In Conversation With Dave Olejnik, Founder – Laynes and Sarto

The COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to lift, and as a result, Leeds cafes and restaurants are starting to reopen. Great news for everyone, but the reopening is not without challenges.

This morning, I had the pleasure of chatting with Dave Olejnik about how he and his teams at Laynes and Sarto have coped through the pandemic, and what they are doing now to emerge stronger. 

Looking back to March 

Talk began by looking back to March. I asked what impact the sudden lockdown had had on both the businesses. Dave told me that the lockdown came just as Sarto, which opened in late 2019, was starting to pick up pace. He told me “We were going for it full pelt when everything was stopped in its tracks”. The same was true for Laynes, which has been a go-to café for people in Leeds for almost a decade. Every day people would stop by on their morning commute, grab a bite to eat at lunch, or take a break on the way to the train station after work. But in March, Dave said that he and his teams at Laynes and Sarto had to stop, “look out and work out what the heck we were going to do”.

Like so many other restaurants and cafes, socialising is at the core of Laynes and Sarto. This, Dave explained, is what makes the hospitality sector so important – “There is no chance that a robot is going to take that work away”. Which in normal times is a great thing. But, in the new normal, where social distancing is mandated, the inability to go digital has resulted in challenges. So, Dave told me that to survive, he and his team had to “reposition both businesses, with less than a week to go from 100% to zero, which was a shock to the system for everyone”. At the start of the lockdown, both businesses closed their doors, and took stock. Dave was hearing from friends in Europe about what they were facing, and he considered what might work for Laynes and Sarto. 

Laynes click and collect 

The first change that occurred was opening a click and collect ‘mini market’ in Laynes. This idea, Dave explained, had been brewing for years after a similar establishment, Beeno’s, which was “like a precursor to Whole Foods”, had closed. The Laynes team had the market up and running in days, and it offered a range of baked goods, store cupboard essentials and coffee.

Whilst it wasn’t easy, Dave said that it “kept the business going for the first couple of weeks” and that he was grateful for the support that they received from the Leeds community. He also explained that it was important that Laynes was able to keep supporting their suppliers, who also needed work. Whilst the click and collect market is still open, Dave explained that after a few weeks of huge demand, the queues started to die down as supermarkets were able to take over.

Normality is returning, slowly 

Next we discussed what Laynes and Sarto are doing now that restrictions are being eased. Dave said that Laynes is “now back to being a kitchen, offering all the Laynes classics, like sweetcorn fritters”. Whilst the café is only open as a takeaway (and a delivery service via Deliveroo), Dave explained that they are “constantly assessing and are hoping to open again to customers at some point”. In the meantime, people can head to Laynes to satisfy any and all food cravings, right from an early breakfast of homemade granola to a late afternoon sweet treat from Porterhouse Bakery. 

For Sarto, things are even more exciting. As the restaurant is bigger than Laynes, with space over one floor, the restaurant was able to plan for reopening on July 4th. Dave explained that whilst there is seating for 90 people, to abide by the government guidelines, the team have rearranged and there is now seating for 30, with more space than the recommended 1 metre between tables. Importantly for Dave and his team, this extra space means that every customer can enjoy their dining experience, “without the restaurant feeling sterile or plastic coated”. As a Mediterranean inspired restaurant, Dave said that it has always been important that Sarto has a relaxed feel that gives people the opportunity to “get away from the world”.

Sarto interior

In addition to the 30 covers inside the restaurant (which can be pre-booked), Dave explained that the team have also set up a lot of outside seating, which people don’t necessarily need to book. The outside area was “on the cards for ages anyway, as it offers extra covers and gives the holiday feel that is central to Sarto”. Now, the outside area (weather dependent) offers “a great space to enjoy a couple of drinks on a long summer evening

Moving forward 

Finally, we chatted about the future. This is something that no one can be sure about right now, and as Dave said, “Who knows what will happen, but we have a lot of optimism, which is really the last thing left when everything else has been taken away”. When chatting to Dave I did get the feeling that things are looking up for Laynes and Sarto. Both businesses are returning to some sort of normality. As things progress, Dave is only able to plan to get through week by week, and in Dave’s view, it’s important to just “get up and have a go”. 

Laynes

Throughout the pandemic, Dave has been chatting to owners and managers of many other restaurants, and everyone is in the same boat. The businesses have all kept in touch throughout the pandemic via a ‘Facebook group (which Dave set up) for Leeds cafes: “giving everyone the opportunity to discuss ideas and share grant opportunities and discuss regulations”  and also via a range of WhatsApp groups which have kept Leeds business owners, big and small, in touch.  These communication channels are central to the Leeds hospitality scene and will help to ensure that every business has the opportunity to build back stronger. 

How can you support Laynes and Sarto?

Sarto is open for business (almost as normal). You can go online and book a table. You can also stop by without booking as you might be able to sit outside and enjoy a couple of drinks and some antipasti. You can head to Laynes to order a range of takeaway dishes from the classic Laynes menu. They have launched a few new drinks for summer, like an iced coffee, which has been bottled so you can even enjoy it at home.

Dave Olejnik. Photograph by Ben Bentley.

Both businesses are also on Deliveroo, so you could always order breakfast from Laynes and dinner from Sarto and enjoy them from the comfort of your sofa! The Laynes click and collect shop is still open and is doing home delivery via Deliveroo, so you can continue to support Laynes in that way (a great way to avoid huge supermarket queues!). 

Laynes is open 7 days a week for takeaway.

Laynes webshop is available https://www.laynesespresso.co.uk/  

Laynes on Deliveroo – https://deliveroo.co.uk/menu/leeds/leeds-city-centre/laynes-espresso 

Please visit the Sarto website for more information.

Photographs provided by Chapter 81. Feature photograph shows Laynes interior.

Leeds Living