Coffee shop owner Caroline Atkinson is excited for Monday when she can serve her first sit-in customer despite opening the business 16 months ago.
She opened the Daisy Rose Coffee House in Belmont, Durham, in March last year and has managed to keep the fledgling business afloat with determination, hard work, family help and the support of her local community.
Specialising in quality coffee and home-made cakes, the shop has kept going through lengthy lockdowns and restrictions by her willingness to diversify into takeaways, deliveries, bespoke afternoon teas and treat boxes.
But for three months after Christmas, in the depth of the second wave, she stayed closed out of a commitment to keep customers and staff safe, and wept with relief when a restart grant became available at the beginning of April which will allow her to open up again on Monday.
Long hours serving takeaways and cooking biscuits, cakes and pies have been followed by sleepless nights as she worried for her cafe, which she set up after running a successful cake business.
The 43-year-old former primary school teacher told the PA news agency: “I would not recommend anybody going into business in a pandemic.
“It has been soul-destroying at times but it has also been amazing.
“We have seen the best of people and they want to invest in their local community, and coming out of lockdown, a lot of people want to support local businesses.”
Ms Atkinson enlisted the help of her husband, businessman Marc, their daughters, Megan and Martha, her parents, Pauline and Brian Nichols, and she now treats supervisor Helen Rodgers as one of her family.
She said: “The first year of any business is hard enough, but we have had to deal with all the restrictions which were necessary to keep everyone safe and it has been a real challenge.
“It has been crazy, mind-blowing, hard work, challenging, but ultimately it has taught me lessons I would never have learned.”
She remembered anxiously watching Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s TV briefings, wondering what announcements about tiers, restrictions and full lockdowns would mean.
Now she can look forward to opening to customers on Monday and welcoming them to sit down in the shop for the first time – with social distancing, track and trace and hand cleansing measures in place.
She said: “I feel nervous but I cannot wait to start doing what we have waited so long to do.”