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Coronavirus Kent: Wheelers Oyster Bar donates leftover food to firefighters in Whitstable

A restaurant in Kent donated their leftover food to their town’s fire station before closing their doors.

Wheelers Oyster Bar, which is based on Whitstable High Street, made the decision to close after pictures and videos were posted on social media of crowds of people packing out Whitstable seafront over the weekend in defiance of government advice to stay at home, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Wheelers Oyster Bar
Wheelers Oyster Bar

But Mark Stubbs, head chef of Wheelers Oyster Bar which also operates as a shop, was eager to ensure that the food they had left didn't go to waste.

He explained: “The whole thought process behind it was one of my friends had done the same in London.

“I didn’t even think about it at the time because we were, obviously, staying open as a shop.

“But then after what happened with the volumes of people coming into the town, and with us being an iconic restaurant shop front, we just took the stance that we were going to close to stop people queuing up outside.

“With all that, we had the food that we had leftover from the restaurant, some of it was still raw.

Mark Stubbs, head chef of Wheelers Oyster Bar. Picture: Matt Bristow
Mark Stubbs, head chef of Wheelers Oyster Bar. Picture: Matt Bristow

“So I cooked it all, made puddings, braised beef, vegetables and then I thought ‘Who should I give it to?’

“The closest people to us were the fire service.

"So I went and spoke to them and they said ‘Yes’.

“I said ‘Look, I don’t care who has it. If you want it, or you want to give it to the homeless [or] Help the Aged, or if you can get it to the nurses and the doctors on the frontline - not saying that you are not on the frontline but you are not directly in it at the moment’ - even though they will be.

“They said ‘Yeah, we’ll come and pick it up’.

"So I spent a few hours cooking the stuff, getting it all prepared, portioned it all up and they came to pick it up.”

Kent Fire and Rescue Service say their firefighters “enjoyed a small amount of the food” but donated the rest to the Over 60s Club in Whitstable.

Mr Stubbs continued: “Some of it, I could have put into a freezer and frozen down, and taken not so much of a loss on.

“But then, that’s not what Wheelers is about. Wheelers is about producing fresh food.

“The other thing, as well, is that I saw it as more of a wintry kind of menu.

"This is about saving your own life and, potentially, the lives of the people that are around you."

“When I decide we are going to re-open and this has all gone away, it will be a much lighter, more summery kind of menu.

“The important thing to do was not to waste it and to give it to people, and go from there.”

Mr Stubbs revealed the decision to close, and donate food to the firefighters, was made on Sunday.

And he admitted the health and safety of the public and his staff had to come before business.

He said: “Look, if I don’t have my staff, we don’t have a shop.The staff have worked here for so long now, they are part of the town.

“We can sometimes set our week by certain people coming in through the doors. So yes, routine has been taken away.

"But we have to protect what we have got and, as the Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] said, we have to do this now.

“We made the decision before that because we could see that it wasn’t safe.

“Obviously people were saying ‘I can’t believe you are not open, I can’t believe you are not doing this’ but it’s not about money now, is it?

“This is about saving your own life and, potentially, the lives of the people that are around you.

“The problem is how do you stop something which is invisible?”

Kent Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman Kirsty Gearey said: “Firefighters at Whitstable were very grateful to receive a donation of food from Wheelers Oyster Company.

“The firefighters enjoyed a small amount of the food, and decided to donate the rest to the Over 60s Club in Whitstable town centre.”

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