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The coronavirus diaries: Larkin Cen

A few weeks ago, we had no idea what the effects that Covid-19 would have on our industry. Unprecedented is probably the best word to describe it and overnight the whole economy was decimated.

As the days have changed so too has the entire landscape of the country and I like many have sat with bated breath awaiting the daily government updates, to allow me to take the necessary next steps to run the business. 

As the government announced Coronavirus Interruption Loans given via our banks I sighed as I knew access to those loans via banks was going to be difficult especially without the provision of personal guarantees. One thing that I knew, we were on our own and we needed to preserve cashflow, the lifeblood of the business.

From an operational perspective, myself and the team have been making daily updates and additions to our methods and practice. It’s certainly not been easy, by any stretch of the imagination. Despite all the uncertainty surrounding the industry right now, for me there is one thing that is abundantly clear – businesses need a strong team to get through this.

In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other…. opportunity. With everything coming to a standstill I could not help but feel a strong sense of excitement that this could be a defining moment for myself and the business. I was relishing the challenge of navigating my company through this and to put myself to the test.

Adaptability is everything but also a strong will. We had to close our restaurants but we focused upon our delivery platforms. We had moved into this sector as I believed the market was moving this way and it meant we could reposition our business in the delivery sector.

My first was business was a pure delivery concept and although that didn’t work out due to my inexperience at the time, it is funny how things can eventually work out because even though the closure of my first business was devastating at the time, the concepts and processes I developed have proved priceless as it has helped me gear up Woky Ko into its current operational format. 

A delivery based format is very much a logistics business as well as a food business. I am proud to report that we are doing record numbers in deliveries with consistently great feedback reaching out to a whole new clientele who have never tried the brand before. Here is the opportunity in crisis.

We have had to balance the opportunity with the safety of the team. I have done this by re-adjusting the physical set up of the kitchen, we’ve closed three of our Bristol sites and centralised operations into our largest facility. Here we’ve put in measures to ensure we’re following social distancing best practices, utilising a minimal kitchen staff and setting up clear distances between stations. We also implemented groups of teams that did not mingle with other teams so that if anyone got ill we could isolate the groups. We’ve also introduced a fully contactless system of collection for delivery riders.

Naturally our marketing strategy has also developed, now delivery is the main focus and we’re adapting our messaging and social media content to suit. This also presents its own challenges as the competition for visibility and attention is probably greater than ever before. We are currently working on revamping our packaging and design.

Another thing we’re looking into doing, and possibly introducing over the coming weeks, is developing some bulletproof home recipes for people to make in their own homes and thinking outside of the box we are looking at retail products.

As it stands, the current lockdown will last a few more weeks but truthfully there’s just no telling what the coming weeks and months will bring. I’m incredibly fortunate to have some of the most dedicated and hard workout kitchen and FOH staff, I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Team welfare and wellbeing is also at the forefront of my mind right now, like so many industries it does feel like the hospitality trade has had the rug pulled out from underneath it. The past few weeks have been some of the toughest so keeping the team positive, unified and working towards a common purpose is a top priority. 

We scheduled weekly video conference meetings for all management staff that were furloughed so that we can catch up and it gave me a chance to inform them of all the great things we were doing on the ground. We have been so busy that we have had to “de-furlough” some staff which is a great positive message to send back.

I know that with these individuals alongside me and with the same shared common goal of making Woky Ko as successful as it possibly through these trying times, then we can get through this but only together.


By Larkin Cen, owner and founder of Wokyko

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