Evolving to survive: nurturing diners through Covid-19

John and Sue Rudden, Ruddens Rations, 5 The Square, Grassington

One thing in life is certain; we all need to eat. Not only to survive physically, but emotionally too, as the pleasure of food is a comfort even in the darkest of days. When boutique hoteliers John and Sue Rudden of Grassington House in the Yorkshire Dales first found themselves staring into the abyss of lockdown, they found the strength of spirit to fight for the survival of their business while at the same time becoming champions of their local community.

Within 48 hours of closing as an award-winning restaurant with rooms on 20 March, this determined couple began to re-invent the family business in order to survive. With no village store in Grassington at that time (the local convenience store having been closed for renovations some time before), it made perfect sense to John, as a master chef, to make sure that none of their produce went to waste. As the local community, many of whom are elderly, were being advised to stay indoors and avoid travelling to supermarkets, the terrace of Grassington House was transformed overnight into a pop-up outdoor shop and deliveries made to the elderly and self-isolating.

And so Ruddens Rations was born, immediately offering all the fresh produce for sale in a safe environment, with the terrace railings providing a natural social distancing barrier. Helping to keep the independent suppliers of the produce in business, seven types of flour, yeast and oil were available for villagers to take away in their own containers, along with meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and dairy produce.

Transforming their lives, from hotel award recipients one week to taking up the mantle of market stall traders the next, John and Sue set to, tirelessly working six days a week outside on the terrace in sun, wind and rain. In doing so, they have grown a devoted following, winning the hearts of the villagers for providing a life-line, from the grateful elderly for their home deliveries to the children who love the free fruit they are given, bringing pictures of cards and thanks for ‘Super Suey the Fruit Lady’.

As it became clear that Covid-19 was not going away anytime soon, John and Sue continued to evolve the business to cater for the customers’ new needs. Once the initial fears of essential food shortages had subsided, the villagers soon clamoured for a taste of the fine dining experience they missed in lockdown. You can’t keep a good chef out of the kitchen for long anyway, so John was quick to gear up for providing haute cuisine take-away.

Favourites such as his signature dish ‘rag pudding’ were soon available for customers to reheat, with side dishes and desserts to provide a gastronomic dining experience at home. Then came the pies. It started with two and word quickly spread. The next time he sold 17 pies in 20 minutes fresh from the oven.

Very early on, the Ruddens became aware that they were among those businesses whose eligibility criteria fell between government aid schemes so that, while staff could be furloughed, their own personal income was not protected. There was no local council grant and the bank declined to provide support.

Desperate to ensure the long-term survival of Grassington House for its 20-strong workforce in the future, the Ruddens have adopted an initiative launched by Crowdfunder, setting up a fundraising page to allow customers to pledge funds now to be redeemed in the future for meals or accommodation. Each pledge is rewarded with 20 per cent added value when redeemed.

On the basis that ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger’, it is hoped that the tireless way this enterprising pair have fought to survive in 2020 will eventually lead to a silver lining.