Hearty food for hard times : How the Camberwell Arms kept its customers satisfied through a pandemic

The Camberwell Arms has a simple ethos. If they can make something themselves – whether it’s pickles, pasta, smoked fish or sausages – they do. So when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, shutting down businesses and restaurants across the country, director James Dye couldn’t just sit by and let his local community go without the good hearty food the Camberwell Arms usually supplied. Pandemic or not, James and his team were determined to make sure that their customers were still eating well. And they’d do it themselves – with a little help, of course.

Here’s how.

  

A commitment to quality

Best known for its eclectic Sunday lunches, the Camberwell Arms is defined by its hearty, comforting dishes made with thoughtfully sourced produce of the highest quality. “The people I work with who supply my fish, meat and vegetables are growing or buying the best ingredients that I feel I can buy,” co-owner and head chef Michael Davies said in a 2017 interview with Peckham Peculiar magazine. “As a customer you should be able to come somewhere local that cares this much about ingredients.”

This commitment to quality has seen the Camberwell Arms win both critical and customer acclaim, voted #1 of the Guardian’s 50 best Sunday Lunches 2017 and winner of the 2015 OFM awards, while receiving glowing reviews across TripAdvisor, Google and Facebook. But when the Coronavirus pandemic meant that they could no longer welcome diners through their doors, the fresh produce that the team valued so much looked set to go to waste. For director James Dye, this wasn’t an option.

“Quite early on in the pandemic, we decided that we still wanted to help serve our local community in south London by selling the incredible produce which we usually use in our pub and restaurant,” he says. “We work with small farmers and produce suppliers, so our products are of the highest quality and people locally still wanted to have the opportunity to support businesses like this.”

So with the entrepreneurial spirit that’s already seen them through five highly successful years, the Camberwell Arms team launched their solution – an ordering service providing fresh produce and delicious ready-made meals to customers across the South London area.

The recipe for success

The service started small, with just one team member on a bike delivering fresh ingredients and takeaway dinners to hungry customers in the local community. But as word spread, the demand for Camberwell Arm’s delivery service grew fast – and it soon became too much of a task for one man and his bike alone.
So the team turned to Mercedes-Benz Vans dealership Rygor Commercials, whose new loan scheme offered the perfect solution.

“When the Coronavirus pandemic reached a peak, we really wanted to do something to help small, independent businesses, who were trying to adapt their business models to get through these challenging times,” says Mercedes-Benz Vans UK brand marketing manager Rebekah Barclay. “The loan scheme was an application process for independent businesses with less than 20 employees, who if approved, could utilise a Mercedes-Benz van for three months to adapt their current business model, to help them through this challenging time.”

For James and the Camberwell Arms team, their new Vito van has been a game changer, allowing them to pivot to an adapted business model and make deliveries far more efficient. So much so, in fact, that they plan to continue to run their mobile grocery shop alongside the restaurant as it re-opens according to COVID-19 guidelines. “Not only have we really enjoyed running this part of the business, we have seen the positive impact it has on people,” says James.

“What’s more, the future is still very uncertain, and this business model offers us flexibility, which has never been so important.”

  

The Team

The Camberwell Arms team deliver fresh produce and ready-made meals directly to customers’ doors.

The Commitment

Their commitment to quality ingredients has seen the Camberwell Arms voted #1 in the Guardian’s line up of 50 best Sunday Lunches.

The Passion

The team’s passion for top-quality produce has gained them a loyal customer following.

The Choice

Although their doors have now re-opened, customers now have the choice between dining in or having their food delivered.

The Determination

When lockdown struck, the team were determined not to let their fresh ingredients go to waste – or their customers go hungry.

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