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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Melissa Boothman

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Melissa Boothman, owner of Penylan Pantry and the Secret Garden Cafe in Bute Park. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Here is my version of lockdown life, from someone who runs a small independent business in the hospitality industry, and employs 17 people.

Wow, where do I start? So far, this whole experience has been a big washing machine of emotions, mainly on spin, then occasionally clicking on to drain, and sometimes pause, pausing in a big puddle of water, still, very still.

Like many I also felt like we are all living in a fictional novel, a dystopian future.

Week 1 (I think). “It’s okay, we’ve got this, together we will be okay”. In this first week, none of us really knew what we were about to fall into. Seeing the news, and how Italy was being struck down with fatality after fatality, we knew it was going to be serious. However, there is this sense of, ‘it’s not happening to us, we won’t get it that bad’ or will we? The unknown set in…….

Within the two businesses, we adapted and put lots of little changes in place. I held a meeting, to put my team’s minds at rest: ‘Your jobs are safe, I will make sure of it’.

I knew we were about to embark on something that none of us had experienced, but I told myself ‘Mel, you’ve got this, you are good with the big stuff, you are good at change and thinking on your feet, it will be okay’.

The team were amazing and took on all these new changes, turning up every day with a smile on their faces, which really helped.

Our local community, our regulars, our customers, came out and showed their support. It was super humbling, grounding and gave me reassurance.

Change was in the air.

Week 2/3 (it’s all becoming blurry). Shit, what is happening?…..okay, stay calm, react, be proactive, adapt, SURVIVE.

I didn’t really stop to think much in this, the second week, my priorities and concerns were of my staff. ‘OK, I need to keep 17 people in a job, and the two businesses alive.’ In the back of my mind, I’m asking myself ‘what’s going to happen to my little businesses?’ Fears of lockdown are looming, thick in the air, a day feels like a week. We are all in fight or flight mode.

I spent the week hastily listening to the news, to a government that were giving vague advice, that were reacting, not being proactive, and with all this vagueness, the week was a flurry of confusion, for us all. I could see it in our customers, in the ambience, the mood, no one knew what to do, how to properly behave, or what was the right and correct thing to do.

This was the week that no support, or clear guidance came from our leaders, which left many of us scared. This was my week of firefighting.

Amongst these emotions, the anxiety, the adapting, the mind whirling with ideas of survival, kindness prevails.

People were opening up, showing vulnerability, coming together, supporting each other, being KIND.

Within both the Pantry and the Secret Garden Cafe we really noticed how everyone had slowed down, how people were calmer, and more patient, the support for independents was amazing to see.

Friday 20th March, our Government finally announces support for workers, promising to keep everyone in a job, and covering wages. This was such a relief, and half the weight of worry off my shoulders (the other half, the future of my businesses still present). However, the government didn’t release any terms of this payout until the following Tuesday. I was checking the government website multiple times a day, waiting for the terms, checking that myself and my team were eligible.

Week 3/4 (Probably, I’ve stopped counting the weeks, it’s purely day by day).

This is the week that I closed both my businesses. I knew it was the right decision, and I knew it was the best thing for me, my team and the safety of our community, but damn it was hard, harder than I’d anticipated, for I did not at any point, in the years I’ve been running my businesses, expect to be closing them through no choice of my own.

They don’t tell you to plan for the world wide spread of a deadly virus when writing your business plan.

I went into the Pantry, and placed a sign in the window, I sat, had a little cry (it was very emotional, which took me by surprise), and locked the door.

That same day, Boris announced lockdown, something we’d all been expecting, and tentatively waiting for.

The next day, we closed down both sites; turning off fridges, cleaning, sorting out perishable stock and talking about the current situation. I had to call all our utility providers, some acted with empathy, and others business as normal – money/profit over people, even during an international pandemic. I sent emails to landlords notifying them of our closure, updates to customers and contacting our suppliers.

A huge outpouring of love came our way via messages, calls, emails, and comments on social media. Thank you, thank you, it really lifted me, I felt and still feel grateful for the community around me, for the people who love and support my businesses, for what the Pantry means to some people.

The weeks that followed… I felt like the rug had been pulled from under my feet, lost, not knowing what to do, and confused. Stay at home they said, but really, there’s a pandemic outside my doors, with people suffering, and I’m supposed to sit at home (this was my internal battle). I felt helpless. I knew I had to stay at home, but my instinct was telling me to get out and help.

I couldn’t stop thinking of all the suffering some people would endure during lockdown, of how COVID-19 had highlighted the huge inequalities in our country, and how the most vulnerable would be hit hardest. With all of this on my mind, I hadn’t properly stopped to think about the virus, and how dangerous it was. I started reading the news again, and realised that this virus has no rules, it can kill young people, and in some cases people with no previous health problems; oh shit.

With this urge to help, the need to be busy, concerns about the virus, business ideas and the need for rest …..

What to actually do whilst in lockdown was very confusing, and felt very unsettling. I certainly had no head space for a new early morning yoga routine, learning a new language or crocheting a blanket for my mum.

