Wahaca CEO Mark Selby has told MCA that without a nine-month rent and interest moratorium on commercial property, many operators will be unable to start up again when lockdown comes to an end.

Since its estate-wide closure on 23 March, the business has put 95% of its staff on furlough – retaining a core team to carry out statutory duties – and is in the process of engaging with banks about obtaining a support package, but Selby said it has not yet got everything it needs.

“We need a nine-month national rent-free period, that’s what it’s going to take,” he said. “Given that our sites might be closed for three to six months followed by a slow recovery, it’s going to cripple hospitality businesses if we have to pay out rent and service charge on top of that.”

He said that some of Wahaca’s landlords, including Shaftesbury, had been “incredibly understanding” in granting the business a three-month rent holiday open to extension, but that an extended moratorium was needed to protect operators and landlords alike.

“Every operator I’ve spoken to has said that they can’t pay all their rents because otherwise they will not be able to start up again,” he said.

“We’re pretty confident the Government will come to the aid of both us and the landlords, they’re making all of the right noises.”

In the meantime, Selby said the business was looking at ways to support local communities and the NHS where it can.

On top of its ‘Wahaca at Home’ online platform, it is considering the operational possibilities of three potential initiatives.

“We need to work out who can help and where they are, and then we’ll look at what initiatives will work best in what areas,” he said. “That might be opening one of our sites to serve frontline workers, putting the Wahaca van in an NHS hospital, or working with the ‘Chefs in Schools’ scheme, which helps feed kids who rely on school for their daily meal.”

“Although the big push right now is getting the Government to think about that nine-month national rent-free period.”

“Cashflow is a nightmare at the moment so unfortunately we can’t just give, we need to work out the finances.”