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Edin Basic at The Red Lion, Ealing

Red Lion roars back: ‘The best thing I’ve done’

The coronavirus emergency meant that pubs, cafes and restaurants had to close their doors for 14 weeks and they were restricted to takeaway or delivery services until 4 July. However, the Red Lion pub found a way to thrive during the lockdown.

With the high streets back open for business, we spoke to several businesses to find out how they survived the challenges of lockdown. The Red Lion is the third in our series. It is an old, well-established part of the community in Ealing – close to Ealing Studios.

‘Streets were empty…it was very strange’

The licensee of the pub is Edin Basic (pictured at the pub, above). He told us: “This whole coronavirus crisis took everyone by surprise. I was no different. When the decision was made to close all pubs and restaurants it felt like a big shock. The Red Lion is an old, traditional English pub and it never closes – it even sometimes opens on Christmas Day. So, we were not mentally prepared for it. The streets were soon empty, and it was very strange.

“Then, I decided to start preparing the pub’s garden for whenever it was going to reopen. I needed to do something; and I didn’t want to just sit there. I had a little bit of time to reflect while I was doing that and I had a real desire to find a way to safely continue to serve my community.

“Then the idea came to me to set up a community store. Not just a shop but a place where people could come and talk and see familiar faces as well as buying essential items like fresh fruit and veg and things like flour.

“I also brought my own twist to the shop, because I have been in the industry a long time and could get hold of high quality Italian items you don’t usually find easily – Buffalo mozzarella, Parma ham, nocellara olives, antipasti, Italian cheeses and also beer and wine. I could also freshly bake focaccia bread and sour dough breads early each morning by using the woodfire oven from Santa Maria next door. I spoke to my team, my business partners, and my suppliers, and we decided to go ahead.”

Community store at The Red Lion, Ealing

‘We didn’t know what to expect’

“Safety is paramount,” Edin continued. “So, we put in a one-way system to comply with good social distancing, with customers walking a route through the products and then paying at the end and exiting through the back door and reaching the road via the side alley.

“We put it all together in three-four days, which was quite challenging, and then we opened. We didn’t know what to expect.

“The first day was almost too much and we had a queue outside the door. In the first week, we had more than a thousand people through. It went on from strength to strength.

“There has been a really big community vibe. And we have loads of conversations with people about life – recipes, the environment, families; whatever.

“It is the best thing I have done in these uncertain times.”

‘Pockets of opportunity’ amidst the gloom

Edin continued: “There are gloomy reports for the hospitality industry and so many restaurants will not be able to reopen. If they can’t break even, they won’t reopen. And there is so little certainty about anything at the moment. So, this is something that scares me enormously.

“But we will keep the community shop going and make something like a farmers’ market in the back garden of the pub. It is a new concept for the Red Lion: A traditional English pub, which has been here a very long time; and a niche retail side with an Italian deli, loads of food to buy, we can do lunch people can come and pick up and take away to eat; and there are all kinds of possibilities in the future like stand-alone community stalls.

“We can actually become stronger as a business as a result of the virus. Obviously, it is a terrible, scary time but there are little pockets of opportunity. You can’t plan long-term so you have to stand up and do some things – some will work, some won’t. But the point is you need to try so you can navigate through these uncertain waters.

“We managed to get four members of staff back from furlough and we may even be able to get someone in new, too. It is really positive.

“In turn, we are supporting local suppliers of food and we are playing music by local musicians, which is also available to buy. Musicians have been struggling.

“Without the local community, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. It has been overwhelming and it is down to their support.”

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