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The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Interview – David Sharland & Rupert Wilson

30 November 2011 by
The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Interview – David Sharland & Rupert Wilson

The Seafood Restaurant empire in Padstow, Cornwall, now comprises six restaurants, a pub, cookery school, delicatessen, patisserie, gift shop and 40 bedrooms. David Sharland and Rupert Wilson, who have taken over the day-to-day operation of the business from Rick and Jill Stein, tell Janet Harmer how they have stepped out of the shadows of their famous employers

Can you explain your roles at the Seafood Restaurant?David Sharland: I look after the restaurant kitchens and production areas, as well as the front-of-house service.

Rupert Wilson: And it's my job to oversee the bedrooms, the retail outlets, cookery school, all sales and marketing and any new projects. The two of us are key to the operation of the business, but behind the scenes there's a third person who is essential in running the Seafood Restaurant - Neil McCloud, the finance director, who looks after the accounts, IT and logistics. All three of us sit with the board of directors to discuss future plans.

How do you support one another?DS: Rupert is more of an entrepreneur and better at strategy. I tend to be the one who relates the ideas to the staff and get on with things. It's a good working balance.

Are Rick and Jill still involved in the Seafood Restaurant?DS: They are both in daily contact, whether it is via the telephone, email or face-to-face. Since Rupert and I came on board they have been able to take a step back from the day-to-day activities. But they are still very involved - Rick meets up with the chefs, gets involved in tastings and samples meals when he is here. Jill is here most of the time and oversees all the interior designs. [Rick spends much of his time in Australia where he has a home with his second wife, Sarah, following his divorce from Jill in 2008].

RW: Rick and Jill are the entrepreneurs of the restaurant, we are the operators. They know us well and are happy to allow us to get on with it - I've been here for 10 years, David for six years and Neil for four years. Neil, David and I meet on a weekly basis - we get together with Rick and Jill every four to six weeks, to review how the business is going and discuss new projects.

The expectations of people eating and staying within any part of the Seafood Restaurant group are massively high. How do you, as the operators, ensure these expectations are met?RW: Our key job is to employ nice people with a passion for the industry and then give them the skills and knowledge to do a good job. I think we get it right most of the time, but people are brutally honest with us if we don't because of the name above the door.

DS: In the past we have been a victim of our own success. When we lost a few points in the Good Food Guide, we took it very hard. With 190 people regularly coming through the door at the Seafood Restaurant, the service was not good enough. We took that criticism very seriously and now monitor all feedback we get closely.

How do you ensure staff maintain the success of the business?DS: One of the first things I noticed when I arrived here was that different elements of the business operated separately from one another. The chefs in the kitchen at the Seafood Restaurant never spoke to the chefs at St Petroc's. As a result, I encourage the staff to liaise more with one another and we now have a daily chef's meeting so everyone knows what everyone else is doing, particularly regarding purchasing.

One of the problems with training has been the difficulty of staff reaching the local colleges. So for chefs we've introduced an apprenticeship scheme, which has seen 48 of them graduating over the past four years. We select 12 chefs for the programme each year and they work toward an NVQ level 3 during the one year programme. All the training is done in-house in Padstow with assessors coming to us from Truro College.

We've also introduced an aspiring managers' course which aims to support staff coming through the business who are looking to move into managerial roles.

Where do your staff come from?DS: Around 50% of our staff are local. With a total of 360 staff during the winter and 430 staff during the summer, it is important that we work closely with nearby schools. We are currently working with the sixth form at Bodmin School to create a pop-up kitchen, in which pupils will be taught different elements of cooking and service.

We do also have to bring in staff from outside and as a result we've invested £1m in staff accommodation for 30 people.

Just how busy does the business get during the summer?DS: Phenomenally so. Stein's Fish & Chips will sell 900 portions of cod, two and a half tonnes of chips and 30 kilos of mushy peas daily. And we've served a record number of 207 covers at lunch in the Seafood Restaurant.

How does the management of the various elements of the business operate?RW: We engage the managers of the different sites to run the business as their own. They've got the mechanism and support of a logistical team behind them, but they take the day-to-day decisions. For instance, Ross Geach, head chef of Rick Stein's Café, suggested opening up for breakfast, which has helped to push the business forward considerably.

