Calderdale hospitality firms say business is on the up but still warn of tough times ahead

Hospitality firms in Calderdale say they are back in business with customers returning after coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

By Tom Scargill
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 11:05 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 11:07 am

The past couple of years have proved hugely challenging for the borough's pubs, clubs and restaurants due to lockdowns and restrictions brought in to try and curb the spread of the pandemic.

But there are signs that some of the town's beleaguered businesses are starting to recover with people now more inclined to socialise and go out again.

Simon Jackson, owner of the Acapulco nightclub in Halifax, said: "We are very pleased that after so many years of being in business the Acapulco remains popular and continues to attract new people from other towns into Halifax as they like to see what the Acca has to offer.

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Clubbers at the Acapulco in Halifax

"When the passport scheme was introduced, we saw a massive reduction in customers that came through the door, which had a financial impact on the club.

"But now these restrictions are lifted we are seeing returning customers, along with hundreds of new revellers that have turned 18 during lockdown.

"It is great to see people having fun again and enjoying the nightlife experience, and I hope this continues."

The owners of ATIK Halifax, REKOM UK, say the public's appetite for nights out is higher than ever.

Clubbers on a night out

REKOM UK’s chairman, Peter Marks, said: “We’re so pleased to be welcoming guests back to our venues and returning to what we do best. It’s fantastic to see such positive public perception around going out, something that is fully reflected by the strong business performance we have seen over the past few months.

“People have clearly missed going out. Nightclubs are an important outlet for people to enjoy themselves, and we can see this with spend, frequency and duration of a night out all bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels or better.

“What stood out to me more than anything is the strong positive reaction people have expressed to the night out – whether that’s enthusiasm for returning to pre-pandemic social lives for the younger generation, or the sense of nostalgia from those that might not be going as frequently as they used to.

“There’s no doubt that the late-night leisure sector is back in full force and people are ready to enjoy themselves.”

Queues outside the Acapulco in Halifax

Lee Marshall opened restaurant Stratus in Queensbury last summer, but now works for the Golden Fleece in Birkenshaw after coronavirus restrictions proved too disruptive for his business to continue.

"It’s a really busy gastro pub, we’ve seen a massive increase in trade since the restrictions have been dropped, the atmosphere has changed also as people are a lot more relaxed.

"It now feels we never had a pandemic! People have just gone back to the old ways, we do get the odd ones in masks still but that’s the older generation.

"I lost my new restaurant in Queensbury after investing £85,000. The 'pingdemic' crippled us.

Golden Lion landlady Gig

"We really need the support from everyone but the industry has seen the customer has changed their ways, they built bars in the back garden or started buying cheaper booze from the supermarket and unfortunately haven’t changed their ways as it’s cheaper and they are enjoying the new lifestyle.

"If the industry doesn’t get a boost by the public then we are heading for a huge crash with the smaller operators, it’s got even worse since the war in Ukraine and the utility bills going through the roof.

"The first thing that suffers in these times are restaurants, it happened to me in 2008 with the recession, I lost six businesses."

Calderdale pub owners say customers' mindsets have changed after Covid restrictions were lifted, and that business is slowly getting back to normal, but are warning rising costs are making for a tough environment.

Owner of the Golden Lion pub in Todmorden, Matthanee Nilavongse, better known to regulars as Gig, said: "People want to change their lifestyles after the pauses during lockdowns, they've had time to reflect what they really want in life.

"Also perhaps they've had a break up with their partner, been made redundant or been laid off during coronavirus, all of which might give them more freedom from just working nine-to-five.

Max Heaton (left) at the Shibden Mill Inn

"I think life is getting back to normal because people are realising what they were missing in the past two years - good food, exercise, entertainment, travel - so they want to do more of what they had done before.

"And they've learned to not take things for granted and appreciate what the town had been providing in their life.

"I think some people do want to get back to normal and some people don’t, because some people have realised they enjoy just being home.

"And most people are busy and can’t go out much because work seems to pile up more due to staff shortages or people still getting Covid."

Gig also said it is vital for hospitality businesses that customers are returning.

"I think every industry need a support, whether it's airlines, hospitals, dentists, train companies. Everyone has been suffering and had a same problem, which is staff shortages," she said.

"Lots of pubs, restaurants and clubs have had to close down because they can’t find the staff."

Max Heaton, from the Shibden Mill Inn, said: "We have seen an increase in the last couple of months. January and February are traditionally quieter months so hard to know how much of this is down to this. The weather has thankfully improved too and this has definitely had a positive effect, as some people are still only comfortable in our outside area due to Covid.

"We have definitely seen a change in the majority of peoples mindsets and they are ready to move on from the pandemic. We see less masks every week and people are getting increasingly happy to be in a busy bar area. People are definitely enjoying having an increased social interaction. It’s great to see.

"We are very lucky to have had great support from our locals and the staycation boom has definitely helped. As always in the industry there are always fresh issues arising and that seems to be every running costs at this moment in time. Everything has increased in price from heating to vegetable oil."

Euan Noble, owner of The Millers Bar in Brighouse, said: "Like many other pubs we've not seen a complete recovery to the levels we were at pre-Covid, but things are slowly going in the right direction.

"Alongside a definite change in customer habits, we're also being impacted like thousands of other businesses by rising supply chain costs and even challenges around recruitment.

"There's inflation across the whole supply chain and our costs have risen by around 10-15 per cent. When you add in sky-rocketing energy bills, business rates and VAT going back to normal you've got a very challenging situation for the entire hospitality trade and the Government needs to recognise that and offer more support.

"What Millers does have is a wonderful customer base with scope to increase that over the coming months and years. We're going through a period of change that will help make us more efficient and ambitious, ultimately making for a better experience for customers - and we who hope to evolve positively throughout the rest of 2022."