened three weeks ago. “We’ve called it Celia’s Kitchen and it’s great to be cooking again. We’re doing takeaway from 11.30am until 10pm. There’s a meat counter; a fish and parev section and another one for desserts with cakes and biscuits etc.”

An upstairs area seats up to 70. “Hopefully that will work when we start to build up the numbers again.”

They’re not the only ones to have found new directions during the pandemic. When Jonathan Robinson of Jasmine Catering found himself crossing dates out of the diary, he was quick to act. “Just as people were starting to cancel, we came up with ‘Seder in a Box’ — a three course meal, grape juice, matzah and all the bits you needed for a seder on your own. We made 800 for the United Synagogue and were able to send them to those isolating, the elderly and vulnerable and US members.”

In the summer, came ‘Simcha in a Box’ — kiddush lunchboxes or lunches that were delivered to small groups who could not celebrate bar or batmitzvahs or other occasions together.

“We’ve totally reimagined our business and have grown through this process — I’ve enjoyed rising to the challenges” says Robinson.

It was not just banqueting that was affected. Natalie Salama-Levy of 1070, saw the bulk of their business close in March. “Our niche has been supplying kosher food to big corporates in the City. All those bookings vanished. We also have the contract for El Al’s King David Lounge at Heathrow — which closed!”

Only their home delivery business remained. “We were lucky that Pesach was early on. It was like being hit by a bus though. We were terrified of all the rules, but on the other hand had never seen such sales. We were delivering as far as Leeds and Manchester.”

The lull gave her and head chef, Oren Goldfield, time to develop a new range. “We’d been talking to Waitrose for some time, but had no time to think of products. With lockdown, came the time to develop four new recipes, which are now being sold in 40 Waitrose stores. They are stocking our Jewish Penicillin (chicken soup); apple strudel; sachertorte and a chocolate babka.”

There was a major pivot for Adam Zeitlin too, but his change of business actually had come immediately pre-pandemic. “I had taken the decision to close my function books in order to put my family first. I launched my new kosher frozen food business, MyKoCo, for Pesach. With lockdown, it was exactly what people were looking for. We sold more than 6,000 units in the first four days so I had to close down orders temporarily in order to keep up”.

His premise was to create gourmet food for people who want to eat the sorts of foods you can find in supermarkets. “Ready to heat canapes like arancini; sausage rolls and duck spring rolls for example. His meals are now in kosher supermarkets and he has been talking to major supermarkets.” He has also now branched into a kosher Japanese meal delivery service. “I’ve been able to work with the chefs who provided the Japanese food for my banqueting business.”

Zeitlin is not the only one to diversify. Ben Tenenblat and Ed Shaerf went ‘street’ — serving burgers and other family pleasers from shiny new food trucks. They are two of the kosher foodie businesses embracing the new ‘dark kitchen’ trend — read more on that next year in JC Food.

Adam Nathan was also quick to morph his simchah-based trade, but chose a meal delivery operation which has flourished. “We’ve now built a website and will keep this going even when we can (hopefully) do larger functions next year.”

Nathan together with fellow caterers Simone Krieger and Penny Beral share my Most Menschy Maven award for work done feeding the NHS, needy and vulnerable during the dark pandemic months. Nathan delivered weekly meals to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery as well as donating to You Donate We Deliver, the charity that both Krieger and Beral cooked hundreds of meals for, even when their own businesses were quiet.

They weren’t the only ones thinking of others while their livelihoods were in jeopardy. The others all helped out where they could. Salama-Levy told me they pledged a charity meal for every private client meal sold. Zeitlin was delivering 40 meals a week those who could not get out and also donated meals to the Lubavich and to Chabad.

These are only a fraction of those in our hospitality sector who have battled to stay afloat in 2020. I’m proud of all of them for how adaptable they have been in the face of probably their worst year ever. Here’s hoping that 2021 brings all of them better times — and sees us all celebrating simchahs together again.


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