Uncompromising cook who refuses to cater for dietaries says his business is thriving

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd October 2019

What happens when you flat-out refuse to pander to any of your guests' requests? Does your business crash and burn, devoid of customers and blighted by bad TripAdvisor reviews

Not necessarily, if cafe owner Clive Cobb's experience is anything to go by. 

Visit The Rousdon Village Bakery just outside of Lyme Regis and you will be greeted with an allergen notice outside the door which reads: “We only cook in butter; our muesli contains lots of nuts; we produce bread with gluten.”

In an interview with The Telegraph, Clive Cobb, a former creative director who entered the world of hospitality when his pension fund went bust explained the rationale behind his policy.

“In the fifties and sixties, you didn’t expect restaurants to cater for your foibles, but now it’s gone too far the other way and it lowers standards,” he said. 

"“If you want to design your own food, do it at home." 

Clive  first owned a fish restaurant he later sold to Mark Hixfollowed by a large cafe, before high rents and business rents forced him to downsize to The Rousdon. 

(Incidentally, in 2017 Clive was banned from company direction for five years after the Devon bakery and restaurant, Our Bakery Number Two Ltd, which traded as The Royal William Bakery, of which he was then one of several directors, failed to pay more than £100,000 in taxes and National Insurance).

Since the beginning, he has operated along the same line,  refusing to make alterations for fad-diet followers (or for people with allergies). 

Is it the era of picky customers?

The Rousdon Village Bakery
Inside the Rousdon Village Bakery

“It’s as if entitlement is a rule. 

“When I say that I don’t do vegan they want to report me. But I don’t go into a vegan restaurant and ask what the meat option is.”  

For him, running his business this way means he can keep things on a small scale, working with local suppliers - and still turn a profit. 

“It’s called village economics; small is beautiful,” he said.

“I wanted there to be a culture of ‘enoughness’: my local suppliers only have a certain amount of produce, I only have a certain number of tables.”

Not to everyone's taste

While his stance has attracted its share of negative reviews - which, luckily for Clive is only one of two locations to eat at in Rousdon, but nonetheless ranks second - he has enough loyal customers singing his praises, making sure he fills up for breakfast and sells out of bread by the time he closes at 2pm everyday. 

In fact, according to his contactless payment systems, he explained, 75 percent of his customers are return visitors, and he likes it that way. 

“New people are a problem to me,” he said, because new customers tend to question his modus operandum. 

“I really don’t want any more customers.”

For Clive, if more restaurants didn't try and cater for everyone, they would find it easier to be profitable. 

And while his returning customers aren't phased by his strict policies, he doesn't mind being imperfect, regularly running out of bread, seats and parking seats. For him, consistency can't save a business - as demonstrated by the demise of chain restaurants. 

“Look at Patisserie Valerie; it used to be a tiny place on Old Compton Street in Soho; you didn’t know who was sitting down, who was buying a cake – it was a mess, but it was filled with excitement," he said.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd October 2019

Uncompromising cook who refuses to cater for dietaries says his business is thriving