A RESTAURANT has praised a neighbouring church for helping it seat diners at a safe distance amid the coronavirus crisis.

The Unitarian Church in New Road, Brighton, has allowed Pinocchio, an Italian restaurant, to place tables and chairs up its steps so customers can keep apart and eat outdoors.

The restaurant has been able to increase its capacity by about 50 diners and owner Mikele Addis said the church’s generosity had helped the business through a challenging time.

The Argus:

“On a nice sunny day, we can get 50 seats outside where people can maintain social distancing,” he said.

“We have ten inside, so that’s 60 seats.”

“We had to halve our capacity inside, so this has made a big difference.

“It’s really helped the restaurant through – we don’t have to make people redundant.”

Mikele said it had been hard staying shut amid the lockdown.

Restaurants across the city have had to adjust to fewer customers, high costs and a reduced capacity so diners can keep apart and minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus.

The Argus visited his mother’ Sue Addis’s restaurant Donatello, in The Lanes, as it reopened earlier this month.

She said the restaurant would be “feeling its way” as it adapted to the new rules and a tough economic climate.

“Our revenue’s not going to be anywhere like what it was,” she said. “But we’re taking lots of bookings. We also have to take customers’ names and contact details.

“We are scattering bookings so we only have a few at each time, and we’ll see what happens with walk-ins if we have space.”

Mikele said he too had been adjusting at Pinocchio.

“At first, it felt like Brighton was a ghost town,” he said. “There was nothing in trade in the evening.

“We started doing takeaways and deliveries a few weeks before restaurants could allow diners in, and our chefs had a chance to work out how we could start doing things again.

“But it was a challenge getting ready for reopening. The amount of stock we lost was incredible.

“I gave Pinocchio a deep clean every day for a month, and it was actually really satisfying.”

Much of Pinocchio’s business came from the nearby Theatre Royal and when it closed amid the pandemic, Mikele was worried.

But he said the offer of outdoor seating had been “a game changer”.

He thanked the church for the favour. He said: “We’ve been neighbours for more than 30 years and have built up a really close relationship.

“People have a lot more confidence sitting outside – and on a nice sunny day, it’s really wonderful.”

The Argus:

Ashleigh Ward, manager at the Unitarian Church, said: “The church is closed at the moment – Government guidance is that we can open but safety is a priority for us and we’re going to open later next month.

“The portico’s a beautiful space and we thought it may as well be used to help the restaurant, so I got in touch.

“I go in to the church three days a week on my own and there are loads of people enjoying themselves out there.

“People even stand back and take photos of the scene.

“It’s a lovely sound to hear from my office and it’s really nice the space is being used.

“The mentality right now is that people want to be outside, and the portico gives them a kind of hybrid feeling – they’re still outside but also under a bit of shelter.

“I’m glad we could help out.

“In this awful pandemic, it’s nice to see businesses grouping together and wanting to make things work.

“Before, it was like everyone was out for themselves.

“Now, people are trying to help each other in Brighton.

“It’s really neighbourly.”

Under lockdown, the church has been holding services online.

Ashleigh said: “It’s been surreal, but it’s pushed us in a new direction.

“We’ve been posting services on YouTube and holding virtual meet-ups and that’s something we want to continue even when we’re back.

“The response has just been fantastic.

“It’s amazing a 200-year-old church building has been able to transform like this.”

The arrangement will continue until August 24, when the church is set to reopen.