Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks has secured all jobs at his restaurants having successfully established a food delivery box business during lockdown.
Banks, who operates the Black Swan in Oldstead and Roots in York, began selling Made in Oldstead food boxes shortly after lockdown, offering two different three-course meals, with each meal serving two people.
They have been so successful, with 500 boxes sent a week, that the chef sees the service as a viable long-term business that can help fill in the shortfall in turnover created by limited restaurant covers.
Banks told The Caterer: "Many chefs are doing restaurant dishes at home, which are fantastic, but we wanted to do something that might have longevity out of the other side and to be a new business. We could see straight away there is a demand for this."
There has been such demand that Banks has partnered with stocks and sauces manufacturer True Foods, taking over part of its facility in North Yorkshire to produce the boxes.
"It's gone from strength to strength and they're really backed us and supported us," Banks said. "I'm not sure how people are able to do it out of a restaurant."
The Made in Oldstead Food Box is £75 for two full meals for two people, and a new Celebration Box includes a five-course meal for 2 people with wine for £115. Some 400 celebration boxes, including beef Wellington, were sold in the first week alone.
Banks sees the delivery boxes as an alternative to high-end supermarket ready meals, which "don't come close".
"Nothing is ever well-seasoned as they don't want that big red sticker," he added. "But there are no chemicals in our foods and it's all made out of fresh ingredients. To me, that's the most healthy way to eat. We're cooking solely based on flavour, not shelf life."
And with consumers increasingly looking local and supporting small businesses, Banks sees a future for the business beyond the current crisis.
He said: "Customers know that there's a tangible benefit – people buying our food boxes have meant we haven't had to make any redundancies. I can't thank people enough for supporting us.
"Using all the same suppliers that we use for the restaurants has been great as our volumes have actually been bigger, so we've been able to place several thousand pound orders with them. You call and say I need x amount of this, and they say ‘oh great, I'll bring someone off furlough to sort that out for you'. It's making a positive difference."
Banks sees the new service running in tandem with his restaurants when they reopen.
"This was a way to look after our staff and prevent any redundancies," he said. "With two restaurant teams we've now divided them into three and everyone has been offered a job. We now need to recruit before we open the restaurants as the food boxes are so popular.
"It has become a really positive situation. That said, the hours we're putting in have been more than at the restaurants, but we're starting a new business and you have to graft. But the knock-on has been awesome."
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