How have you personally helped move the Seafood Restaurant forward?DS: A significant initiative has been the opening of a warehouse and production unit in an industrial area on the outskirts of Padstow, which have increased our buying power and made us more efficient. We suggested it and Rick and Jill gave us the go ahead. Costing around £100,000 to set up, the warehouse is a huge space which allows us to hold large quantities of stock - around £300,000 worth at a time.

Previously the different outlets were being charged different prices for supplies - the warehouse now allows us to get much better prices and, as a result, we are making savings of around £200,000 a year.

We have eight staff working in the production kitchen producing everything from stocks and sauces to mushy peas. The unit doesn't make money - it breaks even, but what is important is that it gives us consistency of quality throughout our outlets.

The efficiencies created by the warehouse and production unit has helped the company win the 2011 West of England Business of the Year Award, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and just last week, we were named Business of the Year in the 2011 Western Morning News Business Awards.

The business has now moved beyond Padstow with the opening last year of Rick Stein's Seafood Bar and Rick Stein's Fish & Chips in Falmouth. How successful have they been?DS: It has been more difficult than we thought it would be, primarily because although Falmouth is only 38 miles from Padstow, it can take two hours to get there. That's Cornish roads for you!

We definitely should have been there more often at the start. We've now brought in Ian Fitzgerald as restaurant operations manager to look after the outlets in Padstow to free us up to get down to Falmouth more often. The business they have been doing has been good, we just need to support them more operationally. It has been a learning curve and Ian will be helpful if we decided to open restaurants in other locations as he was at one time involved in rolling out the Brazz brand.

How well has the Seafood Restaurant ridden the economic downturn?RW: The impact for us has been positive as we have benefited from the staycation trend. We've also been helped by the opening of some quality operations in the area, such as the Scarlet hotel and Paul Ainsworth's and Nathan Outlaw's restaurants. Alongside ourselves, they help attract more people to Cornwall. This, together with the fact that Cornwall is regarded as the best brand in UK tourism and Rick's presence on the TV and writing books, has worked in our favour.

Tell us about the plans to open a development kitchen?DS: It won't be a kitchen for experimenting with new dishes, but rather somewhere where we can try out new supplies and look at how we might be able to incorporate them into our menus. The Stein's middle son, Jack, will be overseeing the kitchen. Neither of the other two sons are involved in the business - Edward, the eldest is a sculptor in Hampshire, while Charlie works for The Vintner wine merchant in London.


David Sharland (right) and Rupert Wilson
David Sharland (right) and Rupert Wilson
DAVID SHARLAND (right) After studying at Exeter Catering College, Sharland spent most of his early career in London, working his way through the kitchens of the Hyde Park hotel (now Mandarin Oriental), the Park Lane hotel and the Savoy. He moved out of London to open the Vineyard at Stockcross, near Newbury, in 1998 before returning to the capital to work in succession at the Harrington hotel, Atlantic Bar & Grill and Harvey Nichols. Sharland joined the Seafood Restaurant in 2006.

RUPERT WILSON (left) Following his graduation with a degree in hotel and catering management from Manchester Metropolitan University, Wilson went on to work at the Lincoln restaurant in the city and then the Royal County hotel in Durham. He later joined Malmaison hotels, initially as food and beverage manager at the group's property in Manchester and then as operations manager in Edinburgh. Wilson arrived at the Seafood Restaurant in 2002.


THE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT - THE EMPIREwww.rickstein.comAnnual turnover: £15.4m
Total number of covers per annum: 400,000
Staff: 430 in summer, 360 in winter
Annual wage bill: £6.7m

PADSTOWThe Seafood Restaurant: 120 seats and 16 bedrooms
St Petroc's Hotel and Bistro: 50 seats and 10 bedrooms
Rick Steins' Café: 32 seats and three bedrooms
Stein's Fish & Chips: 40 seats
St Edmunds House: six bedrooms
Prospect House: four bedrooms
Bryn Cottage: one bedroom cottage
Padstow Seafood SchoolStein's Deli, Stein's Patisserie & Stein's Gift ShopThe Cornish Arms (in St Merryn): 60 seats inside, 80 outside

FALMOUTHRick Stein's Seafood Bar: 98 seats
Rick Stein's Fish & Chips: 37 seats

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