French fast food venture faces recruitment crisis

Alex and Regis Crépy at their Amélie fast food restaurant at the Grafton Centre in Cambridge

Alex and Regis Crépy at their Amélie fast food restaurant at the Grafton Centre in Cambridge - Credit: Archant

The French kitchen staff are put off by the paperwork — and other European workers just haven’t returned.

Celebrated French chef Régis Crepy from Lavenham is just one of many to have been hit by the UK hospitality industry’s dire recruitment crisis. A combination of Brexit, the coronavirus crisis and the low status in the UK of his industry has put people off, he believes.

Three years ago Régis joined forces with his fellow chef son Alex to create a new take on fast food based down the road from his Suffolk home.

Operating out of the Grafton shopping centre in Cambridge, Amélie flamkuche serves up their unique take on a dough-based delicacy with toppings which is popular in Alsace-Lorraine — a French region which lies on the German border. 

Before the pandemic struck the plan was to create a chain of businesses. The pair quickly adapted to the crisis by creating flamkuche packs which could be made up at home and by setting up deliveries.

The business is currently employing 10 people — but previously had a workforce of 15.

The European workers haven’t come back and the French they know are put off by all the paperwork. They feel they aren’t wanted here.  

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Régis and Alex don’t put it all down to Brexit though — they believe the status of the profession is a factor too and the passion for the industry isn’t what it should be.

The father and son also think the business rates system should be reformed to help create a level playing field between high street business and online giants. And they argue the industry should be taken more seriously by government.

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For years Régis and wife Martine ran a chain of top flight restaurants in Suffolk including the Great House at Lavenham, the Mariners on Ipswich waterfront and Maison Bleue in Bury St Edmunds before selling up in 2018.

Régis and Alex are now equally enthusiastic about their fast food venture — in spite of the pandemic setbacks — but recruitment is causing them headaches.

“A cauldron of Brexit and Covid has made it a tricky market for recruiting skilled labour in restaurants,” said Alex. 

“Our staff is purely European and having borders closed doesn’t help travel. Brexit will pose further issues down the line when borders open and entry to the UK for work will require further paperwork putting many potential employees off. 

“English individuals don’t see hospitality as skilled labour and until there is action on this — starting with a minister of hospitality — I don’t think this will change. 

“I need a team that are motivated and have a passion for serving delicious food — this is what makes a customer a regular.”

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