Owners of a Gloucester city centre pizza restaurant have praised the support of family, friends and repeat customers who have helped them through their first year in business.
Hooker and Eight bosses and school friends, Adam Balzano and Daniel Snowdon, both 33, are ‘counting our lucky stars’ after such an eventful year.
The restaurant bosses have known each other since the first year of high school at Chosen Hill School and bonded years later playing rugby together. The name Hooker and Eight comes from their rugby positions.
Since opening the pizza joint in Westgate Street in October of last year, the restaurant industry has faced a tumultuous period.
The first six months, the restaurant was booming with customers, selling out on Fridays. With a strong following from Gloucester Rugby club, the Chosen Hill men “did well enough” to pay for a sponsorship in the club’s Kingsholm Stadium.
Then having to close for lockdown in March, the independent restaurant bosses had to lay off all their staff and become a takeaway.
To begin with, they had two chefs plus three staff members employed. After staff cuts, it was just the two owners working at the takeaway.
They finally reopened as a restaurant in September to take advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Mr Balzano said: “Since we reopened in September, we have just been incredibly fortunate that we have had customers coming back.
“Although it is not as busy as it was pre-Covid, we have had enough love and support off the people and we’re still getting new customers which is great.
“We still feel incredibly fortunate that we’re still open and still going. We count our lucky stars that we are still able to do what we love.”
Mr Balzano initially wasn’t going to reopen the restaurant under Covid-restrictions. After restaurants were given the green light in August, he branded the new guidelines “a lot of faff”.
The 33-year-old said: “In hindsight, with everyone coming back out in August, basically we just wanted to see how things panned out with everything going back on and everything coming back together. We didn’t want to open for like a week or two only to be shut down again.
“Basically, we waited for the dust to settle, see if we could. After a month of going out ourselves with family, we saw how everyone else was doing it first.”
Co-owner Mr Snowdon was also quick to sweep praise on the support base around them.
Mr Snowdon said: “Considering we have been going through a pandemic, we are very happy with the turnover. I feel very lucky. We feel very lucky about the support we have in these current times.
“Lots of family come in, close friends, repeat customers – some of them are Gloucester Rugby players.”
“Despite Covid, we have achieved what we thought we would achieve. Due to the team we have had around us, we have managed to overcome everything that has been thrown at us.”
Want to do some cheffing? ‘Yeah, wicked man’
The owners have said the best thing to come out of the pandemic period was the appointment of their new Head Chef and Social Media Manager Stephen Grimes and waitress Bobbi Jo McGurk.
Mr Grimes, 34, started working at Hooker and Eight in August, he previously worked as an Events Manager at now dissolved Marketing Gloucester.
He described the kitchen as “fantastic and off-the-cuff”.
Mr Grimes said: “I’ve known Dan since we were teenagers and basically during lockdown, he asked me ‘Do you want to do some cheffing?’
“And I was like ‘Yeah, wicked man’ and it was history really. I am here full time now, loving life.
“The atmosphere here is absolutely brilliant. Because it’s an open kitchen, when we do have customers in the atmosphere is always great and there is always a lot of banter. Everyone is really friendly. The relationship me, Adam and Dan have is always completely trusting to each other.
“We have a laugh, we have a good time and we also get the job done.”
Mr Grimes has said even before he worked there, Mr Balzano and Mr Snowden let him in the kitchen to make a pizza for himself. He said once Covid-19 regulations ease, he will allow customers in kitchen to make pizza themselves.