BRUSSELS (Brussels Morning) – A day after the death of Rudy Van Lancker, the owner of the well-known restaurant Chez Léon, there is a lot of sadness in the Ilot Sacré, near the Beenhouwersstraat. Colleagues and local residents are shocked and sad. Many refer to the strong impact of the corona crisis on the Brussels catering industry.
Walking through the touristic Ilot Sacré you can hear the name Chez Léon several times on Thursday. Several passers-by pause in front of the mussel restaurant’s window to briefly pay their respects. Some restaurant owners also stop by. Some of them have been established in the area for decades, such as Achmed, age 61.
His restaurant, The Lobster House, is two doors down and has been around for over 30 years. “I was quite upset yesterday. It was a shock. When I heard the news I thought ‘damn, isn’t it Rudy?’.”
The reason for the death – Van Lancker opted for suicide – is unknown, but there is much speculation in the restaurant area. A lot of people refer to the corona crisis and the heavy impact on the catering industry. Working from home and the lower number of international tourists still have an impact. Federation Horeca Brussel is familiar with the issue and lobbies the government for psychological support for catering entrepreneurs.
“I used to have 8 employees, now I only have two,” says Achmed. “You have to do what you can to cling to the positive. Because otherwise you won’t make it. For me that is my family. I am 61 years old and I am starting to slow down. I’ve been doing this for 35 years, but I would never leave this to my kids. It’s too stressful, this business can destroy you. I love this job, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve also had nights where I’ve barely slept two hours because of all that worry.”
Chris from restaurant Shanghai is also still feeling the consequences of the corona crisis. “This is really a tourist spot. We don’t get that many customers from Brussels itself. The flow of tourists from Asia, from Spain and all those other countries just isn’t there anymore.”
Live from day to day
The owner Kevin of Brasserie Arcadi said, “I didn’t know Rudy personally, but as a restaurant owner I feel sorry for him. I recognise the situation, because we are all having a hard time. What you see on the news cannot be compared to reality. You have to be here every day to really feel it.”
“We laugh a little about it sometimes,” Kevin continues. “Then I talk to the owner of the restaurant across from us and we ask each other ‘and how much loss did you make today?’ It’s not funny, but it helps, you are in the same industry. You can rely on each other a bit. For example, when I now have customers, I sometimes point them to the businesses across the street, and the same happens the other way around. You help each other a little, learn to rely on each other.”
The catering operators we speak to look at it from day to day. They are not so sure about the future. “I don’t think it will ever go back to the old days,” Kevin says. “But we’re still here. And I don’t plan to leave either.”