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Mr Waffle - Public rally behind Galway favourite after emotive social media call

By Sarah Finnan

October 16, 2020 at 4:24pm

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Business owners are struggling to survive - that's a fact, and one that unless you've actively been avoiding the news, should come as no surprise to you. Struggling to continue trading amid increasingly restrictive public health guidelines, the hospitality business is up there as one of the hardest hit by Covid-19.

Calling out for "support not sympathy", restaurateurs have been making desperate pleas for help for several months now with well-known Galway businessman Kevin Nugent joining the ranks of those in need of a helping hand.

One of the faces behind Tribe Hospitality - which encompasses businesses such as Mr Waffle, Delight Café, Ground & Co and Saol Café - he is one of many worried entrepreneurs across Ireland at the moment.

11 years open, its location - once Mr Waffle's saving grace - is now to its detriment. Adjacent to both the hospital and the university, the café's footfall is not what it used to be with many of their regulars no longer in the area on a daily basis. Students are down to only 30 per cent campus time and hospital workers are oftentimes too busy to pop out for even a quick coffee these days, so business is not where it should be.

Opting against an elaborate marketing campaign that would "only be able to do so much", Kevin decided to go straight to the source instead, sharing an emotive "call to action" on social media, laying the situation bare for customers.

"We are still open. We are a local Galway business. We now have a small team of five staff. We want any business we can get. We are desperate, We are fighting for survival, We will survive."

Highlighting the stark reality of what running a business in the Covid era is actually like, his words really struck a chord with the local community who have been spurred into action since reading them - with the good news being that business has started to look up in subsequent days.

Reopen for full sit-in service as of June 29th, things were going relatively well for the business up until very recently when things took a turn for the worse. Speaking to Lovin, Kevin said:

"From the 29th of June, right up to maybe about two, three weeks ago, trade was very strong across all the stores. Now, we were down based on last year's sales and obviously down on projections for this year - we had them set out at the start of the year - but overall we were very happy.

"We had gotten 57 staff back to work, full employment at that point. Things were going well -huge local support, regular customers, the people going on holidays within Ireland, travelling around Ireland, really good. Staff positivity was fairly good."

Noting a change in the 10 days leading up to level three guidelines being announced, Kevin said that there was a very clear drop in sales - which obviously had a knock-on effect on staff morale. Feeling as though they were being led into a room blindfolded, the general feeling amongst workers was one of huge concern with staff unsure as to who would be kept on or what the future of the business would be. "Those 10 days for me were fairly hard looking at it in terms of any business owner going 'sugar, sales are dropping'", he added.

Facing a similar story to the one they went through in March, the one key difference this time is that all operations have been kept open.

Commenting that "trade has been going ok", all stores have had to change up the way they do things in order to stay afloat - with staff levels having to be reduced dramatically once again. However, while level three restrictions are provisionally in place for three weeks, the Galway businessman isn't hopeful that it will be just a three-week stint.

"The government are telling us three weeks, and obviously there's no one to blame for this - it is what it is - but realistically, it's going to be longer than three weeks... The reality of how harsh it's going to get kicks in at the end of October."

"Every conversation you have, whether it's in work or out of work, it's all around Covid and it does get mentally draining... it does take an emotional fatigue on you."

Keeping staff motivated via a WhatsApp group, the chat is filled with daily yoga breathing exercises and workouts from local fitness instructors, because as Kevin puts it "helping them is helping me" - proof that it's about more than just the business and that the human side is just as important.

"For us, I suppose, the biggest challenge since we've gone into level three is the outdoor dining. We've been very fortunate - what we're over a week into it now and we've had very nice weather - and I suppose the bit that probably keeps me awake, or would be my only other line of stress, is that the weather is going to change at some point, and what is that going to do to our business?"

Down 40 per cent on what they should be, the business is pivoting all the time to change with the times - now stocking local suppliers and more retail products in an effort to keep sales up.

"It is stressful and it's difficult for everybody, and that's not just people in business, I think that it's just stressful for everybody in general... It's a big struggle for everybody."

Commenting that he's trying to stay the positive route, Kevin said that the "incredible feeling" of reopening the doors and welcoming customers and staff back inside is the whole reason why he's in hospitality and it's something he's looking forward to immensely.

"That's why we're in hospitality - that feeling of togetherness and welcoming people into your premises. The only thing I'd say about the whole thing with Covid is it's such a nice feeling and it's such a nice thing to see the support that our businesses are getting. It means so much, it does make you realise why you're in hospitality.

"While there are times during this whole thing you fall in and out of love with hospitality and with what you're doing it's those moments that do keep you going... it's a driving force."

Leaving me with one final comment, Kevin's message is simple - your custom counts and every sale, no matter how small, could be the reason a local trader stays open.

"If you're in Galway, if you're in Dublin, wherever you are - your local coffee shop and your local retail shop are so reliant on every euro you can spend with them. Don't underestimate it is what I'm trying to tell the public. It will help keep my staff employed, it will help keep any business' staff employed, it will keep the doors open, it will pay the bills."

Something to remember as we face what's yet to come.

READ NEXT: PICS: Cork bar’s 2019 v 2020 delivery comparison transports us back to happier times

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