UK restaurant The Checkers gives back Michelin star

Owners 'taking our business in a new direction'

By FRANCESCA STREET, CNN
Courtesy The Checkers via CNN

The Checkers has been a staple of the Michelin Guide since 2011.

(CNN) - A Michelin star may be seen as the ultimate goal for many restaurants, but the owners of a fine dining venue in the UK are turning their back on theirs to focus on family life.

The rural Checkers restaurant, which serves classic French cuisine near the town of Montgomery, Wales, has held a Michelin star for seven years, thanks to the efforts of partners Stéphane Borie and Sarah Francis, and Sarah's sister Kathryn Francis.

Raising five kids between them, the team says they now want family to come first.

"We have taken the bold (and slightly scary, exciting and possibly bonkers) decision to take a step away from our Michelin star roots," they posted on The Checkers Montgomery Facebook page on Sept. 25.

The threesome calls themselves "the Frenchman and the farmers daughters." This fusion of their backgrounds and experiences has made The Checkers a successful staple of the Michelin Guide since 2011.

New direction

"We thought long and hard about taking our business in a new direction, having a star is the ultimate benchmark of our trade and we have treasured ours for seven years," Kathryn tells CNN Travel.

"But it was time to take a new direction -- one that frees Stéphane up to do more freelance and private work and one that made having our own business a little more family friendly."

It's not the first time a Michelin-starred restaurant has stepped away from the limelight.

In October 2017, Restaurant Andre, a top Singaporean dining spot, returned its two Michelin stars. Chef-patron Andre Chiang wrote a letter to the press explaining that he had decided to focus on education and cooking at his RAW (Taipei) restaurant.

In September 2016, French chef Sébastien Bras also asked Michelin to take away his 3 stars.

The latest rejection of the Michelin accolade will likely rekindle debate about the pressure and long working hours faced by chefs, particularly those feted by the French tire company's guidebook.

"I think pressure on restaurants comes in many forms -- escalating food costs, hours, business rates," says Kathryn.

But she insists her team only ever felt positively about their star.

"We have huge respect for what a star stands for and it was important for us to let the guide know that we were completely changing what we do. It is the ultimate benchmark and one that relies on consistency."

Surge in bookings

It's not all over for The Checkers -- the culinary institution will reopen as "Checkers Pantry" in mid-November 2018 -- serving breakfast and lunch, alongside coffee and cake, but dinner will be off the menu.

Current chef Borie will take a step back and Sarah and Kathryn will be running the show.

"Sarah and I both have key roles and have five children between our two families, it will be lovely to have more evenings at home and to be a little less nocturnal!" Kathryn says.

Kathryn says that the reaction from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.

"The response has been brilliant -- the diary has gone crazy with guests wanting to book for dinner with Stephane before the switchover."

The Checkers is located in Montgomery, a spot Kathryn calls "a beautiful gateway to Mid Wales."

It's a rural spot home to the atmospheric ruins of Montgomery Castle, among other attractions.

"We have a good local following and a growing tourism market enchanted by this former county town," says Kathryn. "The location is perfect for our new venture."

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