I was pulling myself back and forth in many directions. Eventually, I decided, that the Pantry needed to be on pause (in my head), I needed some rest (after six years of very few days off), I wanted to volunteer and help where I could, and restore some balance.

I’ve been keeping in touch with the team, via silly photos, little messages and the occasional Zoom meetings (I find video chat awkward). The next chapter of this situation meant I was even able to see some of the team in the kitchens.

This came about because … my two friends, Kas, founder of Waterloo Teahouses, and Kev from Holy Yolks, started separate initiatives to support our local hospitals, by providing delicious homemade food to NHS staff and key workers (Kev from Holy Yolks is running the Help the Heroes campaign and Kas set up  Feed the Heath). They couldn’t do it alone, and needed some support.

A few of the hospital canteens had closed, making it difficult for staff to access good food whilst on shift, so we (myself and my team) felt we could help out by reopening our kitchens a few days a week, cooking them some good meals, and at the same time show our gratitude.

We also do weekly deliveries of much needed supplies to Cardiff Food Bank, made possible by cash donations from some beautiful people.

I’d found a purpose and a way to help amidst this chaotic time. Even though I was keeping busy, it really helped me to relax and feel more settled about the whole thing. I started to ease into activities that weren’t work, that didn’t revolve around only the businesses. Spending time with my other half, taking walks, foraging, identifying wild plants, listening to the birds, and enjoying a calmer pace.

The calmer pace has given me a little clarity to start thinking about the next phase. Financially we have taken a huge hit, but we are safe and we will be one of the fortunate few that reopen. It will be hard, like starting over a brand new business again with zero cash flow, but lots of business won’t be reopening.

On the day we closed, I stood, alone looking out of the Pantry’s windows, when I realised, let’s fill these windows with hope and sunshine, inspired by the rainbows popping up in everyone’s windows.

The only problem with this idea, is… I can’t draw. But I know just the woman, she’s amazing, kind and very talented; Suzanne Carpenter, one half of @patternistas. I randomly, with no notice, dropped the Pantry keys through her letterbox, gave her the alarm code and planted the seed.

Suzanne asked me if I’d like a message in the window, yes, yes I would, what a great idea, can it be this – What Kind of World would you like to emerge after this crisis is over?

Suzanne did the most amazing job, it’s beautiful.

This is a question that’s been on my mind since it all started.

Positives (there’s no guilt in saying there are some), for me are: I love how little traffic there has been on the roads, resulting in a calmer less rushed atmosphere, better air quality, and less noise pollution. I’ve loved how it’s introduced a simpler way of life, how it’s slowed me down, and how I’ve enjoyed walks, listening to the birds, my garden, cooking at home, regular exercise, regular meals, better sleep, how I’ve reconnected with plants, and my local surroundings. The joy of simple pleasures. I love how Mother Nature has been able to take a big deep breath of clean air, and how we have all had to STOP.

I really hope we can carry some of these new routines into the future. I hope kindness wins, and governments start putting people before money.

I hope we start to live a compatible life side-by-side with nature, and I look forward to reopening the doors to my business with my own lessons learnt.

Love and Peace.

Melissa Boothman is owner of Penylan Pantry & The Secret Garden Cafe. Visit the Penylan Pantry website / Twitter @PenylanPantry / Twitter @secretgardencf.

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Attention cheese lovers! Cheese Pantry to open in Cardiff Indoor Market, Saturday 26 November

Holy cheeseboard Batman … Penylan Pantry – the award-winning Cardiff delicatessen will be opening a sister location in Cardiff Indoor Market this Saturday. The Cheese Pantry is an exciting new specialist cheese stall in Cardiff Central Market, and I can’t wait to eat my entire daily calorie allowance from it.

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The Cheese Pantry will offer the largest selection of exceptional British cheeses in South Wales, a bench for lunchtime cheese board customers and a selection of chutneys, crackers and gifts for sale – this will surely become Cardiff’s go-to spot for lovers of all things cheese.

Melissa Boothman, who along with business partner Jolene runs Cardiff deli/cafe Penylan Pantry, is delighted to be setting up shop in the market.

“We are so proud to be here inside such a beautiful historic building that has been at the heart of the city’s food trade for over 120 years and with such a strong sense of community.”

Penylan Pantry was opened in December 2013 by Mel and Jo, wanting to create a place to showcase all the fantastic produce from Wales and the rest of Britain. Their ethos is all about sustainability: low food miles, supporting local producers and therefore the local economy and aiming to maintain a 95 per cent level of recyclable waste.

Penylan Pantry - one of Elliot's choice spots in Cardiff
Penylan Pantry in Penylan, Cardiff

As a result of their hard work since opening, Penylan Pantry has won a Cardiff Life award for Best Cafe, and been Runner-Up three years in a row in the Observer Food Awards in Wales for Best Ethical Retailer, Best Cheap Eats and Best Independent Retailer.

