Dalston’s cafés juggle costs and closures to stay afloat amid lockdown

Kingfisher Cafe, Dalston

Kingfisher Cafe on Kingsland High Street. - Credit: Kingfisher Cafe

A Dalston café fears it might be "on life support” by the end of the year if uncertainties around the coronavirus lockdown continue.

Kingfisher Café on Kingsland High Street has lost around 90 per cent of its customer base during the lockdown as sit-down coffee and cake is banned under Covid-19 rules.

Café manager Mustafa Cicekci says his business is reaching new extremes and that he is “stepping into the unknown” having made the decision to keep staff on furlough and make one redundancy.

Kingfisher Cafe, Dalston

Kingfisher Cafe on Kingsland High Street. - Credit: Kingfisher Cafe

Mustafa said: “The area is saturated with cafés and the arrival of chain coffee shops, so we’ve been hit hard anyway.

“With the lockdown, we tried to keep ourselves closed but we need to keep it open in order to keep going.

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“It has come to the stage where we’re going to have to juggle all sorts of things."

Kingfisher Café closed in March 2020 and did not reopen until August.

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He said Covid-19 has hit Kingfisher Café particularly hard given most of his customer base are care staff and the elderly, who cannot leave home, but Mustafa said he wants to be there for them when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

"We miss the customers," said Mustafa. 

“As a coffee shop, we always got to hear exactly what was going on and hear all the vibes, but the community spirit of it has completely gone.

“We used to do fish and chips for the elderly on Fridays, and we tried it for two or three weeks last Autumn but found we were wasting the fish.

“This is because the information that was given out by the government wasn’t clear. It was all so last minute with chopping and changing, but if we knew it was going to be takeaways into the New Year, then we could have prepared for it.”

Mustafa believes many of his neighbours feel the same way about the lockdown, while others are hoping to press on, creating a sense of community at an otherwise isolating time.

Solenn Guillermin, managing barista at Ginette French Café on Shacklewell Lane, said her employer hopes to bring the community together through food.

She said: “I think food is a comfort in the lockdown. We enjoy food so we want to let our customers try something different.

“We have a small French community here, so if people want to share in our culture, they can do that with our food and different flavours. That’s why it’s important to continue with certain traditions in the circumstances.”

And some cafés and coffee shops have remodelled to make their businesses more Covid-friendly.

Dalston café Brunswick East is closed under the current restrictions, but the company’s Hackney Downs bakehouse is still allowed to sell bread, groceries and takeaway coffee.

Brunswick East Bakehouse

Brunswick East Bakehouse is still allowed to sell bread, groceries and takeaway coffee. - Credit: Will Durrant

Manager Shaunae England said the Brunswick East Bakehouse has proven a particular success this winter.

She said: “Lockdown has been good to us, to be honest. We get our regulars in, plus some extras who are doing their daily exercise.”

Shaunae said she is grateful for the support of the local community, but the biggest challenge was making sure customers wear masks and follow social distancing rules.

Despite this, Shaunae wants to keep the bakehouse open to support locals who are seeking a routine in their everyday lives.

She said: “I think everyone is super grateful to have somewhere to go that’s safe where they can see other human beings.

“It has become part of our customers’ routines to walk to the park and grab a coffee on the way home to make life feel a bit more normal.”

London’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were some of the worst hit in the country after the first lockdown last year.

Research by business insurance firm Simply Business showed seven pc of the capital’s SMEs permanently closed between March and June 2020, compared with just four pc nationwide.

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