Wee Restaurant owners make big plans for coming out of lockdown.

Vikki and Craig Wood own The Wee Restaurant which has two branches, one in North Queensferry and one on Frederick Street in Edinburgh.

The pandemic has had a major impact on their business but they are working hard to innovate their way to a brighter future via exploring new ventures.

Can you tell us a bit about your business and how it looked before Covid-19?

We have two restaurants, one in the New Town of Edinburgh & one in North Queensferry, Fife. Times had been tougher with Brexit and we had a down-turn in business & increased problems finding suitably trained staffing, but both remained viable & in profit.

How has Covid-19 affected you?

Both restaurants had a further downturn in profit due to Covid 19. On 21 March both closed their doors due to laws coming into place to protect everyone from the virus.

With no end in sight at that time for when we could re-open, this was devastating. It made us really focus on what we can do ourselves to improve this bad situation.

At the start it was unclear if any help would be available, we needed to diversify and fast if we wished to be able to survive & open our doors again in the future.

Have you made use of the government furlough scheme? 

Yes, we have furloughed staff. The Edinburgh full-time staff have been advised this is the last month of furlough.

Two of them had already handed their notice in prior to the crisis, but we furloughed them as their intended new jobs had disappeared. One staff member is in Italy and does not plan the return and the other member of staff is moving to Denmark.

Our three part time members of staff have been kept on furlough. All NQ staff are still on furlough but this will be assessed month by month.

How has your business needed to evolve and change to operate in this environment? 

As we could no longer work in our businesses we started a new temporary business that was more viable while in lockdown. This is called ‘Wee Deliveries’ and it is a local food delivery/pick up service. This is working from the space that was The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry.

Just yesterday we launched another aspect of this business called The Lobster Creel. Over the past 12 weeks we have noted that it is the luxury foods people are ordering for lockdown birthdays & anniversaries etc. We found a new reliable lobster supplier which has aided us in launching a Lobster & Chips takeaway in the later part of a Saturday. If this proves popular we will extend this to other evenings, but it leaves us free to continue our Wee Deliveries service which week-on-week gets busier.

We can do this as all the household is only taking a small wage but happy to help full time with the new ventures. We are also keeping everyone safe within a small space. We cannot bring back our staff as the building is too small to keep a 2m distance from each other. Plus the fact business is surviving but not profitable enough to take all staff back right away.

Do you think you will want/need to continue to operate this new business model either partially or fully after lockdown?

We plan to continue this new business after lockdown ends until the 2m rule has been changed to 1m rule or is not happening at all. We feel people will still be reluctant to dine out.

Speaking to fellow restaurateurs from other countries this seems to be the case and their businesses are hemorrhaging money.

It just doesn’t make sense to open the doors of the restaurants until the 2m rule has been rescinded. The 2m rule only gives us 30% capacity, making our business non-viable. If this is prolonged we would have no other option but to close permanently.

We hope that this does not happen & we can reopen fully.

Has it presented opportunities which you would not otherwise have considered?

We have definitely gained many more customers who have never been to the restaurant before but plan to dine with us when we reopen. People who may not generally be foodies but have felt they have been supported by us whilst shielding. They wish to continue a customer relationship with us when they can eat out.

It has also been an opportunity to step back and decide what we want to do when we reopen. Do we want to shake up the brand a bit? It’s something we've talked about for a while.

Due to a prolonged enforced closure it would seem there is potentially an opportunity for positive change longer term if we can all get through the next few months.

Allan Leal, partner and member of the food and drink team at Burness Paull was in conversation with Vikki Wood, co-founder of The Wee Restaurant.

If you have a story of resilience from Scotland's food & drink sector and would like to share it as part of our Tales from the Larder series then get in touch at hello@burnesspaull.com

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