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The coronavirus diaries: Phill Lewis

Our business, Dusty Knuckle, started life in 2014 with my wife and I selling pizza from a homemade oven at local markets around Cardiff and South Wales. Since then, we’ve grown our portfolio to include a shipping container restaurant in a Cardiff suburb, a summer pitch on the South Wales coast, and a pop-up element which caters for festivals, weddings and events up and down the country. 

In late 2019, we also opened a small city-centre restaurant called DARK, based inside one of Cardiff’s historic Victorian Arcades. 

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Obviously, every element of our business has been hugely affected by the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown – which in Wales, is still very restrictive (the next update on restrictions will come from the Welsh Government on the 19 June). 

As a result, we have been forced to focus on takeaways which has never been a big part of our business before, but by launching a variety of takeaway, collection and DIY at-home options we’ve been able to keep the business going.

Signing up with delivery apps like Deliveroo caused a few problems for us – the pizzas were arriving looking like they’d been thrown around first, which is not what you want when you have some people ordering your food for the very first time. So now, we’re looking into the possibility of launching an independent delivery service with a much lower commission rate, by teaming up with some other local independents. 

We have also been offering pizzas for collection from our city centre DARK restaurant. The nature of the restaurant is that it is small and cosy with diners cosied up together in a small space. If the two-metre rule persists even when restaurants are allowed to open again in Wales, we can’t see a way to welcome people back to DARK. But at least we can still use the kitchen for collections for the time being. 

One of the most successful experiments in lockdown has been the launch of our assemble-at-home pizza kits, which people can pre-order for home delivery from a dedicated Shopify site. These have proven wildly popular, with kits selling out weeks in advance which has been a really big help, and it’s also been a great way to engage with our customers and community and see all of their creations. 

Though this time is incredibly worrying for an independent, family business like ours, one positive thing about all of this has been the way the Welsh food community has rallied around to do good. We joined a local ‘Feed the NHS’ campaign to cook meals for frontline workers with lots of other local independents and chefs, and being part of that was such a positive experience. We also created a ‘Rainbow Pizza’ to raise funds for the campaign; 50% of the takings from this pizza were donated to a local NHS charity – in total we raised more than £800.

The sense of community in the food scene in Wales is what has led to the formation of the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective – a working group that includes some of Wales best-known independent restaurants, street food traders and chefs, calling on the Welsh Government for support.

As a group, we’ve written to the First Minister in Wales to propose a package of support to secure the survival of our sector. We want the Welsh Government to work with independent businesses on the plans, timeline and guidance for easing the lockdown, which will give us time to prepare. Ultimately, we want clarity on the timeline for re-opening, to ensure that Welsh hospitality businesses are not left behind.”


By Phill Lewis, co-founder of the award-winning Dusty Knuckle Pizza

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