More than 40 years ago, Rick Stein began the foodie revolution in Padstow that put the Cornish fishing village on the culinary map.
Now the Stein family is heading a new revolt – this time against the “pingdemic” that is threatening to wreck the livelihoods of the town’s restaurateurs.
After 16 months of pandemic, Padstow should be enjoying a “staycation” boom. Instead, restaurants in the seaside town are being shut down at an alarming rate by the Test and Trace app that is pinging Covid-19 contacts, fuelling an existing staffing crisis and forcing kitchens to close.
Tourists cannot easily get a meal in the town and outlets are losing a small fortune at a time when they need to make all the money they can.
It is a problem not limited to Padstow but being replicated in tourist resorts up and down the country.
Latest figures for the week to July 7 showed 530,126 alerts were sent out by the Covid-19 NHS app, telling people to self-isolate.
Cornwall ranks 18th out of 321 local authorities, with 4,507 people pinged in the first week of July, with catastrophic knock-on effects for a region that relies on tourism.
Jack Stein, the chef director in charge of the Rick Stein restaurant empire and son of the eponymous founder, has had enough.
He was forced to stay at home and isolate for 10 days after being pinged following a half-hour meal in a restaurant in Devon that the family doesn’t even own.
One of the family’s four restaurants in Padstow was forced to close for a number of days (it has now reopened) and hours have been restricted, covers reduced and an open-air terrace at the flagship restaurant closed because there simply aren’t enough waiters and chefs to cater for it.
“It [the app] is ludicrous,” said Mr Stein. “Half-a-million people were pinged and a lot of them will be in hospitality.
“Last summer at the height of the pandemic we didn’t have a single member of staff go anywhere because of Covid and this year you just can’t carry on. We have had to shut restaurants; we’ve lost revenue. I was all in favour of the lockdowns but now I just think it’s ridiculous.
“This Track and Trace is really winding me up.”
In the space of a few hundred yards, amid the packed alleyways and roads that lead to Padstow’s picture-postcard pretty harbour, the toll taken by the Covid-19 app is self-evident.
Caffe Rojano opened in 2010 and is run by Paul Ainsworth, one of Britain’s rising culinary stars and a winner of the BBC’s Great British Menu. It has a sign posted out front that declares: “We’re closing our doors for just a couple of days.”
In fact, the restaurant will stay closed until Wednesday July 21 as a “precautionary measure”.
The message adds: “Several members of our team have been notified to self-isolate, and we are following the government guidelines closely and look forward to reopening safely.”
Mr Ainsworth was not available for comment.
Closed for business
Around the corner from Caffe Rojano, Pucelli’s, a family-run Italian restaurant in Padstow since 1983, is currently shut.
“Reopening at 10am on Saturday 17th July” says the note on A4 paper stuck to the restaurant door.
There is no explanation but the talk in Padstow is the business has been the victim of a ping.
Just 150 yards from Caffe Rojano, following the road along the northern edge of the harbour, The Shipwrights pub, an institution in the town, has shut its kitchen since Monday after staff were pinged.
It has been closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays for some weeks due to a workforce shortage.
“It’s been really difficult for us and others in the town – our kitchen is shut after one of the chefs caught Covid,” said a member of staff.
At the other end of the harbour from The Shipwrights, the kitchen at the Harbour Inn is closed for 11 days after the chef contracted Covid-19 and the rest of the team was forced to self isolate.
Sally Jones says staff are being pinged 'left, right and centre' forcing her to close the kitchen at The Harbour Inn …
Credit: Jay Williams for The Telegraph
… while David Flide of Mussel Box described pinging as a 'disaster' for the tourist industry
Credit: Jay Williams for The Telegraph
“We’re getting pinged left, right and centre,” said landlady Sally Jones, 44, with a sense of both resignation and exasperation. “It’s a backdoor lockdown and we’re losing £20,000 a week.”
Ms Jones, who runs two pubs, added: “The Test and Trace app needs to go away – people have had enough. We’re just chasing our tails at the minute.
“The demand is so high at the moment. It’s absolutely devastating because we could be doing so much trade, it’s such an opportunity for us this year after the lockdowns and now it’s awful because we just can’t facilitate it.”
Mussel Box, a seafood restaurant, has kept its doors open but only by radically rethinking its business.
The indoor dining restaurant is shut and the kitchens closed altogether two days a week, costing owner David Flide £15,000 a week in lost income.
Serving hours have also been reduced. “A member of staff got pinged last week,” said Mr Flide, who spent £5,000 trying to recruit staff but to no avail. His workforce has voluntarily removed the app from their phones, aware that losing any more chefs and waiters is crippling.
“Staff have all deleted the app,” said Mr Flide. “The pinging is a disaster. Eighty per cent of our money is made from May to September. After that we haemorrhage money all the way to Easter. We can’t afford to lose any more trade.”
Financial cost of Covid
The financial cost of Covid-19 has been huge.
Padstow is obviously not alone and down in St Ives, tales abound of just a handful of functioning restaurants in the resort. Up the coast in north Devon, reports suggest similar shutdowns.
Just outside Padstow, the Mother Ivey’s Bay Holiday Park was so short of staff as a result of test and trace that staff sent out an email to guests, headed Dunkirk Spirit, and asking for volunteers “to help clean the toilets”. It wasn’t a joke.
At the Bedruthan Hotel in Mawgan Porth, eight miles from Padstow, guests were being offered a £15 credit for each day they chose not to have housekeeping visit their rooms.
Locals suggest Padstow is particularly badly hit because the town relies on seasonal workers for its hospitality industry, often living cheek by jowl in accommodation owned by the restaurants and hotels.
When one chef gets pinged, the whole team inevitably goes with them. The cost will be millions of pounds in lost revenue and eventually lost businesses and jobs.
Struggling to get a meal
Tourists, it should be said, are struggling to get a meal. They can’t necessarily just walk into a restaurant from off the street and grab a table. Eating out in Padstow, one of Britain’s foodie capitals, has never been so difficult.
Credit: Jay Williams for The Telegraph
Emma Clarke, 25, a postgraduate student from London on holiday in Padstow with her partner Gabriel Kempski, 27, a project manager in technology also from London, pictured above, had a night out booked at Caffe Rojano only to get the courtesy call “saying we couldn’t come for lunch and they would also be closed for a week, by which time we’re leaving, which is obviously a shame”, explained Ms Clarke.
She added: “A few places we’ve been to haven’t been doing any food in the evening – it’s a pity and I feel sorry for them.”
David Smith, 27, an investment trader from London on holiday with his partner, said: “You can’t have any spontaneity here on holiday anymore; everything has got to be booked long in advance. If you’re trying to find a table on the fly it’s next to impossible. I’ve been here loads and you can normally get something last minute quite happily, but not this time.”