It seems impossible after 2012 that the sun has shone almost every day since mid July and continues to do so here in West Dorset. Each morning one expects to see the rain and yet it stays away. People are still coming for the beach and a swim. In comparison 2012 was truly disastrous for most businesses in this area with the rain and the ‘stay away’ warning that came with the Weymouth activities for the Olympic Games. The shower of gold medals achieved by our team was a small compensation for the loss of business that seems to have been the norm except for the corporate sector.
The realisation that 2014 is not far away has uncovered some anniversaries. My mother and sister acquired the lease of the Riverside in 1960 and we celebrated 50 years in the family in 2010. By 1964 they had both developed other interests and I was persuaded to take over the lease as I was not very gainfully employed. I had recently been on board an old Baltic Trader three masted topsail sailing ship with some friends and our intention of going to the West Indies to do ‘before the mast’ activities for American University students had been curtailed by us becoming dismasted in a force 12 gale off Cape Finisterre. After several months in Vigo, it was decided that we should return home to raise finance to repair the ship. However, purchasing the lease made a commitment that has lasted to the present day and 2014 will be the 50th anniversary. This is shared with Chilly, the Manager whose 50th birthday falls this year and who has been part of the Riverside since he was 14.
Restaurants, cafes, chefs, kitchens, food and customers are very different now from 1964. West Bay was very different and only had a holiday trade at Easter, Whitsun and the School Summer holidays. The local trade was negligible but several coaches from Bristol, Taunton, Yeovil, etc. would arrive for the afternoon cream teas and crab sandwiches but be gone by 5pm. Food programmes on TV were rare and until Keith Floyd, the messages seemed to be that ordinary people should not attempt adventurous cooking because the techniques were beyond them.
It seems to me that we have now gone too far in the opposite direction in that we have wall to wall food programmes on TV with endless repetition of recipes and everyone searching for an angle that has not been covered (culled Badger curry?) It is great that so many young people now see catering as a worthwhile career with endless prospects rather than the dull temporary job that it used to be, but too many want to get the rewards without putting in the hours of hard graft at the start. It is very easy to come up with a few recipes for a competition but this in no way equips you for the truly arduous task of day to day budgeting, organisation, employment and paperwork. Creativity is a wonderful attribute but without the background discipline, it rarely stands up on its own. Too many restaurant start ups end in disaster in the first few years.
Ultimately the key to keeping going for 50 years are the customers and the staff. Many staff members have been here for years, Chilly over 30, Sue and Nic over 20 Tony and most of the rest 5 years or more as well as the wonderful array of local students (numbering well over 500) who have helped over the years and defy Jamie Oliver’s assertion the that Brits are lazy and lacking in commitment. Our customers during this period must number over the million and their loyalty and support are deeply appreciated. It seems sometimes that they are part of our families and we are part of theirs. Many have come as babes with mum and dad and now, 20 odd years later, they come with their own children. It makes it all worthwhile.