WHILE the restaurant trade was plunged into crisis at the start of lockdown, one business adapted to keep going and through local support has emerged stronger.

The Finsbay group of restaurants – two in Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire and one in Woodlands in Glasgow’s west end – reinvented itself and took on staff during lockdown.

And what business owner Billy Milligan saw develop was an engaged community brought together during unprecedented times.

“We started to look at how we could do things differently and in the end never closed at all,” said Milligan, whose partners are current Scotland rugby captain Stuart Hogg and former captain Al Kellock.

“We began to offer home delivery and had an idea of creating pizza kits which just took off. We make all our own pizza dough and it is left to prove for 48 hours. I was making dough into the wee small hours and then it meant the kits were already to be sent out to people.

“With people being at home I think it made the kits a big hit as it was something they could do with as a family. We started to see pictures of pizzas kids had made and there was a sense of community engagement.

“In Milngavie and Bearsden, where most of our clientele is from, I think there is already a real understanding of how important it is to shop local. They can see the difference it makes to their town when they support local business and I think that will be a massive help as we come out of lockdown.”

Milligan, who set up the business four years ago after a career which has seen him DJ, run a nightclub, and then enter the restaurant trade, is now looking to reopen one of three restaurants, F Pizza in Milngavie albeit with fewer covers.

However, he is still taking on staff and has been inundated with people applying for just a handful of jobs.

He added: “We are looking to open F Pizza and will be taking on front of house staff for that. We must have had more than 80 applicants for what will be around six or seven jobs. With social distancing in place we will lose some of our capacity but we have been able to make changes and develop the function area to cater for more covers.

“I think for us as a business going forward we have to a look at all revenue streams available to us so continuing with takeaway services will be part of it.

“There will be an initial period when people will come back through the doors, but we are looking ahead to five or six months down the line and want to be able to offer different aspects to make up for the fact we are probably going to be about 20 to 30% down this year in revenue terms.”

Friends Michelle Wallace and Diane Young might have broken one of the first rules of business, but their shop and friendship have survived for the past 10 years – and through lockdown.

As the weeks turned into months, the duo looked to transform their business and through offering a new range of clothes and turning to social media to attract sales, Shoe 52 in Paisley, Renfrewshire is now welcoming back customers.

“Our loyal customers are the ones who have kept us going throughout this period so we know how important shopping local and supporting local towns,” Wallace said.

“We closed initially and we looked at how long lockdown was going on for and if we didn’t do something we might never have reopened. Most of suppliers were based in Spain and Italy, and with the circumstances they found themselves nothing was being exported.

“As time went on we started a social media presence and a delivery service, but keeping a social distance. We sell ladies’ and children’s shoes and people still need them. As things progressed we offered a collect-at-the-store service. We had been looking to change the emphasis of the business and were planning on launching ladies fashions from February 2021, but we brought it forward to get us through this crisis.”

Shoe 52’s loyal customer have supported them with the launch of the new side of the business.

Wallace added: “It has been a hard slog and there were days we were working on the social media channels for 14-16 hours. We had to bring the business change about early to compensate and get us out of lockdown.

“The support we have had from our customers has been amazing and we are welcoming people back with new measures in place. Shopping local is a completely different experience. We have now been in business for 10 years and we know our customers by name and hear about their families. 

“The customers are part of our community. We can only hope that people will continue to shop local and support us. Maybe it will be a generational thing – I think people who are perhaps 40 or over will think about where they shop and want to shop safely.”