‘It has not been an enjoyable year:’ How a Porthcawl ice cream business fought back against the pandemic
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
The pandemic has forced businesses to adapt to new ways of working throughout 2020, with the tourism, hospitality and catering industries being among the hardest hit.
Although the Welsh firebreak lockdown ended on November 09, the Wales Tourism Alliance predicted around half of Wales’ tourist businesses would stay closed until the English lockdown lifted on December 02.
Mother and daughter Michelle and Lauren Evans have been working “seven days a week 24 hours a day” over the last few months after opening Fablas Ice Cream Parlour on Porthcawl sea front in June.
Running two businesses during the pandemic has been a “manic” experience “from the very start”, said Lauren.
“We physically couldn’t manage to do our full menu because we were so busy.”
The mother-daughter duo decided to set up the parlour at the Esplanade in Porthcawl after the success of their other business in Cowbridge, which they have been running for four years.
While the Porthcawl store has been wildly popular, with tourists flocking there throughout the summer, Lauren said the Cowbridge store “has been a different kettle of fish” with locals being more hesitant to eat out.
She suspects this is because Porthcawl attracts far more tourists, who tend to be in “holiday mode” and less cautious of Covid-19.
“Cowbridge is completely different from Porthcawl. We’re down considerably from last year but Porthcawl has been our lifeline. Without it, we wouldn’t have been employing ten members of staff and we wouldn’t still be here now.”
The steady stream of customers meant Lauren and Michelle were able to keep all of their staff working. Following government guildelines, they installed protective screens in the parlours and equipped staff with face masks as well as adjusting their shifts to limit mixing.
Government guidelines meant Lauren and Michelle frequently had to limit their service to takeaways. To maintain a steady income, they started an online delivery service offering locals “a Fablas experience at home”.
As well as ice cream, staff will be delivering chocolate logs with notes from Santa up until Christmas Eve.
Lauren said the deliveries have been “an absolute roaring success” and they plan to start a UK-wide service in 2021.
“Every business has got to adapt, said Lauren. “Unfortunately, it’s the survival of the fittest.
“If you’ve got enough enthusiasm for what you do to change the route you’re going down and diversify then I think you’ll be fine.
“If you haven’t got that mindset then I don’t know how far you’ll get on with the rest of this year.”
While her businesses have survived the challenges of the pandemic, Lauren said the past year “has not been enjoyable from day one, not one bit”.
Asking customers to wear face masks and follow social distancing has led to “confrontation” and “abuse” towards staff, who worked long hours in the warm summer months.
Serving people from freezers that pumped hot air into their mask-covered faces, the Fablas staff have “worked like troopers” to “keep their cool”.
“It’s not our fault, said Lauren. “We haven’t made the rules up. It’s the same across the entire hospitality and tourism industry. I think everyone will vouch that it has not been an enjoyable year.
“The amount of rules and regulations and the amount of inspections we’ve had. They’ve not made our lives easy. All we’re trying to do is employ 12 members of staff and build a business.”
After a “mental” summer in Porthcawl with queues lining the street, Lauren said business has “quietened down” but solely because of the cold weather, as they would expect in a normal year, regardless of coronavirus.
As soon as the Welsh Government says it is safe to welcome customers for indoor service, Lauren said she has prepared a wider menu, with “nice china” at the ready.