"We are in the process of launching our My Ready to eat range."
Renowned South Asian restaurant, MyLahore, which boasts iconic multi-site businesses across the United Kingdom, like any other restaurant business, has been affected by the outbreak of coronavirus.
MyLahore was first established in Bradford in 2002. The business was set up by cousins Asghar Ali and Shakoor Ahmed.
With the support of their families, MyLahore now employs over 450 employees across 27 nationalities.
The family-led business has restaurants in Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. It aspires to open in London as well.
MyLahore has a British Asian story behind its development which is expressed through their food served. People can tuck into a range of food from traditional curries to shepherd’s pie.
As well as having a diverse menu, MyLahore also strives to help with local causes which benefit the community.
In an exclusive chat with MyLahore, amid the coronavirus pandemic, we discover how the lockdown has impacted the business, employees and more.
How has Coronavirus affected your restaurant business?
Our business was affected in early March (2020) when the government announced (the social) distancing policy. All our restaurants were affected.
The COVID-19 pandemic has really had a big impact on MyLahore and the whole world.
As a brand within the leisure and hospitality industry, we have had to make major changes to how we manage our business and how we can help in the best way we know by feeding the nation.
We have transformed all our restaurants to takeaways and we have had to close our flagship locations in Bradford.
This has had a big implication for our staff and how we see the industry as a whole.
We have taken a forward stance, feeding various key workers, NHS health workers, transport bus drivers and fire station workers.
“We have also distributed food parcels to the vulnerable and elderly in these isolating times.”
To date, we have distributed more than 5,000 meals to put a smile on those most at risk, sometimes getting a hot meal is the only contact these people in the community have.
As a business, we want to react to the current situation and we have introduced a few Rangers that will help our customers and still feel part of the dining experience at home.
We have introduced the My Uncooked range that can be BBQ’d at home or cooked with all the prep work taken out and all the flavours added for your convenience.
We are in the process of launching our My Ready to eat range. This is a range that is cooked fresh in our production and reheated at home saving time and savouring the same great taste as the restaurant.
We are also in talks to launch our My Home Essentials which will utilise wholesale supplier buying power and deliver direct to customers that are struggling to get out.
This has also given us a newfound respect for hygiene which we always strive for. But we have raised all efforts throughout our business to keep our team members and customers safe.
What have you closed and how are you coping?
We have closed all our dining in seating areas. We have also closed our flagship branch in Bradford.
We are working with what we have and making the most of our resources in terms of key staff and personal savings.
No one could have imagined this situation. For many, it would be all too easy in such a crisis to leave your team in the cold, cancel all payments to your suppliers, stop giving out to your community and to abandon your guests entirely.
Instead, we decided to do the following.
Our focus on people became a top priority on how to handle this crisis.
Before the chancellor announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), my senior leadership team spent hours discussing what could be done to minimise the impact of the effects on the business and our people.
Working out how long we could pay them before we have to save our cash, just to keep the business alive in the long term.
We are continuously communicating with our team via personal emails, WhatsApp messages and on our social media pages, outlining the situation and how it is going to affect everyone.
This assisted to keep everyone informed of our intentions and help stop rumours and misinformation.
We have not made any team members redundant and have furloughed majority of our team and kept the minimum team required to operate our delivery and take out operations.
We have had to use personal resources to make sure they get paid every fortnight until the government begin to reimburse us.
In the two weeks leading to the lockdown, we were constantly reassuring our customers everything was being done to help minimise the risk for them to visit any of our restaurants or our marquee.
Since the closure, we continue to keep them informed.
Once our people and guests were taken care of, our full attention was turned to cash flow and costs.
The goal is to get costs as low as possible, limiting and reducing every cost that leaves our bank accounts.
However, that does not mean turning our back on the people that supply us.
When it comes to suppliers it is all too easy to hit the ‘cancel all direct debits’ button and just tell our suppliers we will see them once this is all over.
We certainly advocate being in absolute control of the money leaving our bank account.
But we have found if you just speak to your suppliers the majority understand and will offer some sort of allowance on time to pay arrangements.
We are continuing to pay our suppliers, not exactly on the same terms as before but they will all get paid.
I feel proud we have been able to support our community through donations of food.
The volunteer work with our chefs cooking meals for those in need through a local charity.
Including Muslim Women Council and Bradford Foundation Trust, along with many other team members volunteering for local good causes and the NHS as well as key workers.
The last part is the actual business. No business can survive for a long period without income.
So, we have to manage our cash flow carefully through tight control of every penny that leaves our bank account.
It has been a burst of activity creating multiple cash flow scenarios to ensure we have enough cash and can continue trading in the future.
No one really knows what the situation is going to look like when this crisis is over or even when the lockdown ends.
“Everyone may have to make some difficult decisions to protect their business.”
We have been in business for nearly 18 years and had many ups and downs. Although we have never seen anything quite like this.
It is through these fair shares of knocks that we have the confidence to ride this storm, having built a strong business to manage the financial impact.
Due to being a family business, we have always pulled together when times are tough and this crisis is no exception.
Our goal throughout this whole unprecedented situation has been simple – to look after our team, all stakeholders involved and to protect the business.
So, that in a year from now, we can look back at our actions during this crisis and be proud we did the right thing for everyone involved.
What is the status of your staff?
We have furloughed staff that cannot, unfortunately, work due to diminished responsibilities within the restaurant areas.
We have tried to relocate as many of our staff as possible to other locations.
All our restaurants have become takeaways and we have adapted and used staff as additional delivery drivers or in the kitchen.
Do you think your business will survive the lockdown?
We have every faith in our customers and staff to pull through in this situation.
We have always strived to think outside the box and we will continue to evolve as a brand and business.
We have introduced a new offering which we hope to continue long after the epidemic.
Do you feel your business has changed in the way it will do business?
The business has always been honest and transparent. The business will need to adapt to changing customers’ habits once we have overcome the epidemic.
“We have great connections with suppliers and various other companies which we value and will continue to support.”
What would you say to other business during this time?
Stay true to who you are and what you stand for. This is temporary and this will pass.
In situations like this, you will need to start to think outside the box and be reactive to the situation.
Always remember there is someone worse off than yourself and this is the time to give back.
A business needs to evolve and this pandemic has become a catalyst for change and adaption.
MyLahore has been directly affected in terms of closing their dining areas and having to furlough the majority of its staff like many other businesses.
However, their inability to maintain regular contact with their customers has not affected their motivation to support their staff, suppliers, communities and overall business.
Unfortunately, several restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic which has, in turn, taken a toll on the income.
Despite the financial strain, MyLahore continues to provide alternative ways to allow their customers to enjoy the food.
It appears the business has taken positives out of this unprecedented situation and we hope to see the restaurants opened again for business as usual post lockdown.