THE OWNER of a new Warwickshire restaurant which suffered huge delays to its opening, has vowed it’s here to stay despite hanging up the closed sign for the start of a second national lockdown this week.
We Love Pizza finally launched in September despite taking over the lease of the Leamington unit in February – and although, due to the pandemic, the restaurant is closed again to diners from today, entrepreneur Jose Ribeiro says he’ll fight hard to protect his business in the weeks ahead.
But it’s a battle he claims the industry should not be having to face again.
Jose, 50, said: “When this latest lockdown was announced on Saturday my first thought was ‘here we go again.’ Eight months down the line and we still have the same sorry state of affairs. How can we still be going through the same stages and using the same measures? Nothing has changed and this is something that I struggle to accept.
“We have followed all the scientific evidence but where are the lessons learned? There has not been enough evolution or changes put into place to allow us to effectively tackle this situation. The Government is just resorting to closing the industry again. The businesses that suffer the most from the first lockdown are going to be the ones who suffer the most again.”
He added: “I feel it is frustrating to say the least that we’re not further down the line with the process. We can’t control how the virus spreads but what we could have done is to put procedures in place that would have allowed us to this time take less prohibitive actions, being more targeted and more focused, rather than just shutting down the whole sector again.
“I can’t accept the argument that hospitality businesses are COVID super spreaders because the stats show different. Public Health figures state just 2% of the cases have come from the hospitality sector.
“A lot of businesses have gone to a great deal of effort to minimise their risk, while there are some businesses out there who are disregarding the measures because the owners are irresponsible – only these should be the ones we’re targeting for closure. There are lots of businesses operating very safely and are very conscious of the welfare of their customers and staff but we’re all being penalised.”
Jose is certainly no stranger to the hospitality and entertainment industries, having worked as a consultant for the last 26 years, his projects atking him around the world, including New Zealand, Australia and the USA. But it while working as general manager at Leamington’s Bedford Street live music venue for the last three years, that he aspired to open his first restaurant.
He said: “My partner Geanina and I always wanted to open our own concept, something that we could establish as a brand and could scale. We believe that pizza is a simple product but when it’s done with care and love and the right ingredients and with the right processes in place, it can be delicious, but healthy as well.
“Geanina and I are big pizza fans and so the name of the restaurant was an obvious choice, We Love Pizza.”
The ambitious entrepreneur prides himself on delivering ‘affordable quality’ to his customers by using only the best and most nutritious flour combinations and implementing exact temperature control and longer fermentation periods for the sourdough. Fresh ingredients, sourced directly from Italy as well as locally, are prepared by a team of five chefs from four corners of the globe.
But as Jose contemplates the uncertainty of the weeks ahead, he pledges to work even harder to get his product to people’s tables with a new army of delivery drivers, click and collect system and two brand new offers for lockdown – Rule of Six Package (six pizzas delivered for £36) and Pizza and Prosecco (starter, two pizzas, Nutella and Strawberry Pizza dessert and bottle of Prosecco delivered for £35).
And neither has the ongoing pandemic diminished his long-term vision for the We Love Pizza brand, with ambitious plans to open five more restaurants in the Midlands over the next three years.
Jose said: “We want to grow organically and eventually also hope to take our concept and brand to other towns such as Rugby, Stratford, Coventry, Solihull and Oxford.”
In the meantime, it’s business – almost – as usual for team, who are keen to establish a valuable role for their restaurant in the local community.
He said: “I want to create a social enterprise so there will be a charitable element to what we do as well. We want to use our food to impact positively on society and people’s lives so are looking to work with charities which can benefit from our surplus food at the end of each day.
“As well as hospitality operators we are human beings and my partner and I want to become positive members of the local community. We have that obligation to help people out that need us, especially right now.”