The coronavirus diaries: Shumana Palit, Ultracomida

So, this has been a journey I had never imagined – even as a natural born pessimist I hadn’t seen this coming. We’ve been through some lows, some small highs and some more lows, but we’ve kept going, and I think that luxury of having a working week has helped us to get through the past few months. 

After 19 years of building up the company from scratch and developing a team of people around us, it was strange in those early days of lockdown when it was almost back to being just the two of us again (my husband and I). That has been a great way to remember those ‘early days’ nerves and anxieties – a lesson that life is unpredictable and that the most important asset you have is your own resourcefulness.

Ultracomida is a hybrid of importers, restauranteurs and retailers, so when the restaurants and bars were ordered to close in March (including our newly opened, perfectly formed baby sherry/vermouth bar, Vermut) we turned to our retail roots. People still wanted to buy their favourite cheeses and wines, so it was a lovely surprise to find that we were quickly selling out of some of our fresh produce, and not giving it away. We set up a home delivery system, used social media to get the message out and turned our shops and restaurants into mini warehouse hubs. In the morning we’d be answering the phone, packing boxes and checking emails; in the afternoon we’d be in the van driving around Ceredigion delivering parcels and discovering some amazing back roads and views that took your breath away. 

These journeys were good for the soul, a way to flush away the outside world for an hour or so and remind ourselves of what we do have. We chose to live in Aberystwyth because of its natural beauty but in the hurly burly of normal life I think we forget to “see” it. The unusually kind weather during the pandemic shone a light (literally!) on the incredible surroundings we live in and has helped a lot of us get through this and helped us to be grateful. 

Slowly, we’ve brought some of the team back from furlough, but trade is tough – in peaks and troughs – and the future uncertain. Every day we’re adapting and looking at new ideas, picnic hampers, online wine tastings, pop up stalls – whatever it takes to reach the other end of this tunnel. We’re proud that we’ve been able to continue supporting our suppliers by placing small orders with them, we’ve carried on supplying our customers with treats to make life more bearable and hopefully we’ve done enough to secure jobs for our team.  

“Antifragile” – I heard this word earlier this week and realised this is what we all need to become.  I fear that life won’t be the same for a long time but hope that we can all find a way to live in a different, “safe” way that allows hospitality to thrive and people to come together over a plate of food and talk.

Shumana Palit is the co-founder of the Ultracomida Group, a collection of casual Spanish deli-restaurants based in Wales which she runs with her husband Paul Grimwood.

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