Minute on the Clock – Stephen Bournes

20 April 2012
Minute on the Clock – Stephen Bournes

Stephen Bournes has doubled turnover at Southwold Pier since he bought it six years ago. He talks to Andy Morton about the recent refit of the pier's Boardwalk restaurant and why dogs don't visit during storms

What prompted the restaurant refit?
It's something we've wanted to do for the past few years. Nine months ago, we got a new head chef, Richard Knights, who was previously at the Lavender House in Norwich. Part of our deal was to redo the restaurant.

We refurbished the kitchen last spring, so it was the restaurant's turn next. Autumn, winter and spring, we still have seats to fill, so it should make a difference there.

We have four retail outlets, three eateries and two amusement arcades - the restaurant is the biggest earner of all the units and is proving to be a real success.

Do customers come to the restaurant expecting fish, chips and hot dogs?
People don't expect such quality from a pier. We've always maintained that this is not your average pier experience. There are no kiss-me-quick hats or candy floss here. Our retail shop stocks Bill Brown bags.

Are overheads higher than for other restaurants?
Our overheads are enormous. Sea air, damp, wind direction; they all affect the structure.

In November 2009, the waves crashing underneath the pier were lifting the restaurant floor and badly damaged the bar. We were closed for a short time and had to refit and renew the flooring.

Piers are also known for burning down in fires, sometimes traced back to kitchens. Is that a danger?
Sadly piers do burn down, often the result of bad wiring, irregular PAT [portable appliance testing] or fryers being left on.

I researched a £10,000 fire system but no one is here at 1am to operate it so it would be pointless. So I had my electrician install a simple time switch on all the cooking kit set for an hour after last service - it's almost foolproof and was very low in cost.

It can get quite stormy out in Southwold.
Storms are great and we encourage safe viewing of wild ones. When it's rough, some dogs will not walk over the water. Dry stores are all upstairs and food being moved from unit to unit is covered. It's only the staff who get wet.

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