2021 - A whole lot of emotions
We’ve reached that time again when you sit and reflect on the year that is about to end. A year when I was the most terrified in my life (more than once), the most stressful year ever but also the year when we saw the most in terms of recognition for all our hard work. Am I happy about this year? I’m writing this sitting in an Airbnb in Seville as my body finally gets to relax and I think, all in all, that it’s been a very satisfying one, but not one I would care to repeat ever again.
It’s been a tough year, but toughest right at the end. At our busiest time, Sharat lost his dad. We had a fully booked restaurant, and more delivery orders than we could manage, but Sharat had to travel to India. I took over all our commitments single-handedly, and it was unbelievably hard, but it had to be done so that Sharat could go and properly honour his dad.
If I have one regret that will stay with me, it’s that I could not go too. I think I finally understand the reason behind a funeral and all the rituals it involves. You get to share stories about the person you have all loved and admired: I wish I could have listened all the tales of that extraordinary man and been a part of it all.
Sharat’s dad is one of those incredible personalities that you read about only in stories. For reasons still not clear to me, he worked as a shepherd from a very young age. And then, when he was about ten years old one of his brothers (by then married and working) took him under his wing and started him on a lifetime in education. He worked hard, he graduated and he ended up working at a university himself. He loved his wife, he took incredible care of her and he valued family more than anything. He was also possibly the most financially disciplined person I have ever met. In his son-in-law’s words— ‘First half of my life, I had one father and the second half I have gained another. I have learnt a lot from him and I am nothing but a better person and my life is richer in everyway because of that’
More than anything for me personally, he was absolutely certain that I should marry his son. He persisted that I should be his daughter-in-law when I wasn’t sure myself. I’m so grateful that he did, and I like to think he saw something in me, had some kind of vision of what Sharat and I could achieve together. But by the time we opened our restaurant, he was battling with Parkinson’s and wasn’t able to travel: he never got to see what we built here in Reading, except through a video call.
But by then he’d also lost the power of speech, so he was never able to express his thoughts. That makes both of us especially sad. We imagined many times what he’d say if he visited us, how he’d react to certain things we’d do. He’d probably have been so frustrated by our unprofessional approach to money and business, and we laugh because we know he’d have been our biggest critic!
But we also know how proud he would have been of our success. Not being able to show him what we’ve managed to achieve, not being able to share with him all the amazing reviews from you lovely people is one of my biggest regrets. But I should stop there, because perhaps I’m writing this more for myself.
I should talk about Clay’s, instead - and all of you, because you are a part of Clay’s now, no matter what. I’m sure this year hasn’t been the easiest for all of you too. I know we keep saying thank you to you for your incredible support, like a broken record, but genuinely you are all in our thoughts. We are so appreciative, so full of love for all the help, kindness and encouragement we have had this year.
This year has been such a mixture of things - lots of fears, lots of fights and some losses but also amazing rewards in terms of recognition from huge, credible names in our industry. Every time we’ve heard of a customer who ate our delivery food in lockdown and then came to try our restaurant when it reopened it made our hearts sing. We’ve had customers come from faraway places like Cardiff and Manchester. And quite a few customers have told us that instead of staying overnight at Heathrow to catch an early flight, as they’d normally do, they’ve chosen to stay in Reading just so they could eat with us.
And we’re so glad we kept our Clay’s At Home deliveries going. It is such a delight to see people eating our food in their dining rooms or their holiday cottages, with family and friends or to pick them up on the sofa after a hard day at work. Plenty of people have told us that they have started a new tradition of eating Clay’s for Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve or even on Christmas Day.
You can’t imagine what all that means for us, that our food has found some special place in your life. That is the kind of thing that keeps us going, as much as any five star review anywhere.
At the moment we are enjoying our break in Andalusia, resting up and getting ready for the year ahead. But because we’re never completely off duty, every meal we have gives us ideas for things we could do in our restaurant - I think I have about half a dozen new dish ideas already!
We have decided to postpone our restaurant opening until the 20th January, the same day that our first delivery orders of 2022 will arrive. We’re hearing lots of stories about restaurants having to close because their staff are in isolation and we’re trying to protect ourselves from the worst of that. Until then, we hope that you stay safe and healthy and have a very Happy New Year. Nobody knows what the future holds, but we have lots of plans for 2022. Fingers crossed that some of them materialise, because we can’t wait to share them with you.