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‘It has been like a boat in a storm’

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A YEAR WITH A DIFFERENCE Paul Doyle, owner of Cox's in Castlebar says 2020 was his most challenging year in business.

Castlebar

Anton McNulty

In a typical year Cox’s Restaurant and Bars in Castlebar would be preparing for a manic Christmas.
The popular late night venue always does a roaring trade around Christmas but the throngs that usually attend Cox’s will be conspicuous by their absence this month.
Cox’s reopened last week as Covid-19 restrictions eased but will be open but for diners only.
An All-Ireland and Christmas within a week would, typically, be like all their Christmases coming together.
But not this year, owner Paul Doyle explains.
“‘Crowd’ is not in our vocabulary,” Mr Doyle told The Mayo News. “We have our systems in place. Two people at that table, two at this table, no standing, nobody at the bar counter area. Hopefully Mayo will win the All Ireland but we cannot change anything in the way we operate. We are limited by numbers and are operating at 50 percent capacity,” he explained.
“We are glad to be back. All our staff are back too. Everything has changed: there are no Christmas parties or groups of people. We are open a week now and thankful to be indoors but are not busy.”
One of the very particular problems they’re facing is people booking a slot and not turning up.
“One frustration at the moment is the ‘no-shows’. Last Saturday, 20 people did not turn up. To make it worse we turned down at least 20 reservations for that same night,” said Doyle.
As he looks around the town, Paul Doyle notices a very different night life in Castlebar. Those places who are open have been forced to adapt while many other places are shut. He has every confidence in the ‘wet’ pubs he knows running a tight ship too.
“From knowing most of the publicans here in Castlebar every one of them are decent, law abiding people and it is an injustice that they are not allowed open. They showed through their short period of opening that they were well able to implement and control their businesses in a safe manner.”
The year started off well. Home league games for Mayo against Dublin and Kerry brought big crowds when crowds were a good thing but the ‘bubble burst in March’ and Paul Doyle, who has run Cox’s since 2001, has never experienced a year as challenging.
“It has been like a boat in a storm, fixing leaks, fighting for survival and waiting for the next wave to come. It has been by far the toughest year especially with the prolonged recession,” he said.

Reinventing
Mr Doyle said they used the months of March, April, May and June to refurbish and get Covid compliant. A comprehensive safety statement was part of preparations while a member of staff who had recently qualified as a health and safety officer was an example of wonderful timing.
“We had to reinvent ourselves. We had a popular late night trade with DJs playing nightly but the Covid close contact regulations put an end to all of this. We now had to operate solely as a restaurant and had to get prepared for opening on July 1.
“By the timing opening came, we were looking forward to it. We had all our staff back. Our main concerns were the safety of our customers and staff and what would happen if one of them contracted Covid 19. Thankfully none of this came to pass. We implemented a strict contact tracing system as well as measures such as all staff having masks, many sanitising stations, and a “Clean R With Verified” cleaning system (where customers can check by QR code),” he explained.
The second lockdown was ‘very tough’ he admits. He couldn’t help but be frustrated at what was being asked of pubs and restaurants, feeling the Government could have looked at allowing inside dining with limited numbers of people.
“Even though we had the facilities for outdoor dining, the cold weather and short evenings were not suitable and did not work. People had to walk through a premises practically new and fully Covid compliant to get to an area to sit and tackle the inclement west of Ireland weather,” he recalls.
He’s critical of the fact that while the Government have brought in a scheme to help businesses and imposed a moratorium on rates, they’ve also allowed banks to keep the pressure on businesses.
“It’s the fox minding the chicken syndrome,” he offers.
He’s not dwelling on the possibility of another lockdown in the New Year and is optimistic for 2021.
“The positive is that the vaccine is coming online and the Government will implement a regional approach to lockdown. Here in the west we seem to be doing a good job on suppressing the virus. The people of Mayo get it.”