May 7 2020

Our Lockdown Life: Sarah Gurung, Yak Yeti Yak

In an ongoing Pig Guide series publishing the thoughts, concerns and plans of local hospitality businesses during the lockdown, we’re putting Sarah Gurung – co-owner of Bath’s longstanding Nepalese bistro Yak Yeti Yak – in the spotlight.

Can anyone honestly say they didn’t see this coming? We all knew lockdown was on it’s way, and we all had thoughts of what it would be like; I thought we’d be staying at home slipping into bankruptcy with a bottle of gin and plenty of time on our hands.

We knew we were in for a tough time when I phoned our insurance back in February only to be told that we wouldn’t be covered as Covid-19 wasn’t a named virus on our policy – so much for insurance after 16 years without a claim. The way we closed was bizarre; when the public were told not to go to restaurants, it left us in limbo. Most of our staff have been with us over 10 years, so to see them facing the prospect of redundancies was heartbreaking; when the official closure and furlough scheme announcement was made it was a massive relief, for all of us. No matter what tough decisions will need to be made, we’ve dodged the toughest of all.

Sitting still wasn’t an option: we had to face things head on. We started cooking meals for the RUH staff, and it’s been great to see inside the kitchens at the hospital and meet some of the people working there. Our first effort to cover our fixed costs was a failed attempt at doing takeaways – we had to rethink that one, and decided to offer ready meal deliveries instead, which is already doing well enough to pay the bills. But I’d be lying if I said we nailed it straight away. In the beginning, we totally miscalculated the amount of time we’d have to queue to buy ingredients, and then we bungled a few orders (apologies to those on the receiving end!) – and it’s not so easy to fix a mistake when you’re several miles from the kitchen. We’re getting better, though, and who knows? We may have stumbled upon something we can take into the future with us.

On the home front, things have been great. It feels wrong, somehow, to say that but it has! For the first time in years we have time: time to eat together everyday, not just once a week; time to get on with writing up recipes for the cookery book we’ve been talking about doing for years; time to dig up the garden. It seems the pigeons that moved from Bath centre are now living in the tree above our veg garden; they sit there day after day patiently waiting for a juicy new shoot that the slugs missed to emerge and then, when no one’s looking, down they swoop and peck it to pieces… so we’re still unintentionally feeding the pigeons.

Working in the restaurant right now is an eerie experience: no busses thundering past, no singing from Jeevan doing the daily cleaning jobs. The smell of roasting spices is still there but much fainter now – just enough to remind us of life before lockdown.

The next hurdle we have to face will be re-opening: we’ll have to cover 100% of the costs but with social distancing measures we estimate business will be only 30% pre Covid levels. It’s going to be quite a challenge to get ourselves to the other side of that; we’ll get there, but how we write the next chapter is still a mystery.

Maybe I’m lucky, maybe not, but life in Nepal set me up perfectly for coping with what’s happening now. In Nepal, I had years of experience of natural disasters and civil war even before the earthquake – as bad as Covid-19 is, it isn’t worse than some of the things I’ve witnessed. I know this won’t last forever because I’ve lived through some pretty scary times before and people always have a way of bouncing back.

Sarah Gurung, 2020 @yakyetiyakbath @sarahskichentravels

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