Behind the scenes at Elsworth Kitchen in Skipton
- Credit: Nicky Gibson
Bruce and Rebecca Elsworth have created much more than a place to eat.
When lockdown was announced, Rebecca and Bruce Elsworth were ready. The husband and wife, owners of the cool Skipton restaurant they opened a little over two years ago, knew they had to act.
‘We could see what was coming, even before the announcement was made,’ says Rebecca. ‘The restaurant was getting quieter. We decided to close before the official lockdown announcement. We needed a plan.’
Their foresight paid off and within a few days that plan was made. They launched Elsworth at Home, a food delivery service giving diners a taste of the restaurant. At the height of lockdown, they were cooking hundreds of meals each week to be distributed to diners within a five-mile radius and enlisted the help of family to do deliveries. Food boxes for Father’s Day – which contained 18 different delicious morsels from serrano ham to artisan chutney - were again ordered in their droves and chef Bruce, who was working solo while Rebecca looked after two-year-old daughter Florence, was changing the menus every week. Add to that cooking breakfasts, lunch and dinner for a local nursing home, they were busier than ever.
‘It was fight of flight,’ says Rebecca. ‘And the second wasn’t an option. We were just coming up to our second full year of being open, and we weren’t ready to give up.
‘Bruce has had a hard time. He had to adapt to take away meals that can be put in a container, the usual type of food he does isn’t your typical takeaway food. But we wanted to do some of our signature dishes and those really comforting meals, the ones that hit the spot for people when in such a challenging and unknown situation. Beef goulash, fish pie and beef bourguignon were put on the menus.
‘It was a big challenge getting food from suppliers, too. It has all been an experience. But people have loved it, and really supported us. We hadn’t expected how popular it would be. We couldn’t have hoped for more.’
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Since lockdown eased at the start of July, the home deliveries have continued apace, diners have started to return to their Coach Street restaurant and they have launched their new grab and go service – a takeaway ready meal concept they had always hoped to launch but which running a busy restaurant had never allowed.
‘We always wated to have grab and go food. It was in our business plan and lockdown brought it all forward,’ says Rebecca. ‘Now, we have a fridge where people can pop in and take a taste of Elsworth home with them.
‘It’s going well so far and we’re hoping people will embrace the pick-up service and it will become a big part of what we do.’
Elsworth Kitchen’s ability to flourish is unsurprising. Both Rebecca and Bruce have more than 30 years’ experience at the top flight of hospitality. Bruce, 45, was operations director at the much-lauded The Angel at Hetton, head of taste at Keelhams Farm and the recipient of a prestigious Acorn Award. He also worked at Lancashire’s Northcote with well-known chef Nigel Haworth and at the Michelin star Rascasse in Leeds. Rebecca has worked at the celebrated Devonshire Arms in Bolton Abbey and was general manager at the four-star Craven Heifer in Addingham and the five-star Ashmount Country House in Haworth.
Opening Elsworth was a return to the couple’s roots – they grew up in Skipton and Embsay. When the chance arose to open a place of their own, near to their childhood homes, it was too much to resist. The restaurant, a former bridal shop, needed big renovations and, again, members of the family stepped in to help them both build their dream. Rebecca, who studied art and design at Sheffield Hallam University, has also used her expert eye to create the pared back interior.
Elsworth is much more than a fabulous dining experience – although you definitely get that. As well as Bruce’s stellar food, the menus pay homage to a huge larder of Yorkshire food with suppliers including Dales Dairy, Yockenthwaite Granola, Bradford-based Delifresh, Skipton’s Coffee Care and Le Bon Vin wine merchants in Sheffield.
But their work to create good food goes far beyond the boundary of their restaurant door. When they first opened, they were determined to become a place beloved and used for the community. Their dream was fulfilled. Before lockdown, everyone from customers looking for fine dining on a weekend to groups of new mums meeting for coffee in their dedicated children’s corner had taken Rebecca and Bruce’s concept to their hearts. Although not all of this is possible again just yet, they still work with other local companies, including providing nourishing food for nearby Ebru Evrim Yoga Studio.
Although the challenges the pandemic has brought have put intense pressure on the business, for Bruce and Rebecca seeing Elsworth Kitchen live to fight another day has been life affirming.
‘It seems those people who have able to think on the spot and work around the problem have been the ones who have done well,’ says Bruce. ‘But we’ve also had a fantastic community who have supported us. It’s been very humbling.
‘It’s been absolutely crazy and so challenging but there has also been a lot to appreciate. We’ve very lucky. People always ask us about expansion and will we move from Skipton. As business people maybe we should, but we don’t want to, this is our dream and we love it here.’