Back home, Sean rewarded himself with a much-needed summer of rest and parties. Then, ready to re-enter the local scene with a fresh perspective, he set out to look for new investment opportunities, while rising to further prominence through local TV show Gourmet Today.
Then, after a few initial hiccoughs that Sean chooses to see as learning curves, it looked as though something good was finally on the horizon. “I did have some letdowns where plans just fell through after long discussions with investors,” he says. “But my passion and perseverance kept me going and looking for the right path and people.”
Things took off after his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Ira Losco, introduced him to leading local businessman Winston Zahra, who connected him with the partners who would eventually help Sean set up Crust Bistro & Bar.
Born and bred in St Julian’s, Sean was very excited to land a prime property in the location, but quickly realised that his original plan of opening a sandwich shop for breakfast, brunch and lunch was not feasible, given the large size of the property and the work that went into demolishing and converting it.
Starting out as a deli bakery, Sean soon had to reinvent the concept, menu and space once again to turn it into a bakery, bar and bistro that would work. “I had a lot of pressure to create something that both made sense and kept me interested,” he admits. Luckily, the new concept was well received, and Crust’s reputation grew. Just as things were finally picking up and Sean was feeling more settled with staff, the pandemic hit.
“COVID was such a big blow. My brain went into overdrive and it was a real rollercoaster ride, not least because of the financial burden. Like many other restaurants, we had to take another loan to make sure we could pay our suppliers and avoid losing anyone through redundancy, and thankfully, we didn’t.”
Yet, in the difficult time that characterised the lockdown period, Sean learnt to take the good with the bad, and used the time to set up deliveries and takeaways, create new concepts for events, and utilise space that was being wasted. All the changes made then have since stuck, improving Crust for the better to the point that Sean is almost grateful for the pandemic, in spite of the hardship it brought about.
Reflecting on what lies ahead, Sean notes that things are not looking very good for the food and hospitality sector, what with the continuous increase in product prices and the volatile situation in Ukraine – a major wheat supplier.
Nevertheless, Sean carries on and busies himself with optimistic plans for the future, ranging from a new breakfast menu to possible ideas for Restaurant ‘number two’. No matter the uncertainty that is waging on around us, there is probably as much comfort in looking ahead with hope as there is in good food itself. In Sean’s own words, “Hope is the very last thing to go.”
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