Mamuśka – Polish Kitchen and Bar has been operating for 7 years in Elephant and Castle, London. The restaurant serves authentic, affordable and home-made Polish food for a mainstream audience. Only 20% of clients are Polish.
How will the UK leaving the European Union affect your business?
“We have been looking to expand for a while now and the referendum result gave us pause to reflect on those plans. The natural expansion for any business base is growing it out laterally – so from Elephant and Castle, places like London Bridge, Islington and Croydon. That’s still looks fine, but when you look at the way parts of London and the Home Counties voted to Leave, we may need to leap-frog to more welcoming places such as Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol. And if we cannot open in the smaller towns and cities in the UK, then we need to expand to Netherlands and France all the sooner. And I would imagine that when our European expansion happens we will need a European company, which means the Treasury will lose out on those corporate taxes.
“Our main concern now is about recruiting staff. We are working closely with the ALMR (Association of Licenced Retailers) to communicate this to the government. We need them to understand that when they put the Brexit plan together they need to ensure the doors are left open for young people to come and work from Europe. As a country, we would be crazy to shut them out.
“I have 20 staff employed; 1 Swede, 4 Brits and the rest Polish. The Polish team members are wondering what their status will be, and some have been living and working here for over 5 years. We offer good jobs at £9 an hour. We profit share. We serve fresh healthy food at very low prices. We’re ethically run. But we are absolutely *done* if we don’t have staff.
“In Britain, and perhaps London in particular, we eat out quite a lot. And the fact is well over 50% of the people working in restaurants are Europeans. Even if those already here living in the country are allowed to stay, there’s always a natural attrition and those already here will eventually move on, either geographically or into another field as they get older. Yes, we need to get more young British citizens into hospitality. Absolutely, we need to make it culturally acceptable to work as a server in this country. In the long term, that will help. But right now British kids don’t want to take food orders, cook, sweep floors and clean toilets. Even if overnight we magically started producing British graduates willing to take on these jobs (and do them with a smile), we would never have the number of people in 2 years’ time to replace the shortfall if the government suddenly closes the door to the young eager and willing European workers who are here doing the jobs already.
“If the defining political issue is welfare, then don’t give them access to it. From my experience this group – European workers from the age of 18 to 30 – barely draw on benefits anyway. But we had better let them come and work we will all need to get used to waiting 60 minutes before someone comes over to take our order.
“The sad truth is that you can take everything I’m saying, substitute the word ‘hospitality’ with ‘agriculture’, and you have a whole other industry that will ‘fall over’ if a hard Brexit is achieved without the door to these particular workers being left open. We need a system where if you’re of a certain age and you want to come and work without access to benefits you can. No limits on numbers, just lay down whatever politically-acceptable no-access-to-welfare ground rules you want, put up the “help wanted” sign and let rip. I believe with the benefits question out of the way, and the age limit set, you could get buy-in from the general population quite easily. I am confident the government can find a politically appeasing way to keep this critically important door open.
“But let’s not forget there is also a cultural benefit to doing this. By having the young European kids come into Britain, it makes us more open minded as a country. We great at cross-pollinating in our industry; European young people from different cultures make life in general, and dining out in particular, more interesting and pleasant for every British customer wanting a great night out, and make our own home-grown talented young people all the more worldly, interesting and pleasant.
“But as I await this critical news of how the government will save our industry by insuring we have staff, we need to try and keep growing. We have ‘Polish’ in the title of our business, so we do find it difficult to get developers to give us a look in sometimes. Perhaps some are thinking ‘why would I rent to this prospective tenant? With Brexit they might be gone in 2 years.
“But the truth is only about 20% of our customers are Polish. Our whole unique benefit is that we make Polish food accessible to the English-speaking mass market. We are determined to make this concept work in the UK and expand to as many locations as possible from here to Edinburgh and between. But without access to Polish Chefs and Service Stars, I have to concede that it will be considerably more difficult.
“And losing us will affect British workers ranging from our accountants through to our meat and vegetable suppliers, from our catering equipment suppliers through to our prospective landlords, and a long list of other British service companies and interests as well.
“In the end, if the government shuts the doors to the young European workforce that we need to grow, we may be forced to expand in other parts of Europe first. I have called Britain home for 18 years myself and my children consider themselves English. I certainly don’t want to, but if we have to move to the continent in order to make this business work, we will. But that would rob the UK of some serious tax revenues, natural talent and some amazing Polish pierogi dumplings!”