Alexander Torres, a pilot for Qatar Airways, lost his job due to COVID restrictions in the aviation industry. So, he decided to open his very own aviation-themed café.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the aviation industry due to restrictions on travel. But Qatar Airways pilot Alexander Torres, who lost his job due to COVID restrictions, has taken the opportunity to open Flight 7, an aviation-themed café in Belfast.
Ireland Before You Die caught up with Alexander on why he decided to go into the hospitality industry and his hopes for the future post-pandemic.
Originally from France, Alexander moved to Northern Ireland for work and has spent the past five years travelling all over the world as part of his job as a pilot for private jets, air ambulance, and major airlines.
Faced with redundancy in the middle of 2020, Alexander tells us all about his idea to open Flight 7 on Belfast’s Belmont Road.
A change of scenery – Doha to Belfast
Prior to COVID restrictions, Alexander was based in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which he describes as a “beautiful and vibrant city” where he had the chance to try gastronomy from many horizons.
Faced with redundancy, in 2020, he decided that with flights grounded “food was the way to go.”
He said, “The multiple lockdowns have shown that food businesses were almost always allowed to remain partially open by offering takeaways.
“A cafe is a great way to start in the food industry with reduced start-up costs compared to the ones associated with the opening of a restaurant.
“And let’s be honest we love our coffee shops here in Belfast. I went with the aviation theme because this is what I know, and this is the kind of environment I like to evolve in.”
Taking a risk – an exciting new opportunity
Starting in a new industry and launching a business will never be easy, and trying to do so amid a global pandemic comes with its own unique challenges.
Reflecting on the process, Alexander recalls, “The whole project was very carefully thought. First of all, because we were launching it in the middle of a pandemic. And also because I financially only had one shot left.
“The budget was restricted, so we had to find some very imaginative ways to accomplish many things, and learn many new skills thanks to YouTube.
“One of the greatest difficulties we faced was when all our requests to lease food catering equipment were rejected because no one was willing to lease at a business opening during the pandemic.
“But we remained positive, goal orientated and were flexible enough to go different paths.”
What to expect from Flight 7 – a unique experience
The first of its kind in Belfast, Flight 7 is an aviation-themed café, so if you are missing international travel, it may be the place to head for your morning coffee.
We asked Alexander what customers can expect on a visit to Flight 7. He said, “The decor is inspired by the way people were visualizing the future of air travel in the 50s/60s.
“You know this feeling you get once you have passed security at the airport and now you are finally seated airside waiting for your flights to your holiday’s destination? I call it the ‘Flight 7 feeling’.”
“Right now, we are serving French bakery-style food. We pride ourselves on our homemade cooking. You can also have a meal at Flight 7, enjoying a delicious sandwich made in our freshly baked bread.
“We keep rethinking our menu every day. We will soon offer proper gourmet meals inspired by airlines all around the world to our sit-in, delivery, and catering customers.”
Plans for the future – a return to air travel
With vaccines currently being rolled out across the world and the end of the pandemic coming ever closer by the day, we asked Alexander what his plans are once air travel is allowed to resume.
“Hopefully, air traffic will pick up again, and I will go back into flying. This is my passion, and I am so much looking forward to being back in the sky,” he said.
“Flight 7 will stay open with great talents taking care of it. And who knows we might see even more Flight 7 locations opening in the future.”
For now, though, Alexander, like many others, is adjusting to a slower pace of life on the ground. The past year has seen countless job losses in Ireland across many industries, so we asked Alexander if he had any words of advice for those looking to try something new.
“If you want to start something new, or just have an idea, I invite you to work on it.
“First of all, it will give you a break from the COVID-19 headlines. Believe in yourself, give it a try and if you are facing difficulties find alternatives.
“Stay focused on your goals but always be very flexible. There will be ups and downs, but this is life. And no one shall stop living because of a virus.
“Worst case scenario you can blame COVID, and be proud for having tried, and best-case scenario, you just started a great thing.”