Following on from our Behind Closed Doors feature, photographer Manja Wachsmuth gathers learnings from some of our hospitality heroes

For the Open Doors Project I focussed on a group of owner-operator restaurants during December 2021 and January 2022. These were people that I knew had been greatly affected by the pandemic as they navigated the endless changes to the Covid-19 response following months of coming in and out of lockdowns. We were at the beginning of the traffic light system as the Delta wave was ending and Omicron was just discovered in the community and the uncertainty for the future was rife. Despite this, they have battled on through and found ways to pivot and change. They are part of a group of chefs whose hard work I admire and I’d love to tell their story through the lens.

This project illustrates the contrast between pain and suffering, pleasure and desire and visualises wanting something you can’t quite have or reach. During the pandemic lockdowns, the hospitality scene has taken on the role of speaking for the little man, verbalising the toll this new reality of life has had on us all.

The hospitality industry hasn’t been scared to speak out about its concern, pain and suffering. The pandemic has brought this industry to its knees, but the truth is we are all on our knees praying that this may end soon so we can all get back to work, get back to life, get back to dining out, socialising and healing.

The restaurants and chefs in this series have all experienced devastating hardship, fearing for their restaurants, their livelihoods. Some of them even had to turn the key and shut their life’s work for good, but most of them somehow managed to not only stay afloat but in some cases, pivot and succeed.

I was keen to hear how they went on after the first series, Behind Closed Doors, and see and hear for myself what they did to keep going and what advice they might have for others.