By Vikas Kumar
Four days back when we re-opened Flurys Tea Room, it struck me that Flurys was always “open” ! The immense amount of trust and goodwill we have created among our patrons over the last 93 years made it our responsibility to stand up, as the crisis struck the world, for the people in Calcutta who have loved and built Flurys. The highest standards of professionalism and empathy were incumbent on us and with the limited resources at our disposal we helped in these extreme times.
Flurys Tea Room has not been about food or service alone, it is about the nostalgia, the socialising and the overall relaxed and contemporary experience. Maintaining the Flurys experience for customers at the Tea Room as we go forward will be key. But We are Flurys and We do what we do! We will continue to become better and evolve.
We have adapted ourselves to the new guidelines and protocols of the ‘new normal’ and are confident that by and large we will be able to provide a fairly equivalent experience. Calcuttans can expect Flurys signature dishes to stay on the Menu as we intend to keep all our signature dishes on the menu.
There has been a disruption in supply of raw materials but it is getting better, moving forward I think raw material supply will not be an issue as such, although some products, specially the imported ones, might see a spurt in prices.
Now, that the lock down has lifted, with the official guidelines for re- opening in hand, there will certainly be big changes in the way we operate the restaurants. Many Flurys outlets were already operational for take aways and online orders so we were already practicing highest levels of social distancing, hygiene and food safety procedures. Now that we have got down to operating the tea rooms, we are adapting well in the last week. S.H.I.E.L.D is our extremely comprehensive protocol that developed in house and it meets or betters all the parameters that are required in the industry. We have been pro active in amalgamating minute details pertaining to all the operational functions . I am happy to say that I was a part of the drafting and development team of the protocol .
We will face some challenges in terms of change of consumer behavior and responding to it but I am fairly confident as the days go by we will be able to adapt fairly quickly.
A week or ten days back 19 odd of our 40 outlets in Calcutta were open and we were awaiting permissions from the malls and the Airport authorities to open our outlets there. As of today, all our outlets are open, except a few at the Airport. In fact, we were the first Bakery and Confectionery to open our outlets and many of those were open even during the full lock down to supply breads to our patrons.
Flurys offerings were available on online platforms from before the lock down. Obviously due to the fact that people were not allowed to come out of their houses during the lock down and food delivery was always allowed, we have seen a substantial increase in the percentage of online sales to overall sales. We were taking orders at all our outlets, from apartment complexes and on phone and email. In fact we are doing almost all of our products on prior orders including designer and celebration cakes
As soon as the complete nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, 15-20 of Flurys chefs spread across 3 shifts and took care of a limited online menu served through food delivery platforms. First and Foremost we at Flurys immediately went into planning as to how we can continue to offer our bread products to our patrons since bread supplies were hit hard and there being an imminent scarcity already floating due to the previously announced state lockdown. At the forefront handling the team my motivation was the fact in a crisis we can help a lot of people in accessing bread which is an essential commodity for many.
We quickly grouped together and arranged a small team and started contacting the various housing societies of the city with offers to supply them with bread products at their doorstep through our delivery vans. As soon as the word spread, we were inundated with an unimaginable number of queries, the demand was sky high and we were really spread thin for resources. It was a mammoth effort of so many Flurys’ heroes who tirelessly worked together. We at Flurys rose to the occasion and in the days that followed, we produced and sold an average of 2000 loaves of breads a day and did all we could so that we are able to supply breads to our customers, many of whom were not in a situation to venture out themselves. Strict social distancing and sanitization norms meant that the whole process took way longer than normal but we could adapt ourselves and with help and support of our customers, we were able to fulfil all the requirements on a daily basis. There were days when we have supplied up to 15 different customer groups in one day.
We received a lot of positive feedback from the customers which was heartening but I personally think that we only did what we could and reached one of the basic necessities already in unprecedented short supply. So many of the team members volunteered to join work to help us in being able to handle the very large bread production volumes. This is what we stand for as a company, and I am proud to be a part of such a dedicated team. An entire team of drivers, service personnel etc, around 20 people who worked extremely hard, throughout the day reached our breads to the length and breadth of Kolkata. It was really heartening to be part of..
We have continuously supplied 100 lbs of breads every day during the lock down in association with Calcutta Police as well as other organisations. Our security personnel are outsourced but they have been extremely helpful in providing us the required manpower, especially considering the fact that our operations are often run 24 hours. We are continuing to supply bread delivery we started in the lock down to most large housing societies in the city based on demand.
As if the pain caused by the pandemic was not enough, our city was hit by Cyclone Amphan which was tragic for our city and state already hurting immensely with the pandemic. As someone that came to work fairly early on 21st May, the next day to Amphan, the scenes I saw on the streets were not only unprecedented but unimaginable. Amphan- touted to be the worst cyclone in 283 years has been catastrophic for the green cover of the city, its roads and infrastructure as well as for its people. We at Flurys were spared and we began operations and deliveries immediately operating with extreme caution and following all the guidelines pro actively. We had teams in place that were tasked with specific jobs and I am happy to tell that we were operational even the next day of the massive cyclone!
I have been visiting the office almost daily. Out kitchen is in Apeejay House , our Group’s corporate HO which is a commercial building housing offices of our group companies as well as many indian and multinational brands. It was open and a vigorously sanitized environment with 24/7 Security team headed by a team of frontline heroes. We are perhaps lucky to be in a place like this and to be in a profession like we are that gives us the ability to help people. My team were not much unlike the people in many other professions who are acting as front line staff
However Covid 19 created immense anxiety and I found that humour came in handy. To my married team members, I would joke that they should thank their stars that they are not stuck at home 24 hours getting nagged because now they had the opportunity to do household chores and also do professional work because of the rotational duty rosters! In truth our Tea Room is, to countless people, a sanctuary and when it was time to look back upon this period, we wanted to be able to do so with extreme pride and satisfaction. I am glad to say that we do!
Vikas Kumar is Executive Chef of Flurys