Normally, opening a cafe would be a dream come true for many aspiring restaurateurs, but when a pandemic is just around the corner, many have had to adapt to keep their businesses afloat. Here’s how one café in Dundee has been riding the wave since opening in November 2019…
Looking back, opening any type of eatery in Scotland just before a pandemic struck seemed like a dream come true, with the nation’s lively dining culture visible in every corner of the country.
For 25-year-old Usman “Ozzy” Hyatt, opening his own café had long been an aspiration of his. So, “Ozzy’s” opening its doors in Dundee city centre back in November was ideal.
Ozzy said: “I’ve always wanted to open a burger place or a café so that’s where the idea came from. The opportunity to open Ozzy’s arose last year and, for me, it was a ‘take it or leave it’ scenario. I thought that since I’m quite young I could afford to take the risk as I didn’t have any other major responsibilities at that time.
“It was a big risk for me to take but I knew that if I didn’t take it then, I might not get another opportunity to open a food venue in the future.
“The name ‘Ozzy’ is actually my nickname. I was called that a lot when I was growing up and it just stuck.”
Any customer who ventures in to the eatery in Dundee’s Murraygate is likely to see the 25-year-old entrepreneur, who claims to be a jack of all trades and takes on just about every job there is to do.
“I do a bit of everything in the café. I’m there every day, pretty much – overlooking it, being the chef if I don’t have any staff available, covering sickness or h0liday leave, serving customers, managing it – a bit of everything. I also do all the stock management and control.”
When lockdown struck the nation in March, several hospitality businesses just like Ozzy’s were forced to close their doors and adapt their business plans in the hope that their eateries would survive a ravaging pandemic.
He added: “We had plans for the shop for the summer, which we obviously had to put on hold because of the uncertainty. We were going to do some completely new things, have a new menu, do some refurbishments and cater for customers in the summertime.
“But when Covid came along, we didn’t feel there was much point in continuing with the refurbishments inside the café when the town is quiet and people aren’t necessarily wanting to come in. I think they’re trying to stay home as much as they can.
“Looking back, I think I would’ve changed the food offering – we’re a sit-in café so I probably would’ve focused more on takeaways and deliveries and having less interaction between customers.
“I’d probably have more focus on trying to get food to the customers’ doors as well or get them to collect but not sit in.
“This is really new to me and is the first time I’ve done something like this. I’m younger as well so it was quite a big jump. When we first opened, it was still all new to me so I was easing myself into it slowly and then when the pandemic happened we were a bit like ‘so what do we do now?’. I honestly didn’t know what to do.
“The number of staff we employ has constantly changed since we opened. Things were settled at the start of the year but since the lockdown it’s not been. We have about five or six staff members on at once, with about eight members of staff on the rota in a typical week, not including myself.”
However, local support for the café has been continuous and Ozzy is appreciative that his loyal customers have kept returning.
He says: “Our regular customers have been very good to us. Those who visited us before lockdown came back once lockdown had eased. All of our loyal customers came back, which was great, and they’ve continued to be very supportive since then. We’ve had a lot of support from people on social media as well.”
So, what does the future hold for Ozzy’s and will its namesake be opening any other eateries post-pandemic?
Ozzy says: “I have no idea what the future holds. Covid has changed how I think about having my own eatery, and how I want to manage it. What my mindset was when I opened is completely different to what it is now.
“I can’t say I want to open any more but you can never be sure. To be honest, I don’t know what the future holds for Ozzy’s at the moment. It’s a confusing time and I just have to keep taking each day as it comes.”