When life gives you lemons, make sorbet, and ice cream. Matt Storey, partner at The White Storey, reveals all…
This column comes to you live from the parlour of Reenie’s Ice Cream Bar – my current and immediate future business base.
And no – I haven’t made a career change. But like pretty much everyone in the events industry, our company went from 60 to zero during the first lockdown. It felt like standing in front of the departures board at the airport and watching the flights being cancelled, one after another.
My wife, Sirine, was similarly afflicted. This time last year she was rehearsing at the Royal Court to play the role of her life, when overnight theatres across the country went dark. As we glumly surveyed our bank statement, it was clear we were going to have to do something, anything, to stay afloat because we weren’t going to be getting help from anywhere else. Neither of us qualified for Government support.
Our starting point was a small pot of savings and Sirine’s pipedream of opening an ice cream parlour.
For us, besides wanting to bring some joy to our local community, this was an obvious opportunity to offer some work to people in our respective industry networks. Many of whom had been similarly hit. We already had the premises and starting with a vision of a Fifties style American diner, our first call was to a theatre set designer, swiftly followed by the former head of stage at Hampstead Theatre to install the structural work.
We sourced a genuine 1950s Bush radio and TV, retrofitted for us by Pixl Evolution, enabling us to play black and white Hollywood movies. Our sign was created by Propworks, and a lighting designer helped us create the perfect ambience.
We just about managed to pay everyone, even if in extreme circumstances remuneration was in kind. Chocolate or pistachio?
Reenie’s opened its doors on New Year’s Day. In the middle of winter, in the middle of lockdown. It was hardly the most propitious of starts, but the neighbourhood was quick to seize the chance to escape for a take-away hot chocolate at the end of home schooling. We were amazed to see queues down the road. Even the dog walking fraternity were keen to sample our ice cream for dogs.
I promise you, this is in no way a homily on the subject of ingenuity. We count ourselves incredibly lucky – to have had a small pot of savings to dig into and a network of friends and business contacts who were willing and able to help.
So many businesses have had to cast around for new outlets for their skills and resources, as their traditional revenue streams dried up. When all this has ended, we’ll be sharing hilarious stories of extraordinary – and I mean extra-ordinary jobs we took on that we would have never contemplated before the world turned upside down.
I must add that The White Storey has not gone anywhere; in fact, our business has survived thus far on a trickle of work from a handful of clients. We’re ready to scale-up for the next event opportunity the minute that phone rings.
More than that – based on reports I’ve been reading, it’s looking like the Twenties, once they get properly going, will be a phenomenal decade. Following the pattern set 100 years ago after the devastation of World War One and the Spanish Flu pandemic, we can look forward to a burst of rejuvenation the like of which has not been seen for decades. Just like the scorched earth after a forest fire, so many creative shoots will spring up in every industry, generating opportunities for all of us. If we can just make it through to the finish line, the pent-up demand will be ready to explode.
Granted, the coming weeks and months will continue to be grim, but we should hold on with both hands to the fact that the long-term outlook is most definitely sunny (with a chance of sprinkles).