Littlehampton café celebrates first birthday after surviving year of Covid

In terms of opening a café, you probably could not pick a worse time to launch it than two weeks before the nation was plunged into its first lockdown, closing all but essential services.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 1:58 pm

But for Christine Coe, who started Rita’s Café in Littlehampton on March 7 last year, that is exactly what was served up to her.

The 52-year-old, who runs the business in Rope Walk with her daughter Ellie Kilhams-Coe, 29, has reflected on their turbulent first year as the café marked its first birthday last week.

Having left a managerial position with the NHS to start the eatery, she said there had been many a sleepless night, but believes if they can survive this year they can survive anything.

Café owner Christine Coe with Ellie Kilhams-Coe at Rita's Café i

“I have had moments where I wished I could just walk away, for sure,” she said. “Sometimes, I wished that I hadn’t left my job with the NHS. They were amazing, and said I could come back for a bit if I needed to, but this is a family business, so I’m in it for the long haul.

“It was incredibly stressful, and I did have sleepless nights, because I work with my daughter and she left her job to do this, so she and her family are relying on the business working.

I felt really responsible, but there have been good times that have kept us going.” 
The family’s tricky predicament was compounded by Christine’s partner Heath Tizzard’s business also being hit hard. He runs a camper-van-conversion company just down the road from the café and his trade dried up almost overnight.

But with the help of Government grants, both have managed to weather the Covid storm so far – and are cautiously optimistic for brighter days ahead as we start the road out of lockdown.

Speaking of the roadmap, she said: ““I think it is a good thing. It’s good to have things in place, but I don’t want it to be rushed. I would rather sit it out a bit longer than have to go through it all again where we are open then closed again. If we have a date we can work towards, that’s really helpful.”

Christine grew up in Littlehampton, so knew the area well, but was living in Worthing when she saw the lease to the café was available. She said she faniced a change and decided to ‘go for it’. She moved back to the town last summer.

“My first job was working in a café in Arundel, so I feel like I have come full circle.,” she said. “We knew the café anyway, and when we saw it was vacant, I just threw it out there that I might like to do it and then I took the plunge.”

And she said it is the people of the town that have kept her going: “We have some really loyal customers that keep coming back, whatever the situation is at that moment, and that has kept us going.

“Because we are financially commited, we can’t just walk away and we don’t want to. The people have been amazing and we are really grateful.”

Not only was there a loss of trade due to the virus, but Christine had to invest in making her business work as a takeaway. They bought an ice cream machine, extra freezers, and had to spend on things like takeaway cups and boxes and covid signage, which ‘all adds up’, she said.

But there were good points in the year: “We had a really amazing summer. It was very stop start, but it was nice for people to be supporting us.”

Rita’s Café, named after her grandmother, remains open for takeaway and hopes to open fully again this summer.