Spark of genius
Coronavirus meant that Jak and Sam of The Upton Firehouse had to completely rethink their business model, but rethink they did, and now their hard work and creative thinking is starting to pay dividends
The Kings Head hotel in Cirencester has recruited a new food and beverage manager with 20 years’ experience, including stints at several top Cotswold pubs and restaurants.
Chris Wright, who most recently worked at The Bell at Sapperton and The Five Alls at Filkins, brings his passion for service and wine knowledge to the Kings Head, as well as the adjacent MBB Brasserie and the Corn Hall Deli. The hotel menu has been revamped to include dishes such as a Goan fish curry, a classic rib-eye steak with café de Paris butter and a garden beetroot risotto. Chris says, “The Kings Head is now linked to the brasserie via a small walk-through so we are hoping that across the various spaces we have, we can create something different and unique for guests. We also have the terrace in the summer and I really want to make more of this.” www.kingshead-hotel.co.uk
The long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic was first felt at The Upton Firehouse on Mother’s Day. Trade had already started to drop off in March due to Covid-19, but the Burford barbecue and grill restaurant had to close just before what is normally one of the busiest weekends of the year for hospitality.
“We had over 500 people booked in for the Mother’s Day weekend but we had to virtually close our doors overnight because of lockdown,” says co-owner Jak Doggett, who runs the business with fellow chef Sam Edwards.
With staff furloughed throughout the closure, the pair had to set about changing the entire business model of their restaurant and plan for the future.
“Once the lockdown was announced, we had a couple of days of closing down our restaurant then all our staff were furloughed, which was a massive help. We simply would not have been able to survive without that scheme.”
Jak and Sam reopened in May, offering takeaway pizzas on Wednesdays and a barbecue takeaway on Fridays. Both proved a success, thanks to support from locals and regulars, but as lockdown gradually eased, thoughts quickly turned to how to reopen the restaurant safely for customers and staff.
New government guidelines meant the self-service, carvery-style service was the first thing to change, as well as opening times.
The buffet was the first to go due to social distancing rules and in its place there’s now a set menu and a takeaway option.
Previously only open for lunch at the weekend, the newly renamed Sam & Jak at The Firehouse has become a breakfast
and lunch restaurant, open Wednesday through to Sunday.
“Like so many businesses, we’ve had to think about how we can adapt,” says Jak. “The drop in distance from 2m to 1m+ has saved businesses like ours and we have set up our tables accordingly.
“We have one of largest restaurants in the Cotswolds and we have high ceilings and ventilation which makes social distancing much easier, but we have still reduced the amount of tables inside and moved them outside.”
The new menu includes whole rack of smoked ribs with slaw fries and barbecue sauce, Tamworth pork chop with crushed potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli and Roquefort butter, and wood-fired fish of the day with local tomato salad and crispy new potatoes. The signature Firehouse BBQ meat platter is still available, albeit as a pre-plated version rather than served carvery-style.
Jak says, “We have had to completely rethink our business model throughout the pandemic, and it’s a big step for us to open more than before but it has also given us a bit of time to revamp the restaurant a bit.
“We will now be doing a weeklychanging wood-fired barbecue menu using great local produce and take full advantage of all the great products with are smoked on site at Upton Smokery. All of our dishes will also be available for takeaway.
“We were nervous about reopening, but excited at the same time. Our staff were happy to come back after having about three months off work and we had to do extensive staff training to make sure everyone was safe while working and keeping customers safe.
“The reaction has been good so far and we have seen lots of new faces coming in which is an early sign that our new format is working and that customers like it.”