Ehsan Shammasizadeh runs Wolf Italian Street Food and Code34 Cocktail Bar, Nottingham.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
The furlough scheme was helpful for us to be able to retain our employees and we definitely used that to make sure all our employees were looked after and kept on the roll. As an operation, from April we started reopening for delivery and takeaways and then we partnered with a few charities; working with the NHS delivering food parcels for staff at the City Hospital and with FareShare to deliver roughly about four thousand meals, so we were able to use our kitchen for that.
Then we had Eat Out to Help Out, which was a good initiative, it was quite busy and everyone was excited about it. The first week of December things started to slow down for us as the cases started to rise again and that’s when we decided to close for the longer term and we closed until 12 April this year.
During that time we faced the new reality of life, where office staff were working from home, and realising this was going to be more long term, we tweaked our business model. We came up with the idea of Code34, partnering with graduates at Trent Uni, one doing business, the other doing international business, and opened in April as a terrace bar and now we have the bar downstairs too. Since we opened, we’ve seen a totally different type of trade, it’s been a learning time for us.
What are your staffing needs at the moment?
In total, we have thirteen staff and if we open fully we expect to still need at least three more. With the training period, we’re aiming for mid August to start hiring for those roles. In terms of our full time staff we have three Nottingham-based people, who are part of our long term staff, these are the pillars of the operation, we also have a number of students who work flexibly for us which means we can adapt at busier periods. I expect the permanent staff to increase to five in the future.
You’re supporting young people too, through Kickstart?
Yes, I initially didn’t apply but once Kickstart opened up to smaller applications I thought, I’ve got a platform where I could easily have young people who have never had the right chances, to possibly try and see how this environment is for them. We started with an application of four places, we’ve filled one and I think we will definitely keep this person as one of the permanent team members. With Kickstart I’m not looking for someone with experience, because that’s not the expectation, but someone who has the basics required for the industry.
What was your route into hospitality?
I’ve been in HR for most of my career, almost 23 years, I was heading the human resources for a group of companies in Dubai where we had fourteen thousand employees across the region, for well know fashion and car brands, construction, media, so many industries. It gave me the opportunity to travel to many different countries, UK included, and I started to think about what was next for us. I’d been to the UK many times but never thinking I might want to live here. We came to visit and realised this is what we’ve missed; we’ve been here three years now.
The reason I was excited about hospitality was because of the business I was with which included hospitality chains, and I kind of fell in love with hospitality because it was a very different level of interaction, you genuinely engage with people, talk to them.
What sort of skills and experience are you looking for in an employee?
What we’re looking for are personalities, and personality that clicks. With the bar operation now, we are looking for someone who has worked in a fast paced environment because with the bar you’ve got the quiet periods and the peak periods, I’ve learned that with the bar, you’ve got to equip yourself for the busiest moment you have, so someone who’s worked under pressure, and by that I mean fast paced, high volume, be it in food or in drinks, that would help me. The other thing I would definitely look at is understanding the hygiene requirements of working in food and drinks, because that’s another key element in this industry.
What do you love about working in hospitality?
For me, what I like about it, you always tend to meet new people, it’s never the same everyday, there’s something new, like meeting new customers. Even the challenges we face, it’s not always rosy and nice, we have challenges, but despite the fact that they create frustrations sometimes, at the end of the day it’s part of the whole, you end the day thinking it was tough, but we’ve learned something.
When mistakes or challenges happen, we share it as learning experience, maybe because of the family model we have here, and that builds trust and confidence between us. We feel like a big family, at the same time it’s business, at the end of the day the numbers matter, however the interactions we have, that’s definitely helping to retain them; because the competition is high, we’ve got some wonderful team members, and the guys enjoy working in this space, they feel home when they come in.