After 31 years in business, Derry and Sallyanne Clarke have made the decision to close their Dublin restaurant, L’Ecrivain, one of the busiest One Michelin Star restaurants in Europe.
L’Ecrivain has held a Michelin star for eighteen unbroken years, but will now close in July.
The couple told their staff yesterday, their suppliers today, and will be emailing all their regular customers on Friday. All staff have been guaranteed jobs with a new bar and restaurant venture in which Derry is a partner which will open on the quays in Temple Bar later this year.
"We are not closing because we are in trouble, but simply because it feels like the right time," said Sallyanne when we met at L’Ecrivain earlier today.
"Thirty-one years is a long time to be doing anything, and it’s time for a change. The reason that we are giving five months’ notice is so that our regular customers can plan their last visits over the coming months, and that anyone who has a voucher has time to redeem it.
"Many of our customers have celebrated big life events in L’Ecrivain and it is a special place for them.”
This honourable, low-key approach is the hallmark of classy restaurateurs – the Clarkes cite the example of Kevin and Muriel Thornton when they closed Thornton’s a few years back - and is in stark contrast to some other closures in the city which have left staff unpaid, and customers with vouchers high and dry.
Earlier this week, some former staff of Luna, a Dublin restaurant which closed abruptly in May last year, took to Twitter to complain about how they had been treated – including having the news of Luna's closure broken to them by an accountant rather than the restaurateur.
The social media kerfuffle coincided with the opening by the same operator of a new wine bar, Amy Austin, next door to the still-empty Luna.
"We have been thinking about this for a while," Derry said.
"We thought about doing it last year on the 30th anniversary but held off. There was lots of talk over Christmas and while we were on holidays in January.
"It’s been a tough decision, but we lost our son Andrew seven years ago and there’s nothing worse than that, nothing as hard as that, so this is really easy in comparison. It’s been thirty-one years of fun, hard work and good memories overall."
"This is a positive decision, and one that has not been forced upon us," Sallyanne continued.
"The timing is right, and the most important thing for us was that the first people who heard about it were our team. That’s not to say it hasn’t been emotional, and that there won’t be plenty more tears between now and July.
"As our daughter, Sarah May says, L’Ecrivain was our first baby, she was our second and Andrew was our third."
"Things move on and Dublin’s a different city now to the one that it was when we opened," said Derry.
"I don’t think that many people realise that many of the restaurants in the city are chains, even though they don’t look like them. Personally, I like to see young chefs opening up their own individual places, and I like to support them."
"I’m 62 and Sallyanne is in her mid-fifties," he continued.
"Where the problem really came for us was during the recession. People in their 40s and 50s suffered the most. We had to put everything we had in savings back in to the business - we all thought that it would be a year or two and that we’d get it back, but it dragged on for a decade.
"We scraped through by our fingernails, but all our reserves are gone. We sold the building and did a sale and leaseback, and our landlord has been fantastic, but that was our pension gone. We’re too young to retire, so I’m taking this new venture on for an income."
The new venture is on the corner of Eustace Street and Wellington Quay and Derry says that he has been inspired by restaurants such as Brat in London, which serve high quality food in a relaxed setting.
"There won’t be a tasting menu or 1, 2 ,3 format,” he said.
"It’s more sharing plates, great cocktails and good beers. My dad, granddad and great granddad had a food importing business on Fleet Street, with warehouses along the quays, so in a way it feels like going home.
"Sallyanne will be helping out and we’ll both being doing consultancies; things will open up. We’ll both keep up our television work and Sallyanne is keen to do ore radio and writing.
"Ours won’t be the last big restaurant to go, that’s for sure. I know one big place that’s going to go very shortly."