Success Story - WeeCOOK - Be Hap’pie
In Jan 2019 we relocated the WeeCOOK Kitchen to our new premises at Barry Downs Holiday Park. We retained all our staff and grew the team to include 3 Modern Apprentices.
Achievements so far
We achieved the Investors in Young People award and continued to gain awards for our pies from The World Scotch Pie Championship, The Guild of Fine Foods, and the British Pie Awards. WeeCOOK were shortlisted as finalists for the BWS New talent award and the Couriers Menu Food & Drink awards.
How we adapted to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions
We were all set for an exciting season and year of growth for the restaurant and our pies, which we had even started to sell wholesale to other businesses. We had just recruited more staff ready for the 2020 spring and summer season, then within 2 weeks the restaurant was closed down due to COVID lockdown restrictions.
We quickly adapted as we already offered takeaway to the residents of the holiday park at Barry Downs and started offering this service with free delivery to our local communities of Monifieth, Carnoustie, and Broughty Ferry. We also offered a 25% NHS and emergency services discount as our contribution to help the fight to protect the NHS and keep people safe.
As the farmers’ markets had also been cancelled we extended our pie production and delivery out into our community and further afield to the market towns with free delivery door drops. We adapted the roles of our new front of house recruits to become administrators, telephonists, and delivery drivers.
We kept adapting and implementing our ways of working to the ever-changing guidelines and precautionary measures required by the government and we fought our way through lockdown. Our landlord gave us a payment holiday which was a kind and generous lifeline. We stayed open, all be it with closed doors, split shifts, reduced hours, and social distancing. We kept all staff. Non were furloughed. Our 3 apprentices were fortunate enough to be able to continue their professional chef and hospitality Modern Apprenticeships and they have done themselves proud, flying the flag for not just apprentices but those working in the hospitality industry who’s career development was put on pause as a result of the lockdown measures.
How COVID-19 changed the way we operate
Coronravirus has changed our lives. We had to adapt not only to the additional measures necessary for the safety of our staff and customers but also to new ways of working as the COVID not only affected us but our suppliers and many other services we took for granted.
We started growing our own herbs, doing our own laundry and had to become much more self-sufficient. We’ve built stronger relationships with some of our suppliers who were also seriously affected by the loss of the bulk of their wholesale trade overnight. Certain ingredients became hard to come by. We started getting lobsters, crab, and langoustine direct from small independent fishermen who like us had set up delivery services through lockdown.
With all hotels and restaurants closed, there was no one buying the shellfish. Having worked in a fish restaurant previously I wanted to use this as an opportunity to cook local seafood at a price that was attractive and affordable to everyone as a real treat for people stuck at home during lockdown, so we added it as a ‘secret menu’ alongside our existing takeaway menu. We were overwhelmed by the response at how popular our lobster and chips in a takeaway box proved. Our secret shellfish menu sells out each week and is now a regular fixture on our restaurant menu now that we have reopened.
We have always tried to stay a step ahead in terms of guidelines and having a better understanding of the risks and how to minimise them and the training of the staff has taken the forefront. It has been challenging. We had great support and guidance from Business Gateway.
Adapting to reopening with fewer tables due to social distancing was a big fear however we actually have more outdoor seating than indoors so that has proved helpful as part of our offering for the peace of mind of our customers.
We have grown our brand and extended our customer base by offering takeaway and pie deliveries. We now regularly deliver pies to Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth, Kirriemuir, Glamis, Montrose, Dundee, Forfar, and Arbroath. Although it may seem quiet with the staggered tables and customer table slots for bookings, we are in fact busier now than we have ever been. The business has grown, and we have recruited another 2 staff. We’re mindful of the novelty factor of people coming out of lockdown wanting to eat out again, so we’re grateful for what we have now and the support we are getting from our customers old and new. We have continued to be busy with takeaways and our pies are more popular than ever.
We joked at the start that it would be’Pies to survive’. The truth is that the pies have helped us not only survive but to thrive through the toughest of times. We have an amazing team of diverse and hardworking awesome individuals that we call our WeeCOOK crew. They, like the business, have shown great resilience and despite the pandemic have continued to develop and get on with getting on. Families and friends of our staff should know they have done themselves proud.
To the future
The WeeCOOK kitchen has now re-opened, all be it in a slightly re-booted form. We have refreshed menus, more award-winning pies, seafood specials, and dishes inspired by holidays from around the world. In a time where we can’t head off overseas, we want to help people capture and enjoy part of that feeling you get being on holiday and enjoying a meal out with family or friends! We are glad and grateful every day for being able to work doing what we love doing. We are happy to share our story. WeeCOOK is here and happy to help how we can.