Mamma Mia

5 Nov 2020

This week: Here we go again! Some lessons learnt from lockdowns past, and our hopes for the future. (They’re pinned on you, Joe).



Yep, it’s been a hell ride of a week year. The burnout is real. We’ve nearly lost the will to write this newsletter – but for you, dear reader, we’ll give it all we got.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. The survivalist slogan of the U.S. Marines may as well belong to the restaurant industry, a sector dominated by independent operators (70% in the U.S. and 68% in the UK) – and one hard-hit by constant cycles of recovery and uncertainty.

• Half of NYC’s 24,000 restaurants are in danger of permanent closure, so we’ll drink to any news of reincarnations. Eateries all over town have been swiftly shapeshifting as both seasons and regulations change. Blume, a wine garden over the summer, is reopening today as Hütte – restyled as a (heated) Alpine escape. Gertie, a Jewish-American diner in Brooklyn, had been open a year when lockdown hit. It’s now operating as a soup kitchen by day, and an outdoor restaurant with guest chef appearances by night. “I feel like we have opened six restaurants just in the past seven months,” said co-owner Flip Biddelman.

• The UK is on Day 2 of its second national lockdown, with restaurants and pubs forced to cease indoor service. “This time, it’s less of a shock but emotionally it feels more draining,” said Daniel Willis, a restaurateur behind Luca and Two Lights. Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim opened his fourth north London neighbourhood spot, Big Jo, over the summer – which was designed with a second coming in mind. “We have been preparing for this since the last lockdown so we would not be caught with our pants down … We can survive this of course as well as flourish: this is a time to experiment and [be] more fluid with offers and formats,” said Cometto-Lingenheim, who plans to convert one restaurant’s courtyard into an outdoor farmers market.

• It looks like we’re going to have to keep on trusting in takeaway – which is getting ever more creative. Wine clubs, Thanksgiving to-go packages, and other customised meal kits were among a few innovations listed by Eater. In lieu of sending flowers, try French fries? “One of the nicer things that’s happened to me during the pandemic is that my friends will send me food or [drinks] if I’m having a bad week… going into the holiday season, that’s a great way to continue to support restaurants,” said editor Monica Burton.

“If Restaurants Go, What Happens to Cities?” wondered The New York Times, citing research showing that restaurants are crucial for social interaction, and therefore linked to the overall productivity of a city’s workforce. Their survival is our survival. Protect them at all costs.


While small businesses seem more vulnerable in the face of such upheaval, indies are actually beating chain stores when it comes to pandemic endurance in the UK – in part due to knowing their neighbours. “You’re seeing a renaissance of local streets. The skate shop, the bike shop, the streetwear shop is as much about the people as the stuff,” Appear Here CEO Ross Bailey told The Financial Times. But with nonessential retail shut for the next month, government support is critical.

• French shopkeepers are protesting the latest lockdown measures, prompting the government to require big-box retailers to remove nonessential goods from their stores. Those restrictions won’t apply online though, and officials are reminding the populace to choose community over convenience. “I’m really imploring Parisians: Do not buy on Amazon. [It] is the death of our bookstores and our neighborhood life,” said Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris.

• “First came the streeteries; now come the streetailers,” reported Curbed, with NYC introducing a new “Open Storefronts” programme officially allowing businesses to use the sidewalk for display. But is it enough? “Rent relief and funds to help people pay rent would really be helpful now,” said Dina Leor, owner of La Sirena, an East Village shop.

• Without additional government aid, more than half of U.S. small businesses are in danger of failing, according to the National Association of Independent Business. “My hope is that the next administration will bring more financial stimulus and capital for small business impacted by the pandemic in the next four years,” Andre McCain, owner of D.C. gastro pub HalfSmoke, told Forbes. With economic recovery their chief concern, 98% of business owners surveyed by American Express planned to vote on Election Day. (Imagine if their votes didn’t count).

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. It’s what humans do best. “The more our brains are able to absorb, understand, and process our past experience, the better we are at managing the future,” wrote Lisa Miller in The Cut. “That way, in times of uncertainty and threat, you know to build a fence. You make a fire.”

You make a plan. You tear it up. We start again.

Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.