Belfast restaurants secure CBILS cash as eat-out scheme diners drop off

Gary McDonald Business Editor

TWO popular Belfast bar/restaurants have become the latest licensed premises to secure Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) funding and reopen their doors to customers across the city.

Chubby Cherub and AMPM, owned and operated by Eamon McCusker, claimed £150,000 and £190,000 respectively in aid packages secured through Santander UK.

But it comes as restaurants and pubs across the UK report a slight drop-off in sales during the second week of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Sales collectively fell by 13 per cent between Monday August 10 and Wednesday August 12 compared with the same period a week earlier, according to research by hospitality software business Fourth.

The funding for Chubby Cherub and AMPM will be used to help manage ongoing cashflow issues, which were compounded due to lost revenues during Covid-induced closures.

AMPM Belfast is an established restaurant, cabaret club and roof garden bar which has traded from Belfast city centre for the last 18 years, while Chubby Cherub, which has operated for the last decade, moved into new premises last year and underwent a massive expansion and refurbishment, supported by Santander.

Both premises, which collectively employ 100 people, were forced to close from March 20 to July 3, and prior to closure, AMPM experienced its most profitable February since it opened in 2002, with sales up £34,000 on the same month the previous year.

Eamon McCusker said: “During the past 18 years we learnt to expect the unexpected and to plan and adapt. We would consider ourselves pretty resilient, but Covid-19 has tested that resilience to its core.

"But the uncertainty and concerns we've experienced have been tempered by the support and professionalism of Santander. Thanks to Santander, we feel supported and hope we will be stronger and thrive as a family business after this experience.”

The bank's relationship director Jamie Foulkes said: “AMPM has been one of Belfast’s leading restaurants for almost two decades, with the more recent addition of Chubby Cherub attracting diners from across the city. The team were quick to focus efforts on its safe reopening and we have been delighted to see customers return to the restaurants.”

Meanwhile according to Fourth, sales at pubs and bars were down 20 per cent last week against the previous week, but sales were still significantly higher than trading before the eating out initiative had started.

Fourth also said that the majority of firms using the scheme have reported sales figures inclusive of the Eat Out to Help Out discount and are therefore understating their total revenues.

As the discount scheme enters its third week, Visit Belfast, in partnership with Belfast One, Linen Quarter and Destination CQ, have implemented a marketing campaign to promote eating out in Belfast and drive footfall back into the city centre.

Lord mayor Frank McCoubrey said: “The scheme is a great way to support our hospitality businesses as they get back on their feet and provides a great opportunity for people to return to the city and enjoy dining out safely.

“Belfast’s hospitality is world-renowned and has played such an important part of the city’s regeneration of recent years, and I welcome the partnership efforts between Visit Belfast and the three city centre BIDs in developing a campaign to attract customers back in to city restaurants, cafes and eateries.”

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