A mum and daughter ploughed tens of thousands into opening a tea room two weeks ago – but are now in limbo after being hit with high alert restrictions.
Natalie Ide admits there is major uncertainty about the future of her business after opening Loubees Tea Room in Chelmsford, Essex, with her mum Sue.
The 28-year-old said the first she heard of the new tier 2 restrictions coming in – which include no mixing indoors with those outside your household or support bubble – was when she overheard customers discussing it.
The pair originally ran Loubees from a nearby garden centre for over four years, but when their lease wasn’t renewed in May they began work converting a premises in the town’s Moulsham Street.
London and parts of Essex were moved from tier 1 to tier 2 lockdown from Saturday after a surge in coronavirus cases.
Natalie has called for more clarity from the Government moving forward but is determined to make her business venture work regardless.
“Nobody said anything,” she told the Mirror Online, referring to official guidance from Downing Street.
“As a business owner for the last six months, I had to figure things out through the news or Internet – not that anything was really clear.”
She said much of her customer base is made up of retirees, school run mums and students from Chelmsford College – the majority of whom will no longer be able to come in their usual groups.
Natalie went on to say: “Even before we heard about the tier 2 there’s still that worry, it’s sort of you don’t know how scared people are to go out.
“Are we not going to have people coming?
“And because we’re a tea room and our customers are older there’s that as well – a lot of older people don’t want to go out, or they’re shielding or they’re being told to re-shield.
“But, it’s either that or you don’t get an income.”
Natalie, who has lived in the area her whole life, said no-one seems to be clear about how the high alert measures will even be enforced.
“They can sit in a classroom with each other but can they sit in here with each other? I don’t know,” she said of college students.
“Are we supposed to ask people as they walk through the door – ‘do you live together?’
“Do you have to check driving licences? I don’t know. I live with my friend at the moment but if we were to go somewhere people would assume that we don’t live together.”
Including Natalie and her mum, the tea room employs five people, with two of those still supported by the government furlough scheme, which ends later this month.
Natalie said the furloughed staff are well aware they may not get their jobs back after this month.
The new premises was found just weeks after the lease ended in the summer.
“We found it in June and then we got the keys 12 weeks later,” she explained.
“It was just a blank canvas and took us six weeks – we had to build a kitchen and everything in there.
“We opened two weeks ago on Saturday.”
Asked about how much money they had spent opening the new business premises, she said: “In the tens of thousands.”
“We had to take out a couple of loans for it. Luckily we have stuff from the old tea room.
“We already got our hopes up thinking we would open when the garden centre opened.
“We thought we were going to open in June. We had socially distanced our tables and got told we weren’t allowed to open.
“Now we’ve opened this one up we’re told we can’t have people mixing.
“How long is it going to go on for? Are we going to have close?”
Natalie said lots of the old tea room’s regulars have been in since the re-launch, which has given her hope.
“If we were a brand new business opening I think it would have been a different story, but because we had a customer base already it’s not been too bad.”
Natalie said she’s happy to deliver food to people’s homes if they are given permission to operate as a takeaway, with the tea room also serving hot food.
Referring to the pandemic, she added: “I think everybody is surprised about how long it’s gone on for.
“I think when we first heard the news and it was that 3-week lockdown [in March] I don’t think anybody then thought we would still be having these problems in October.
“If we go up to tier 3, like if everything closes completely, it’s took us six months to be able to open somewhere and finally get back to work, so for this to happen is a bit rubbish really.”