Cornwall’s most famous chef Rick Stein has revealed he ‘nearly lost his whole business’ amid the Covid pandemic last year.
The chef and TV presenter, who runs his restaurant empire from Padstow and employed 600 people at the time, admitted he was on the brink 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 with a combination of the Government’s generous furlough money for his staff 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 boxes, which have been immensely 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.
The business has already reported 30,000 bookings at its 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.’
The chef also spoke out 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.’
Cornwall’s most famous chef Rick Stein 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
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, Winchester and Falmouth.
Since then has launched a bistro, cafe, fish and chip shop, bar, fishmongers and cookery school in the seaside town.
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 family’s empire has been buoyed by furlough and the success of the Stein’s At Home seafood meal boxes
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.’