A chef based in Abersoch, Wales, has spoken of his gratitude after a crowdfunding campaign raised money during his illness.
The chef is Si Toft, owner of The Dining Room restaurant, and he has recently recovered from a bout of life-threatening pneumonia.
Toft was taken ill with a serious chest infection which then developed into pneumonia, leading him to be taken to Ysbyty Gwynedd hospital for treatment.
As a result, he was forced to close his restaurant during the peak of the summer season. This left not only Toft himself but also his staff members out of work – and out of pocket. Together with his wife Jo, he struggled to recover as well as trying to pay staff, suppliers, and bills.
It was the kind of task which would surely have resulted in the closure of the restaurant and sale to a new owner, but his fellow food industry workers rallied around his cause. As Toft recovered, his business was also recovering, thanks to support from hospitality.
Karen White and Gary Usher, from Chester, were the couple who decided to set up a crowdfunding campaign to support Toft and his restaurant. The Tofts themselves never asked for money from anyone, but the industry was quick to rally around them.
The target for the fund was just £1,000 – enough money to at least make a small dent in what they owed. However, social media support started to pour in, with people far and wide starting to hear about the cause. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay eventually heard about it and got on board, as did food critic Jay Rayner.
The fund eventually made it up to an incredible £11,000, which was fantastic for the Tofts, able to keep their restaurant open as soon as head chef Si had recovered.
“The support was incredible, embarrassing as Jo and I aren’t great with attention, but incredible and it took the pressure off knowing our staff, suppliers, bills (Jo and I haven’t taken anything) were covered while we were closed,” said Toft. “We didn’t know anything about it until the next morning and by that stage I think it was already past Gary’s initial target. Obviously that was nice, but it was the messages of support from the industry, chefs, restaurants and of course our guests that has really kept us going. I came out of hospital and had to jump straight back in to try and salvage some of the season so I still haven’t really had a chance to digest a lot of it. When you look at all the nonsense going on in the world, the way the hospitality industry rallied round one of its own would have filled me with such immense pride anyway, but being the focal point was crazy. The truth of the matter is I don’t know where to start with thank yous, we’re just massively grateful.”
While he finished up recovery he was also able to draft in an old employee to take over head chef duties, allowing the restaurant to reopen earlier than expected. This was only possible with the help of the funding raised.
It’s heart-warming to see the food industry rally around a friend in need like this, and indeed it’s the kind of help that many small business owners could really appreciate from time to time. For chefs who are often unable to take time off for any reason other than illness, this is a bittersweet opportunity to relax, and a chef owner has it worse than most. That’s why this was such a great response from the community.