There’s no denying COVID-19 forever changed the hospitality industry. Across the globe, restaurants, hotels, and event venues found themselves felled by the wildfire-like spread of the pandemic. In the United Kingdom alone, nearly one tenth of all restaurants closed their doors for good between 2020 and 2022, with many citing pandemic-related troubles as the cause. But where many hospitality entrepreneurs and businesses buckled under the weight of the pandemic, Ryan Bishti and his company, Cream Group, managed to tackle COVID-19 with grace. As it turns out, Bishti unwittingly pandemic-proofed his business long before the first case of COVID.
“It didn’t phase me that much and I knew we were going to come out of it OK,” admits Bishti. “We had structured the group in such a way that the ship couldn’t sink and if one component was going down, then it would go down alone and it wouldn’t cause a chain reaction, which some of the bigger groups, unfortunately, fell prey to.”
Indeed, Bishti is no stranger to navigating the difficulties of the entertainment and hospitality industry. Over nearly 20 years, he’s developed an extensive business portfolio in the field, through a recession and changing economies. His 12 ventures range from fine dining to entertainment venues. The diversity of Cream Group’s portfolio helped insulate him from disaster, he says.
“It’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket,” Ryan Bishti explains. “When you have all your attention and time invested in one business, it’s too easy to create a domino effect.”
He says a lesson from his childhood has also served him well through tough times. When his dad, blues musician Otis Grand, would return home late from his gigs, Bishti played the most important bandmate of all: accountant. Shrewdness became second nature.
“He used to come back and give me all the money from his gig.” recalls Ryan Bishti. “He used to make me count it out. Then he used to make me count out the bits for the drummer, the sax man, the singer.”
He’d soon be counting out the bits for his own employees. In 2009, Bishti swung open the doors to London hot spot Cirque Le Soir, which quickly attracted the likes of Rihanna and royalty like Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. He’s counted well.
“Cirque as a stand-alone business … it’s been there for 12 years and it’s still consistently the highest grossing and most profitable business in the group. And it’s opened across the globe and done events across the globe and it’s internationally renowned. And yeah. And it’s still going from strength to strength.”
In 2016, he’d reach another milestone by opening his first eatery, Restaurant Ours.
In July 2021, Bishti opened a new London hot spot, The Windmill Soho, during the height of the pandemic. And if Bishti has his way, The Windmill Soho and his other properties will enjoy the same staying power as Cirque Le Soir.
What advice does he have for budding pandemic-era hospitality entrepreneurs who dream of following in his footsteps?
“In the case of a smaller business portfolio, it’s not about trying to open new venues or expanding. COVID-19 taught us that we needed to adapt with the times,” says Bishti. “Being willing to change, that’s critical to pandemic-proofing your business. You have to look at enhancing and tailoring your business to the realities of COVID-19.” He noted many businesses that turned to takeaway and outdoor seating options found more security in the changing COVID-19 economy.
Adaptability is also top of mind at The Cream Group. “We had to challenge our beliefs of what our businesses could be in the world of COVID.” The group kept an eye on government requirements, adapting to mask mandates and vaccination requirements as they came along.
Keeping it fun for the consumers is also key, advises Bishti. Even if that looks a lot different now than it did pre-2020.
“I’ve always wanted to give people a good time.” Bishti acknowledges. “With COVID, doing that may have gotten harder, but it became even more important.” The dedication to giving clients what they were looking for, even amid a pandemic, was central to The Cream Group’s success during COVID. Adds Bishti: “Hospitality is about people. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned, it’s that people want connections, especially after the disconnection COVID brought to the world.”