TV chef, author, and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi has echoed calls for the government to implement short- and medium-term measures widely believed to be enough to prevent the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from completely destroying the U.K. restaurant industry.
Writing in the Guardian, Ottolenghi warned that there was a “very dark cloud” looming over a “cash-based” business particularly at risk not just from lockdown, but from any prolonged social-distancing measures which are expected to come into place in the months after the peak. For the majority of restaurants now in receipt of “zero income”, there is no money to weather the storm.
Instead, he says, to protect these “vibrant community institutions,” “hubs of social interaction,” and “centres of knowledge and creativity,” the government must intervene, building on the relief measures it has already introduced: “A total debt-enforcement moratorium for the next six months.” This means an extension of the the so-called forfeiture moratorium (emergency COVID-19 legislation prevents landlords from evicting tenants only until 30 June). In addition, critically, he says, the government should implement a debt enforcement moratorium, to prevent landlords from strong-arming tenants, powerless in avoiding defaulting on payments, with legal threats, winding-up petitions, and bailiffs.
What’s more, even when good faith negotiations between restaurant tenant and landlord are an option; alone, and for the industry at large, they are not enough. Ottolenghi asks: “Our leases normally declare that we must operate restaurants on the sites we occupy. But we are now prohibited from doing so by the government. How can we be expected to pay rent as normal when the fundamentals of our leases with our landlords have been eradicated?”
He says that a collapse of an industry worth close to £20 billion per year, which employs hundreds of thousands of workers, is “totally unnecessary.” While the long-term future of the industry remains very uncertain, Ottolenghi’s plea is aimed at ensuring there is something left to build from.
Yotam Ottolenghi, a household name and among Britain’s most famous chefs, is the owner of NOPI, ROVI and the group of eponymous cafe-delis in London. He has written several best-selling cookbooks, including Ottolenghi, Plenty, and Jerusalem. Last year, he featured in the promo video for hip-hop artist Loyle Carner’s track named for the chef.