Strategies have been made, adjusted and then re-adjusted several times. A few weeks ago there were advanced plans to reopen the Lerwick eatery for takeaway only at the start of this month.
But once Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the 15 July reopening date for cafes, bars and restaurants, they instead chose to focus on getting the full operation back up and running.
The Dowry’s second birthday happened under lockdown, a timespan during which a brand new upstairs function room was tentatively due to open. A takeaway counter selling high quality street food facing out onto the Esplanade is another aspiration in the not-too-distant future.
Nowhere in anybody’s 2020 business plan was a government-imposed 16-week shutdown knocking out spring and most of the summer tourist season considered a likely operational hazard.
The upstairs area – a cosy, intimate space suited to working as a bar or playing host to events and private parties – is now near completion but has been paused until the medium term outlook for social distancing becomes clearer.
Stuart says it is impossible to predict what demand will be like in the absence of the majority of tourists, but a healthy number of bookings have flooded in for this weekend since the online diary was opened on Monday.
It seems a safe bet that the enormously popular café/restaurant/bar, with its Scandinavian-influenced décor and wide-ranging menu of high quality meals, cakes and snacks, will enjoy a busy few weeks through July and August.
Next month’s “eat out to help out” £10-a-head government meal subsidy from Monday to Wednesday has encouraged The Dowry to extend its evening opening to six days a week, and Stuart may also seek out some late licences (it currently shuts at 11pm on weekends).
“It’s only in the last few weeks we have seen some light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “There is an air of excitement regarding the re-opening, not just for ourselves but for the community and other cafes and restaurants.
“The worry is what the market is going to be out there. You don’t want to feel that you’re pulling folk out if they still feel a bit anxious. It’s a tempered enthusiasm – we’re really keen to get the door open, and we’ve had lots of folk expressing support.”
A major boost came with news that social distancing would be eased from two metres to one metre in hospitality, meaning The Dowry can accommodate almost as many customers as it normally would with minimal layout adjustments.
Standing and sitting at the bar will not be permitted, as per government guidelines, with table service only. Kitchen and front of house staff have been trained in risk assessments and cleaning procedures and “we’ll be doing everything we can to minimise any risk both to staff and customers as much as possible”, Stuart says.
New opening hours will see the café and restaurant open from 10am-9pm between Monday-Thursday, with an all-day food menu served from 12 noon to 6pm. On Fridays and Saturdays a new evening menu will be offered until later.
Helen ensured she kept “some favourites”, including ‘Dowry’ Caesar salad, hummus bowls, buttermilk chicken and baba ghanoush, on the menu.
New additions include Shetland mussels steamed in Lerwick Brewery beer and a NYC-style Reuben sandwich featuring the kitchen’s own pastrami and sauerkraut.
Evening diners can look forward to cod cheeks thanks to Island Fish and Asian-flavoured pork (right) and beef from Eric Graham's Gremista Farm on the much-praised “small plates” menu.
The bakery side of the expanded kitchen continues to grow, with focaccia, flatbreads and brioche rolls all now being made in house.
Stuart would be the first to admit that the last few months have been among the most stressful he’s known. The natural enthusiasm he has for the business is understandably accompanied by some trepidation for now, but he can take solace in the strong community support as his business seeks to weather the ongoing storm.
“I think folk who are going to come out to bars, cafes, restaurants are going to feel safe enough, and I think they trust all the establishments that are opening tomorrow to make sure everyone remains as safe as possible.
“We’re hopeful that we see a lot of our customers; some new custom would be great as well, but obviously it feels a bit unknown at the moment as to how the response is going to be.”