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The Steel Cauldron: Building a hospitality business during a pandemic

Rob and Nikki in front of a wizard-inspired display
Rob and Nikki signed the lease for their new business days before the lockdown

As part of Be the Business’ ongoing Rebuild project, we’re catching up with small business leaders from different industries. In this series, we’re following hospitality company The Steel Cauldron through their turbulent first year.

Hospitality was one of the industries hit the hardest by the pandemic, with numerous closures, restrictions on when alcohol could be served and changing guidelines on household mixing throwing many businesses into disarray.

For The Steel Cauldron, established in early March 2020, there were plenty of challenges to navigate, from furloughing staff to the stop-start nature of the changing restrictions. When Tier 3 was implemented in Sheffield, pivoting was the only option.

“We signed the lease on 11 March”

Co-owners Rob and Nicola Downham signed the lease for their wizard-themed business in March 2020 after around eight months of searching for a property in the Sheffield area.

“Thinking back on it now, on the day we signed the lease, COVID was something that was in the news, but it kind of felt like nothing was ever really going to come of it, that it’ll blow over,” Rob remembered of the day in early March when he and his co-owner, Nikki, agreed upon the lease. “When I was thinking about the risk of signing this lease, COVID wasn’t on the horizon.”

“Anyway,” he added, “a week later, we were in lockdown.”

The year 2020 was a tricky one to own a business, let alone start one. From the difficulties of decorating before opening, to the success of Eat Out to Help Out and the tests of the subsequent lockdowns, The Steel Cauldron had many challenges to contend with.

“I’d never run a hospitality business before,” Rob said. “We were setting it up on a shoestring.”

We’ll be catching up with Rob every month to find out how The Steel Cauldron is getting on. To follow the company’s story, navigate the dropdowns below to find out what the updates are across the key challenges the business faces.

The challenges

The hospitality industry bore much of the brunt of the pandemic restrictions, and in the six months since The Steel Cauldron opened, the business has had to adapt numerous times to continue operating. You can find out more about the different challenges below:

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