When asked why she wanted to open a specialist cheese stall in Cardiff, Mel said:

“We are nuts about cheese! The smells, flavours, textures, characteristics, the rich history and varied stories that lie behind each one… did you know there are over 700 cheeses made in Britain?! Each one has its own tale to tell and we’d like to share some of those with you and showcase the absolute best of British cheese.”

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Cheese fans Melissa and Jolene are joined by cheese expert Owen, who has 14 years’ experience in the artisan cheese market as a buyer for the catering industry, sourcing the best British cheeses directly from the makers and farmers. If those credentials weren’t enough, he has also been a judge at The World and British Cheese Awards. Sounds like a cheese lover’s dream! Safe to say, Owen is a man who knows his Cornish Yarg from his Dorstone and he’ll be the head cheese monger at Cheese Pantry, imparting his knowledge and expertise to all staff. Unsurprisingly, Owen is also excited about the stall opening:

“We want to give Cardiff the very best cheese counter and this understanding of the cheese we sell will absolutely set us apart from any of the supermarkets. Working with the girls from Penylan Pantry is a perfect match, combining their passion for exceptional food, supporting British producers and their love of great cheese.”

“Their passion for cheese shines through and their know-how will be shared with you when you buy, showing customers how to cut, care for, wrap and present each cheese, including many cheeses which cannot be found anywhere else in Cardiff. What better time to head down to the market and pick up some fantastic cheese and top tips on creating the perfect festive cheese board.”

See you guys at Cardiff Indoor Market on Saturday 26 November for the opening, yeah??

Penylan Pantry website

Penylan Pantry Facebook page

@PenylanPantry

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Cardiff’s first bike-powered veg delivery service launches!

Penylan Pantry is taking orders for the first pedal-powered, vegetable box delivery service in Cardiff!

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The personalised, affordable vegetable boxes will be delivered by bicycle for residents within the Cardiff area. The boxes will be full of organic seasonal vegetables sourced from as many local producers possible including; Riverside Market Garden, Blaencamel, and The Organic Fresh Food Company, occasionally we have some produce from local allotments.

Pantry co-owner Mel says: “We feel passionate about creating personalised veg boxes because we hate food waste. So our thinking is that if you order what you like then you will waste less food. We encourage you to text us on a Monday, as to inform us of anything you have left over from the week before. We will then not include this in your veg box, so you don’t end up with a glut, which in turn you end up wasting. We are delivering by bicycle to try and cut our C02 emissions and because we love cycling too.”

Veg boxes will be personalised to tastes and requirements.  All you have to do is fill in the form and email it over to vegbox@penylanpantry.com

The list changes with the season, but there are some staples that will be included all year round. Typically there are seven to nine items in a £13 box, and twelve to fourteen items in a £18 box.

All the fruit and veg will be priced competitively with the organic produce in the big supermarkets, plus there is no contract: you can have a weekly veg box, a fortnightly one, or just a one off. Veg boxes will cost between £10 and £30 depending on what, and how much fruit and veg you have.

You will find a free weekly seasonal recipe in your veg box. Keep them in a folder and create your own Penylan Pantry cookbook at home.

This service is available in and around Cardiff and Cardiff Bay. Deliveries will take place between 4 – 7.30pm every Wednesday, and you pay for your veg box on delivery, cash only. You can also collect your veg box from Penylan Pantry between 5 – 6pm every Wednesday or all day Thursday 10 – 6pm.

Penylan Pantry have enlisted two bike couriers to help with deliveries across the city.

“Cycling is something I’m passionate about,” says Mel. “I don’t own a car and I try to cycle everywhere.  It’s partly supporting our environment and reducing our C02 emissions, partly supporting local suppliers and it saves the business having to buy a van and find a driver!”

Cardiff veg lovers: sign up to the scheme by joining the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/386619368198337/

or by emailing your completed form, address and specifying your preferred delivery time to: vegbox@penylanpantry.com or pop into the shop to discuss your needs.

Penylan Pantry: 72 Kimberley Road, Penylan, Cardiff, CF23 5DN

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Support local! Eat chocolate! For charity! At Penylan Pantry!

Holy moly, could life get any better? Our friends at Penylan Pantry have just started a new initiative to try and promote local producers, by choosing a ‘product of the month’ to support.

This month it’s Coco Caravan chocolate, made in Llandaff by Jaques. Handmade, organic, vegan, raw chocolate. And it’s damned tasty! And get this – throughout March, 10 per cent ALL sales from Coco Caravan will go to the Welsh Refugee Council!

It has literally never been such a good time to eat chocolate.

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So throughout this month, Mel and Jolene are promoting Jaques and his amazing chocolates, helping to spread the word about his ethos, his passion and telling you about a great local producer and raising cash for a great charity.

Want to taste what all the fuss is about?

This Saturday (14th March) 11-3pm, the gals will be holding a FREE tasting/meet the producer event at the Pantry with Jaques.

Iona will also be around to talk about the Pantry’s chosen charity for March, The Welsh Refugee Council.

Every month the Pantry will be promoting a different local producer and supporting a different charity.

Get in touch to nominate a charity! (melissa@penylanpantry.com)

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