This is the first in (what we hope will become) a series of Quarantine Q&As; chats with some of our favourite local businesses on how they’re coping during lockdown and what they’re doing to survive. We are not being endorsed to cover any of these businesses – we like eating nice food and drinking good coffee and would like to continue to do so post-lockdown, so shouting about their efforts makes sense. First up: The Pocket Belfast.
Local brunch gem The Pocket has become a favourite at Keeva Eats; from their big boy-sized portions of fried chicken (served on a mountain of waffles alongside a sriracha mayo) to the hangover-busting green eggs on toast (the green sauce is a reviving mix of herbs, garlic and olive oil), there’s a dish to hit the spot. There is of course a pleasingly-extensive range of hot and cold drinks to go with the food – everything from Aeropress to V60; Chai to Kombucha.
You can usually tell if a place is good by how easy it is to get a table, and the Pocket is no exception. The original premises – in a historic Georgian building opposite Queen’s – is normally ram-packed. Its popularity led to the opening of a second Pocket in Belfast’s Flatiron building, which can be similarly tricky to get a spot in. Placate those inner caffeine demons for a short spell until you can get seated, though, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the tastiest brunch food the city has to offer.
Like many things right now, the memory of a packed brunch spot in Belfast seems like a semi-distant memory. What do these coffee and food places do when no-one can come to their shop and sit, drink and eat? We’ve seen some of them start to offer food and stuff on social media, but does that keep them going? Are local businesses helping each other out during lockdown? We don’t really know the answers to any of these questions, so we decided to ask The Pocket owner Richard Evans.
Aside from the effects on the business, how are you finding the lockdown so far?
It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. We have two small children and there are times when this feels like the most amazing thing ever – to be able to spend so much quality time with them – and then there are times that the lack of routine and headspace to actually process what’s happening is just claustrophobic.
It’s been awful to see the wholesale decimation of an industry that was only really starting to boom in Belfast but in reality we are all so very lucky that things haven’t escalated here.
One positive to come out of the current situation is that people seem to be pulling together to help each other, and giving back where they can. The Pocket is no different – tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to recently on that front?
We started to do free coffee for services two days into lockdown as a way of keeping ourselves busy. We found that a lot of Police wanted to donate and we didn’t have an avenue for this at the time. As it happens, someone we know works for Women’s Aid and they were saying how hard the current situation has been on their resources, so it was a natural fit for us. In terms of donations so far we’ve reached over £1,800, we’ve served over 2000 coffees and we now have our chefs doing meal prep twice a week that go to A Women’s Aid refuge for distribution. It’s been awful to see the wholesale decimation of an industry that was only really starting to boom in Belfast but in reality we are all so very lucky that things haven’t escalated here.
A lot of people are saying that the Coronavirus pandemic will change how people do business long-term, with social distancing becoming an everyday part of our lives for the foreseeable future. How do you think this will affect local businesses such as yours, and what challenges do you think you’ll face?
Totally agree with this. Its a new world order and we are unsure how to fit into that equation. Our core business has always been focused on people coming in to sit and experience great food and coffee. How we alter that I just don’t know.
“…there’s little camaraderie with local businesses. I believe it’s very short sighted.”
How – if at all – has the local food/restaurant industry rallied together in the current climate?
To be honest we haven’t seen much of this at all. We support a few local independents and have done our best to do the same throughout this but as for other cafe businesses it’s really been each to their own. Customers in the community have helped out where they can, but it’s sad to see that when the chips are down there’s little camaraderie with local businesses. I believe its very short sighted as we are all really customers of each other at some point or another and we will certainly remember this.
Do you have any suppliers in particular doing great things at the moment?
Bara Bakehouse, Michael from Eggs Direct, Drayne’s donated a load of milk & cheese for Women’s Aid, 3fe our coffee roaster, Steven Chisholm & Big Street Bakes.
Do you have any go-to lockdown recipes when supplies are running low?
We have two small kids so meal time in our house tends to be like feeding time in Jurassic Park. It does feel like putting a live goat in with the kids at times would be easier and let them fend for themselves! My wife and I eat a lot of food that fits in a bowl, has greek yogurt and salsa criolla as a topping. As long as we are always mixing the sweet/acid elements of a dish everything can be interesting. Total thing for Mexican beans right now as well.
“We love doing what we do, its been incredibly hard at times recently but it’s also been an incredible learning curve for us and has allowed us to focus on what’s important in our lives and business once again.”
What can people do from home if they want to support you?
Its very challenging. We haven’t really pushed into online ordering and delivery as we really are limited with staff being furloughed at present. We’ve been so lucky that some of our team have been volunteering their time in the shop to do meals for Women’s Aid and to serve customers so I can have a day off. The furlough scheme is brilliant for assisting employees right now but it’s also handcuffed businesses a little. If we bring in any member of staff to work and generate a wage then this eliminates their furlough entitlement so we just can’t take that risk right now. If folks want to support then donating funds in order for us to buy food for weekly meals really helps. Once lockdown eases come down and support our business.
We love doing what we do, its been incredibly hard at times recently but it’s also been an incredible learning curve for us and has allowed us to focus on what’s important in our lives and business once again.
Check out the Pocket on Instagram.
Looking for long-form pieces, is it? Have a read of what we thought of Six by Nico’s home delivery service then, you tinker.
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