Jack Stein, Rick Stein restaurants' chef-director – and middle son of Rick Stein – talks to Caroline Baldwin about business tactics to survive Covid and why restaurateurs should always be able to offer rooms to their guests.
Can you tell us about your new shepherd's huts, which have just opened for bookings?
We've made an investment into five shepherd's huts, which are close to the beach and run right behind our pub, the Cornish Arms in St Merryn. The whole project, including the drainage works, landscaping and build, came to about £250,000.
My mum and dad's mantra is ‘accommodation, accommodation, accommodation' – they've always said that budding restaurateurs should have rooms, because people want a lovely meal and somewhere to stay afterwards, and the margins are great on rooms and they require little upkeep.
We have just under 50 rooms around Padstow now, which has really helped with the staycation boom. It's important for anyone to remember not to run a business into the ground, keep painting and updating things. Trust me, when things look tired, people stop coming.
You've also made a step into retail.
During the lockdown we went online and did massive numbers with our at-home boxes – 10,000-12,000 a week. So we're about to launch an online fishmongers, which we would have probably done in the next three or four years, but Covid has brought that forward.
We're about to launch an online fishmongers, which we would have probably done in the next three or four years, but Covid has brought that forward
The barrier to entry was that we didn't really understand online, but we learned through Covid how to launch digital. We're working on filming content so our customers will know what to do with the fish they have bought.
Do you think Covid and the rise in staycations has changed Cornwall's tourist seasons forever?
Last year, September eclipsed August 2019 and, had it not been for further restrictions, October 2020 was on course to be similar to September. So even though we have restaurants closed in August, I see us making more money in September and October than we've ever made.
The shepherd's huts also offer a different proposition – they're for couples who will be taking advantage of the shoulder seasons of May, June, September and October. We're seeing a lot of young professionals in Cornwall who would normally go on holiday to the Med. Hopefully they'll come back now they realise a holiday doesn't always have to mean sitting by a pool in 30-degree heat.
What's the biggest challenge you're facing right now?
The real struggle is filling our vacant roles and having to ask a lot of our existing staff to cover for them. We've had adverts for senior chefs and managers since the pandemic was in full swing. And we've even had to close one of our restaurants – my favourite in Padstow, Middle Street Café – until September, because we need the staff that we do have in the fish and chip shop. It's a shame, because the café is really good for teaching young chefs and front of house. My personal view is that the pandemic is masking a lot of what would have happened to our industry because of Brexit.
If you had five minutes with Boris Johnson, what would you ask?
A minister for hospitality, for which the industry has been lobbying. Hospitality provides a huge contribution to the Exchequer, and we deserve to have someone talking about the big issues facing restaurants and suppliers.
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