Case study: 'When you spend 20 years of your life building a business, to see it disappearing overnight is heartbreaking'
L’Art du Vin is a supplier of wines made all over the world, from Argentina and South Africa to France and Spain.
The Scottish wine merchant’s client base is largely hotels and restaurants, but it has entered “survival mode” in a challenging climate where its customers have been forced to close due to COVID-19.
“We are 95 per cent wholesaler, so dealing with hotels and restaurants,” managing director Philippe Larue tells Holyrood.
“We completely lost our trade with our customers, so we had to find new customers.”
The team has turned to selling direct to people through the website or to small shops.
However, many shops already have suppliers. On top of that, Larue has felt the pressure of protecting jobs.
“It’s been very difficult and stressful on a human front, not knowing where you’re going,” he says.
“My staff have been with me for 13, 20 years, so they’re family. I have a duty and responsibility to look after everyone.
“Brexit was another stressful story in the background. Until the end of December, we were not sure how we’d be able to trade with our producers in Europe.”
Asked what the future holds for the food and drink sector, Larue takes a deep breath.
“I fear many people will not be able to continue”, he says.
“Just now furlough keeps people going, but when all support is finished and they have to stand on their own, I fear the worst for the industry.
“Unless something really positive happens, the virus is under control, they can open with no restrictions and the vaccine is on top of things, but that’s the best case scenario.
“For us, we are just running in survival mode. When you spend 20 years of your life building a business – taking no holiday, sacrificing many things – to see it disappearing overnight, it’s heartbreaking.”
“I’d say we were more worried about what was going to happen with our jobs than we were about the virus.”
Craig Grierson has worked in the hospitality industry for 15 years and is worried about what the future holds.
As restaurant manager at Ondine, he was put on furlough between March and May before returning to help the production of the restaurant’s ‘dine at home’ service.
“We were all quite worried about the future right from the start, I’d say we were more worried about what was going to happen with our jobs than we were about the virus.”
Many of the restaurant’s staff had to be made redundant when furlough came to an end, which was particularly tough for the management team.
“That was probably the most difficult thing, we had built a really good team and unfortunately due to the circumstances we had to let a lot of good people go, and a lot of good people decided to leave as well.”
Grierson believes the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the industry.
“Long term, we’ve probably missed a generation to be honest. We had a lot of people who were just coming out of university that were looking into hotel management, hospitality management etc and these people have now gone on to do different things.
“That’s a shame because they were obviously interested in the industry and then what’s happened has stopped them and they’ve gone and worked elsewhere.
“I had a guy here who was really keen, had really good presence on the floor, was finishing his university degree, had decided to leave Ondine to go and pursue a job with a hotel company and was doing a hotel management course and that was cancelled and now he works as a carer.
“It’s going to take a while for the industry to get back on its feet.”