FOTE 2020 – Live Sessions June/July 2020 – Week 7: Gunnar Karl Gislason (Dill)

Week 7: Gunnar Karl Gislason (Dill) 24th June 2020

Gunnar Karl Gíslason

Insights on Embracing Change During a Pandemic

After a month’s break, the first ‘FOTE Speaks’ session in June was a conversation between JP and Gunnar Karl Gislason in Iceland. Prior to Covid-19, his restaurant, Dill was booked three months in advance with 80-90% of his clientele being tourists. Like Aniar restaurant in Galway, Dill was dependent on American tourists. Reopening for him was ‘amazing’. Not unlike Niklas Ekstedt’s experience on reopening, he too was surprised and delighted by the support from locals. Their patronage was such that he ended up only printing Icelandic menus. Now he also has tourists from the Nordic countries. With the requirement for 2 m social distancing, he has decided that his opening plan will be a gradual rollout of tables over a fixed selection of days. In total his usual covers per night will be reduced from 50 to 35. While Iceland has a very small population (350,000) he is hopeful and optimistic about business at this time, though he is very aware that ‘it could be a hard fall in the fall’! To get through it, for him, it’ s about controlling costs and keeping his team small. JP agreed that it’s about survival to next March or April and that the model that comes from this, needs to be the model used going forward to minimise risk and remain viable.

An interesting element of their conversation was a comparative analysis of the role of location in implementing change. Comparing his experience in the restaurant in New York (where Gunnar worked until last summer), with that of cooking in Iceland, he appreciates the advantages of cooking for a smaller population. In this environment, he has found that change and new ideas are easier to enforce and there is greater efficiency in getting things done. Similarly, JP concurred with this comparison and suggested that running a restaurant in a small or large town enables the chef to take more risks, whereas change in large cities like New York or Dublin may take longer and becomes more of a statement.

Getting a restaurant back up and running in a pandemic is about embracing change from the ‘deep end’! Based on what the chefs discussed in this session could it be that chefs running food businesses in smaller communities have a greater advantage at adapting to this change?