When Roger and Sue Jones announced they were to close their much loved and celebrated restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, there was a rush to book a table before their final service in March. In the end the outbreak of Covid-19 meant they had to close their doors before their final date. Rather than enjoy an early retirement, the couple have never been busier launching a series of initiatives to first cook and feed hundreds of vulnerable people in their local community, before switching to running a gourmet takeaway service which it is now using to raise money for a series of charities in December. For all their efforts during Covid-19 The Buyer salutes Roger and Sue and we’re sure you will join us in Raising A Glass to them.
The Buyer’s Raise a Glass series looks to shine the light on those individuals who have stood up and gone the extra mile to help others during Covid-19, like Roger and Sue Jones and all their efforts to bring their local community together during this time.
You have introduced a number of initiatives during Covid-19 to help your local community. Can you share what you have done?
From March 1 we set up a free food service where we prepared meals free of charge at our own cost and supplied then to vulnerable people within a 10 mile radius of The Harrow. This carried on until June where we felt that there was enough government and local support.
How many people were you feeding a day or a week during the first lockdown with meals?
It’s difficult to say, but we were producing 100 to 150 meals a week.
How did the scheme work?
We supplied anyone who could not leave their house, or who were vulnerable, but of course a few got through the net. Rich local ladies who missed their Waitrose slot, young ladies sending gift parcels to their grannies, or the driver or butler was busy, but after a while we managed to sort the needy from the greedy.
You had already decided to close your restaurant before Covid-19, but you have gone on to run a new gourmet takeaway service?
Yes after deciding to retire last December after a long lunch in London, followed by a visit to the Pommery Christmas Party, we saw the huge opportunity to set up a much needed gourmet take away service, rather than rely on the state handouts it was a clear vision that Covid had changed people’s conception and thoughts on hospitality in the UK.
This opportunity was screaming out and is something that we have seen flourish in our area, with many other pubs and restaurants following our initiative, and we all support each other on this, highlighting how the hospitality industry can move on.
How does your takeaway service work?
We provide an eight course tasting menu, based on our Michelin standard dishes that we did at The Harrow, but with minimal intervention needed by the host. So dishes served in smart tins, or designer bottles or simple heating with, of course, a few gimmicks like syringes.
We also supply single dishes and lots of shellfish like lobsters, crabs and scallops that are all sourced live by us. Collection is on a Friday morning from The Harrow, and all sales are made online through our Shopify site. We generally work two weeks ahead with our capacity being reached up to 14 days prior to collection.
We are already sold out for Christmas Eve (sold out in August ) and New Year’s Eve.
Our net profit on these take aways is far superior to when we had The Harrow fully open, which enables us to pay the Treasury plenty of tax, and, of course, be of no burden to the state in claiming any benefits from the start of Covid.
How many takeaways are you doing?
We provide up to 200 meals every Friday morning which is 170 more than we did in a single service as a The Harrow. We also have been out on the road on Friday evening providing up to another 70 tasting menus at places like Chesters Wine Shop in Abergavenny and other drop off points in Wales and Cheltenham. We even had a collection for Switzerland earlier in the year.
You are now extending the gourmet service to help raise money for a different charity each week in December – what are the charities?
December 4: Julia’s House in Devizes, provides practical and emotional support for families caring for a child with a life-limiting or life-threatening condition.
December 11: Anna Victorious for Victoria’s Promise Charity, supporting young women and their families in the face of cancer.
December 18: Ty Hafan, the children’s hospice, a paediatric palliative care charity offering care to children and support for their families throughout Wales.
These are the three charities that we have chosen, having closed The Harrow it has been harder for us to raise money for charities. We will be donating £5 from every takeaway to the selected charity during December.
In the past we have been famous in raising from £18,000 to £40,000 over a single lunch at The Harrow, so this is a tiny way we can get back in supporting some of these charities.
I recently read this quote on the www.annavictorious.co.uk site: “To empower and inspire people to follow their dreams. To stop talking about doing something and actually go out there and do it. If you put your mind to it anything is possible.”
Too many people are now living off the state having failed to react to the pandemic, putting their heads in the sand when there is so much to do. These four guys running this charity are still going ahead, despite Covid-19, with their training to row the Atlantic next year (details and you can donate here.)
My days for extreme sport are over after gaining a Guinness World Record at The London Marathon 10 years ago – tied to 49 others, but that does not mean we can’t encourage and help as many charities as we can during these bleak times.
Has this also been a way for you to carry on cooking and serving the local community but without the commitment of running a full time restaurant?
I have never stopped loving cooking it was the daily grind of running a restaurant with all that involves with a team of staff demanding your attention, mothering, education, care and love that finally made Sue and I retire. But with just myself and Sue we are buoyed by this new partnership and being able to cater for up to 200 people every Friday morning.
But I would add that we are keen to encourage others in the industry to follow suit and come up with a new Covid hospitality inspiration. We need to highlight those that do, as you are doing on The Buyer, and stop using the blame game. I see so many people doing their utmost in the last nine months, changing route changing the way they think and being successful, despite the gloom spread by so many.
If I was not “retiring” and already committed to many wine projects there would be so many other initiatives that I would be pursuing.
One of which you are doing and that is running your own online wine shop?
I have indeed. Our chance to run our own online wine shop and sell aged prestige wines, and sought after New World wines together with some fabulous glassware from Riedel. It’s our way of being able to share some of our iconic 1,200 bin wine cellar that we have built up over the years at The Harrow. The wine shop is available for collection, local delivery, postal or even hand delivery for the rarest and most sought after wines.
We are also looking to give people the chance to take buy vertical listings or collections from specific wineries as fabulous Christmas presents or as a special gift to yourself.
You have also taken to Instagram Live this year as well?
Yes, I started a weekly free cookery video during lockdown which I did in conjunction with my son. This not only promoted his business (www.dickiesvideoproduction.com), which has become hugely successful, but helped people stuck at home with easy cookery tips. It was sponsored by a Riedel and numerous wine companies. These videos also increased my social media following on Instagram by 1,000’s and in turn helped promote our take outs.
Another initiative we did in the last lockdown was a live one hour cookery and wine zoom videos to global companies in the US and in the UK. Part of the restaurant has been set up as a studio are for dedicated social media filming to get a more professional look for zoom.
What other plans do you have?
We are looking at how we can also offer some of our gourmet dishes for delivery, but need to work out the logistics first. We are confident that gourmet takeaway services will be part of all our future and we are now looking to build a dedicated inside room at The Harrow for people to come to, rather than pick them up from outside. Our planning application is now in, and we hope to start conversion work in February to transform the ground floor of The Harrow, which will have a unique inside area for future takeaways as well as a shop and tasting room.
- If you would like to try Roger and Sue’s gourmet takeaways and are able to travel to The Harrow then sign up to their Shopify service here.