'I was seriously contemplating just shutting up shop'

The  Staff Canteen

53 years - that is how long ago Le Gavroche opened its doors.

If not one of Mayfair's oldest restaurants - nearby Wiltons has been there since the 1800s - two Michelin-starred Le Gavroche is one of the most iconic, as it is where brothers Albert and Michel Roux changed the course of Britain's culinary history.

But as the industry's vulnerabilities have been laid bare by the coronavirus, and restaurants among the country's most acclaimed - The Ledbury, Rick Stein's, Le Caprice - are exposed to the same risk as others up and down the country. 

In an interview with The Times, celebrity chef and member of the Roux dynasty, Michel Jr, said that faced with the stress of the difficulties brought about by the pandemic, he considered putting the key under the door. 

“I was seriously contemplating just shutting up shop.

“What’s the point? I’ve only got a few years left on the lease here... Just pay it off and put the key under the doormat and say goodbye,” he added.

Like many others in the industry, the chef was furious at the government for warning people away without enforcing a closure. That week, Le Gavroche lost £120,000. 

He said: “The way he treated our industry that week was appalling.”

The rapid loss of footfall, followed by the lockdown, happened shortly after the loss of his uncle, Michel Roux, forcing the chef to face the prospect of losing one of the founders of the restaurant and the restaurant itself in a short timespan. 

He said: “I try not to dwell on it. I suppose it coincided with me turning 60 in May. I had to re-evaluate whether I needed to go through this again, to put all my energy and focus into reopening restaurants.”

Happily, the restaurant got through its darkest times, and is set to reopen on July 7th.

Given its geographic location and its usual reliance on business and tourism trade, there is no guarantee of plane sailing ahead.

Michel said, of sales: “Ideally, I would want 75% of where we were, but I don’t think that’s going to happen."

But ever the positive spirit, the chef has taken the past three months to re-evaluate the business, and set it up to be both safe and welcoming upon guests return, with perspex screens and single-use antibacterial gel sachets, more space between tables, and fewer staff on the floor and in the kitchen. 

Part of the team will remain on part-time furlough, the menu will be shortened and the restaurant will open on Saturday lunchtimes, in an attempt to claw back some of the business lost in the week. 

The chef believes that businesses like Le Gavroche, while offering a high-end experience few can afford, deserve to be defended. 

He said: “I fully understand that this is the top end of the market, and it’s not within everybody’s reach, but places like Le Gavroche will always exist. We have to fight for them.”

"I like a challenge. You don’t go into this industry not liking a challenge, for God’s sake.” 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th June 2020

'I was seriously contemplating just shutting up shop'