City restaurants tell why they have decided to stay shut

Chef Richard Bainbridge at the pedestrian crossing near his Benedicts restaurant on St Benedicts Street, Norwich.

Chef Richard Bainbridge at the pedestrian crossing near his Benedicts restaurant on St Benedicts Street, Norwich. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Business owners in Norwich have explained how a host of reasons have made them stay closed - despite having permission to trade.

But the majority are ready to fully reopen from May 17, when the next major easing of coronavirus lockdown rules is set to trigger high demand for indoor dining.

One of the businesses that has not opened for outdoor dining is Benedicts restaurant on St Benedicts Street.

Chef Richard Bainbridge said: "We are next to a zebra crossing and because of that would have had space for three tables on the street which is not a viable business.

"This is our time to take stock. When we open we want it to be for good and go for it all guns blazing to make people feel good.

"People are excited and want to get back to normality. Our customers are loyal. Our bookings for Fridays and Saturdays are fully booked until the end of August."

Pinocchio's Italian restaurant and Benedicts restaurant on St Benedicts street in Norwich, pictured in April 2021.

Pinocchio's Italian restaurant and Benedicts restaurant on St Benedicts street in Norwich, pictured in April 2021. - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

The chef, who was grateful to the outdoor tables, said he would continue the Dine at Home meal kits which he started in the first lockdown.

They allow people to cook the restaurants dishes and have proved popular.

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Mr Bainbridge said Dine at Home was a positive outcome of the lockdown and his business's reopening from May 19 felt like launching a new restaurant.

Other restaurants and bars on St Benedicts Street which did not open because of lack of outdoor space include Pinocchio's Italian and the Bicycle Shop.

Gonario Vilia, co-owner of Pinocchio's, said: "We had to rely on the weather which is uncertain. We are waiting because the situation is getting better and the vaccination programme is going well.

"We have waited a long time so if we wait a little longer to reopen that is fine. I would not want to put our customers in the cold."

He praised the support of the government through the furlough payment scheme and said he and his brother, Andrea Vilia, would take things slowly when reopening.

"Failure is not an option for us because we are invested in this restaurant so much. Our lives have been turned down, like with everyone else, but we are looking forward."

Restaurants also relied on the success of other businesses, including the night-time economy, according to Mr Vilia, who encouraged people to support the city centre.

The Bicycle Shop on St Benedicts Street in Norwich in April 2021.

The Bicycle Shop on St Benedicts Street in Norwich in April 2021. - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

David Potter, manager of the Bicycle Shop, said: "We are waiting for that magical week in May. It has also been a cold April. We are getting phone calls from people wanting to book. We are very enthusiastic."

The business will open its three floors on May 20 as well as seven tables outside, which he said was a boost to the business.

He added that he and his team felt lucky to have a second site in the Eaton Park pavilion, which has proved popular during lockdown with park-goers through its takeaway drinks and food.

Richard Hughes at The Assembly House, Norwich.

Richard Hughes at The Assembly House in Norwich (pictured before the coronavirus lockdown). - Credit: Chris Taylor

Chef Richard Hughes, director of the Assembly House on Theatre Street, said he did not put tables for customers to eat their afternoon teas and evening meals on because he did not have enough covered seating or shelter.

He said: "Our main business is afternoon tea which is quite a grand thing and as much as I like an afternoon tea I wouldn't want one outside."

The other reason for not reopening on April 12 was because of works vehicles and equipment taking up outside space for four new rooms to be opened later this year.

Mr Hughes said: "The bookings for tables from May 17 are off the scale. The phone is red hot. We will open with a bang."

As well as afternoon teas, he added there was high demand for weddings and accommodation.

He will also continue the takeaway afternoon tea service which started in lockdown.

James Wingfield and Ella Williams at Frank's Bar in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

James Wingfield and Ella Williams, co-owners of Frank's Bar in Norwich, pictured in 2013. - Credit: Bill Smith

Ella Williams, co-owner of Frank's Bar on Bedford Street, said the bar had space for two tables in its outside courtyard and had the option for a few extra tables outside but it was not financially viable to open at present.

She added: "There are so many places with big beer gardens and we would be competing with that."

Frank's Bar on Bedford Street, Norwich, pictured in April 2021.

Frank's Bar on Bedford Street, Norwich, pictured in April 2021. - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

Miss Williams said she and her team were excited to reopen a week before May 17.

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