Rick Stein almost lost his whole restaurant empire during pandemic

Cornwall’s most famous chef Rick Stein has admitted “we nearly lost the whole business” during the Covid pandemic last year.

Rick told The Times his restaurant empire, which is run from Padstow and employed 600 people at the time, was on the brink of bankruptcy.

The 74-year-old chef and TV presenter splits his time between Australia, where he lives with second wife Sarah, and Cornwall. For the five months after Covid struck in March 2020 he found himself on desperate Zoom calls from the other side of the world as the future of his businesses hung in the balance.

He told the national newspaper: “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.”

On being in Australia for the first lockdown, Rick previously told CornwallLive: “People think I live in Australia, but I don’t. Actually my abode is Padstow. I’m there all the time. I was stuck in Australia in March during the first lockdown when all the restaurants in England closed. I thought there wasn’t much point in hurrying back as there wasn’t much to hurry back for.”

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While most of the Stein businesses survived the financial impact of the pandemic, there were two losses – his signature restaurants in Porthleven and Falmouth.

However, the family’s empire has been buoyed by the furlough and the success of the Stein’s At Home seafood meal boxes. 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 writer and TV star was interviewed by The Times as part of an article about his youngest son Charlie’s new business – Padstow-based Rick Stein Coffee Shop.

“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,” said Charlie, director of drinks across all Rick Stein restaurants.

Charlie is opening the specialist coffee shop in collaboration with Tom Sobey, from Origin coffee roasters, which is just about to move into new headquarters in Porthleven.

Rick told The Times he is partial to kopi luwak, a Malaysian coffee created from the poo of civet cats. The cats eat coffee cherries, which ferment in the intestine and the drink is made from their turds. But he also let on that he actually uses Tesco Finest coffee beans at home.

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.”

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 told CornwallLive before the screening of the first series: “For years I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world but I always return to Cornwall. The county’s famous for rugged coastlines and sweeping beaches but Cornwall has so much more to offer.

“As a child I remember the excitement of crossing into Cornwall. It was like entering an enchanted land. I want to show people what this place means to me.”

Cornwall Live