Elgin business 156 Bar & Grill has started offering free school meals to children to keep staff in a job after being blocked from receiving any Covid-19 financial support.
The American-themed diner only opened its doors to customers in the Moray town centre on December 18 last year.
However, within 36 hours of welcoming their first customers it was announced the region would move from Level 1 to Level 4 restrictions as rules tightened across the country, which barred the firm and others from serving sit-in meals.
UK Government rules mean employees must have been on the payroll on October 30 to qualify for furlough – disqualifying any of 156 Bar & Grill’s 15 staff from the scheme.
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has explained he is helping the firm search for alternative forms of business support to help them and others who have “fallen through the gaps”.
Furlough rules exclude 156 Bar & Grill
Diner 156 Bar & Grill has continued to sell takeaways during the second lockdown and has recently expanded to free lunchtime meals for school pupils to create extra hours for staff.
Co-owner Paul Davies said: “It’s incredibly frustrating. We’ve been working on this project for eight or nine months, which has brought a property that was empty for nearly two years back into use.
“We finally managed to get through all of the original restrictions and then got told the next day we had to close in four days.
“All our staff came from other jobs where they would have been entitled to furlough. It’s not fair for them to be punished.
“I understand you shouldn’t be able to set up a company just to claim money, but the cut-off date was eight weeks before we opened.”
School meals served to keep staff in jobs
Last week staff began offering up to 30 hot meals including fish pie, curry and rice and spaghetti bolognaise for local youngsters.
The move was prompted after the widely condemned images of packages being offered to youngsters in other parts of the UK were circulated.
Mr Davies said: “We’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“But because of the situation we are in, it is also giving our staff something to do. If we’re here anyway, we may as well try to help.
“It came about after seeing the meal kit that was being shown on the news. We just thought we could offer something a bit more substantial with a bit of fruit and drink too.
“I know there might be a bit of a stigma with people not wanting to be seen taking help, but we’re here anyway. Hopefully walking into a takeaway and receiving something in our standard packaging helps reduce any stigma people feel.”
Hopes alternative Covid support will help others like 156 Bar & Grill
Mr Lochhead explained he was helping the firm source financial support to help them through the latest lockdown.
He said: “I can only imagine how devastated the team at 156 Bar & Grill were when lockdown was announced just days after they had opened for business.
“I know that they’d invested a great deal of time, money and effort, to get the doors opened before Christmas.
“As local MSP, I’m working hard to support local businesses across Moray affected by the current restrictions and am trying to help them access financial support.
“There are a number of new grant schemes opening in the coming weeks, including the Moray Council’s discretionary fund, which I hope will support local businesses that have so far fallen through the gaps.”
156 Bar & Grill is offering up to 30 daily free meals for school children under 15 years old from Tuesdays to Sundays between noon and 3pm. Families should contact the business by private message on Facebook.