Hongli Liu first arrived in Newcastle in 2003. After not being able to find homemade Chinese food locally she decided to make her own with vivid memories of learning how to make traditional dumplings with her grandma. And in 2014, she opened Dumpling and Bun in the Grainger Market.
She shares how the pandemic affected both her business and her staff, from shutting up shop to adapting to new ways of trading to protect both staff and customers. Reminding us all that we need to continue to do our bit to help keep the North East open and #BeatCovidNE.
Q. How has your business been affected by Covid-19?
It was really scary in the beginning. My five team members were extremely worried about coming into work so I closed the business before 23rd March, 2020. I felt at the time it was the right thing to do although I had no idea what the future would hold.
The business was closed for nearly three- months during the first lockdown. Those months were some of the hardest I’ve ever had to endure. Luckily, thanks to the help of the Grainger Market Delivery Team, myself and other market traders decided to reopen for two days per week.
The Grainger Market Delivery Team was brilliant. They set up a website where customers could place orders with market traders during lockdown from fruit and vegetable deliveries to our own dumpling kits and bun boxes that customers could make and enjoy at home. The online service is still running today and is a great added bonus for the business. Thank you to everyone who supported us with an order!
Q. What challenges have you faced?
The biggest challenge for me was ensuring my staff felt safe to return to work. I understood all of their worries and we worked together to ensure we all felt safe to get back to what we enjoy - serving up steamed dumplings.
The first week of reopening after the restrictions eased was particularly stressful. We had no idea how many customers we would be serving or how much food to prepare. For both myself and the staff, it was a very anxious time.
Q. What changes have you had to make in response to the pandemic?
Aside from now taking contactless payments, the key thing for myself and my staff has been reminding customers to continue to queue safely by maintaining a safe distance from others. As well as ensuring that after collecting orders, customers either eat at our new seats or take away their food to enjoy sitting down inside the Grainger Market or outside in the fresh air.
Q. Why is it important for your businesses to keep Covid safety practices in place after the lifting of restrictions?
We know we have to learn to coexist with Covid. That’s why we are continuing to stick to all of the Covid safety practices everyone is accustomed to. So, myself and my staff know we’re doing all we can to look after each other, fellow traders and customers. For us, keeping up our Covid safety practices is the key to staying open.
Q. When people visit you, what will they see that is different now?
We have built an eatery that was intended to be a social space, with an excellent, casual service style and nice vibe being the main objectives to go alongside the awesome food…hopefully, regardless of the pandemic, this is what people can expect when they visit.
Q. What has the response been since reopening?
We are so lucky to have received such amazing support from our customers throughout the pandemic and after lockdown eased. We’re delighted to now have seats at our new unit 14 & 15 after our recent move within the Grainger Market. It’s great to see more people visiting us. So many happy customers which makes me smile.
Q. Why are you supporting the Keep the North East Open campaign?
It is vital, now more than ever before, as we learn to live with Covid that we all continue to do our bit to look after each other. For me this campaign is all about reminding us all that - Together is better; together we’re stronger; together the future is brighter!
This is our region, our communities, our local businesses and it’s up to us to look after them. Together we can Keep the North East Open.