Bill on the return of Bill’s restaurants: ‘Our customers have supported us through thick and thin’
We speak to Bill of Bill’s restaurants as the Sussex business prepares to reopen this weekend.
Bill Collison talks to us from his restaurant in Lewes, where it all began.
He says these extraordinary times have taken him back to another moment of crisis, when his small greengrocer was wiped out by a flood in October 2000.
“It’s taken me back 20 years,” he said, “It’s nowhere near as serious but when Lewes was flooded we lost our house, it enabled us to start again and make more space.”
Without that adversity, he says, Bill’s may never have become what it is today.
And the coronavirus pandemic has also prompted a reinvigoration of the business.
Bill said, “It gave us an opportunity to repaint and give it a bit of love. I can’t wait to make something positive out of the negative that’s gone on.
“I’m very confident and excited, but also nervous.”
On Saturday (July 4), Bill’s will be opening its restaurant in Lewes, with plans to reopen soon in Eastbourne, Brighton, Horsham, and Chichester.
He said, “We are only opening six Bill’s at the moment because we want to do it properly. We are going to do our best.
“All of us are working flat out to get this business back to where it was and improve it.”
There will be new safety measures in place – such as one-metre distancing and customers and staff being temperature-checked on arrival.
“It’s just to give people that comfort of knowing we are making an effort,” said Bill, “That’s a major thing.
“We had to try and protect everyone and make sure the business gets back to normal as quickly as we can, while following government guidelines.
“Bill’s is all about the experience, the look and feel of things. It’s hard to do that without taking that away.
“I have tried not to put plastic screens everywhere, but give people privacy with more plants, vegetable plants.
“It’s keeping to the guidelines but making it slightly different and still exciting and giving that ‘wow’, that type of area you want to take a picture of because it looks fun.”
Bill’s started out as a small greengrocery, where what he didn’t sell he would turn into soup, quiches, or pies.
Eventually that evolved into a cafe, then restaurant, then a whole chain of restaurants across Sussex and beyond.
But Sussex, and particularly Lewes, is where Bill’s heart is.
He said, “In adversity our local customers have supported us through thick and thin. Sussex is the most wonderful place. It’s got the Downs, it’s got the sea, it’s got the hills and the forest.”
The born and bred Lewesian, who now lives in a village just outside the town, said, “I’m proud of Lewes, it’s in my blood. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I want people to know how much I care for this business and this town. I care for Lewes. It means so much to me.
“It’s been my whole life. I have got my three boys, my wife, and Bill’s. I’ll battle through and I’m sure we will come out of this as best as we can.”