Cornwall’s most famous chef Rick Stein has revealed he ‘nearly lost his whole business’ during the Covid pandemic.
The chef and TV presenter, who runs his restaurant empire from Padstow and employed 600 people at the time, admitted he was on the verge of bankruptcy.
The 74-year-old splits his time between Australia, where he lives with second wife Sarah, and Cornwall.
In March last year, he found himself making Zoom calls back to England as the future of his restaurants hung in the balance when Boris Johnson shutdown the country.
In the end he lost two of his Cornish restaurants, in Porthleven and Falmouth, but was able to survive on a combination of the Government’s generous furlough money and the success of his Stein’s At Home food boxes.
Rick Stein (pictured during the filming of Secret France) has revealed the the Covid pandemic nearly ruined his entire business
Rick Stein and wife Sarah Burns at their home in Mollymook, Australia, in 2014
Rick Stein’s restaurant at the harbour in Porthleven, Cornwall
Rick Stein’s restaurant in Marlborough, Wiltshire
Speaking to The Times, he said: ‘It was very scary and we nearly lost the whole business.
‘And it’s certainly not just my work we’re talking about – Jill [Rick’s ex-wife and business partner] and the children have put so much into it too. Not being there was horrible.’
But in the end his businesses were buoyed by the furlough scheme, which has covered 80 per cent of workers’ salaries for much of the pandemic, and his at home cooking boxes.
The Stein’s at Home, which have been hugely popular with gourmets missing their local restaurants, are sent straight to customers’ doors and provide them with the ingredients and instructions to craft three course seafood meals.
Prices start at around £45 for his Hake Box and rise to £100 for the lobster menu.
At the start of lockdown, Rick was condemned when he shut up shop and stopped paying his staff, claiming his restaurant empire was on the brink.
The multi-millionaire chef’s managing director Ian Fitzgerald told his 600 staff: ‘It remains a challenging time for everyone as we come to terms with the implications and repercussions of the coronavirus crisis.
‘Sadly, with less customers expected in the future, it is likely that we will need to employ fewer people.
‘Ongoing discussions with the bank and our landlords have not yielded sufficient progress and therefore we are having to sadly look at the viability of a small number of operational sites which includes consulting with Porthleven, Falmouth and Marlborough.’
Fortunately, the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown means that Rick has already received 30,000 bookings for his restaurants for the summer ahead.
Rick added: ‘It would have broken my heart to lose it all. So yes, I am very grateful to be coming through it.’
Cornwall’s most famous chef Rick Stein (with his ex-wife Jill) has admitted ‘we nearly lost the whole business’ during the Covid pandemic last year
The chef and TV presenter, 74, who runs his restaurant empire from Padstow and employed 600 people at the time, was on the brink of bankruptcy
Not only are the Steins coming through it, but Rick and his 35-year-old son Charlie, are looking forward to opening a new coffee shop in the Cornish port of Padstow.
‘This lockdown really made me think about my family: do you want this business to survive? If so, you’ll have to fight for it. And all that time at home gave me an idea,’ Charlie told The Times.
Rick also spoke to the paper about the ongoing EU trade war over the shellfish ban.
With many exports of UK shellfish to the EU currently banned, Rick has been using some Cornish shellfish in the Steins At Home food boxes and also been making YouTube videos showing how to prepare lobsters, crabs, oysters and mussels.
He said: ‘It’s so frustrating. If for any reason France or Spain weren’t able to export their seafood they’d just eat it all. Here we don’t see what we have. It’s absurd. British seafood is so bloody lovely and I wish people could see that.’
The family’s empire has been buoyed by furlough and the success of the Stein’s At Home seafood meal boxes (pictured: with his ex-wife Jill in Padstow)
He’ll soon be promoting the Duchy again in a follow-up to this year’s well-received BBC series Rick Stein’s Cornwall.
He opened The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow in 1975 which operates as the flagship eatery, and he also has restaurants in Barnes, Sandbanks and Winchester.
Since then has launched a bistro, cafe, fish and chip shop, bar, fishmongers and cookery school in the seaside town.
His ex-wife Jill remains a co-owner and is an interior designer for the business, as well as being chariwoman of the tourism organisation Visit Cornwall.
The Steins’ new coffee shop is to stand at the site of their former patisserie in Padstow, nicknamed Padstein.