When the owners of a family run restaurant, The Orchard in Brockley announced they were going to have to shut up shop after 14 years in business, they faced an avalanche of protests from loyal customers in the area.
After popular demand, Emily Conway and Ed Bing, both 42, launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for their new bar, Ellary’s – an improved version of their much-loved eatery which will feature a simple bar menu instead.
Conway told ELL: “When we closed, we knew that there might be a few people that would be upset but we were completely overwhelmed by the pushback to us leaving which is why we have come to the decision to open our new business. It made us realise how much it meant to everyone we served, and once we had a chance to step back, how much it meant to us as well.”
As businesses have reported escalating energy costs, labour shortages, and ongoing supply chain issues, sparked by the economic downturn, more private businesses have turned to crowdfunding to survive.
So far, they have reached over 70 per cent of their £20,000 target. As their story spreads, they hope to be able to open in December of this year, with limited hours from Thursday to Saturday.
Bing told ELL how difficult it was for the hospitality business to adjust and run under new regulations imposed by Brexit: “During our time at The Orchard we would have such a diverse team from all over the world, who were keen and willing to apply and do their best for us and then Brexit closed the door on this. Lots of people didn’t feel welcome and decided they didn’t want to stay in a country that had voted that way.
“We really saw the difference post-covid when we were able to reopen, and things were returning to normal because there was suddenly no one to hire. It is important to say that the business wasn’t failing, and we weren’t on the verge of bankruptcy, but we knew we would be headed there in six to eight months if we didn’t decide to close.”
Conway and Bing explain that they wanted to close on their own terms, when the restaurant was still afloat. But working seven days a week with young children was taking its toll. They say they were losing momentum and unable to think about the best way forward.
Conway said: “I think we wanted to have a bit of control over our destiny. Running the business for 14 years meant we had the experience to know when to go out before it was too late. When you are buying expensive ingredients and constantly using ovens, lights and fridges and the electricity increases by three times, it didn’t make sense to us anymore.
“We knew keeping the business open would be insincere as we would have to increase our prices so much. With the new space we want options where anyone can wonder in and enjoy a drink and small bites. Everyone’s wallets are being pinched at the moment and we want to consciously move in a different direction.”
The business duo say they will be staying in the same location and give the place a design refresh.
Conway said: “Closing a business costs a lot of money and we knew we would need funding support to get it going again. We don’t want people walking through the doors thinking it is the same as The Orchard. We want our essence of it being a welcoming space to all that live or pass through Brockley to remain with a completely new edge.
“We are not only business owners, but we are custodians of that space. We never like to pigeonhole ourselves and having an environment that is reflective of London’s diversity is a priority.”
On the response from locals when the closure was announced in July this year, Conway continues to be surprised by the volume of voices airing their support. This has allowed them close in on their target whilst recognising that they still have a journey ahead of them: “We always felt as if we needed to give back as much as the community gave to us through fundraisers or school fairs in the area. However, being in this position and so many businesses reaching out, offering to help us, was so heart-warming.
“Whenever we open, we will be offering lots of different rewards to our customers who made donations. As a result, our customers will feel as if they are investing and getting a return on their investment.”
Even though they entered the hospitality industry during a recession with no prior experience, Conway and Bing are still willing to take on the challenge. Bing said: “It feels like the second album syndrome where we have to outdo the success of the past. We know it might not work but we are willing to take the risk.”
“As soon as we open again, we know we will hit the ground running. We are in a difficult period, but once we see people streaming through the doors and everyone happy during service, it will all be worth it.”
You can find the link to the crowdfunding page to support funding the opening of Ellary’s here.