BALDWIN’S Omega, Sheffield’s iconic banqueting suite and lunchtime venue, is to close next summer. After almost 40 years at the helm, colourful boss David Baldwin and his wife Pauline are calling it a day.
They have sold the site, which already has planning permission for around 40 homes, to a local builder.
“We can no longer do things to the standard we wish. Pauline didn’t want us to close but what made it easier in the end is that the figures don’t add up,” said David, known universally as Mr B or the Big ‘Un. “Since 2008 turnover has consistently gone down and we are not going to let standards slip.”
The business will close in July next year but expect there to be a series of parties and tearful farewells along the way.
While lunches do well, as do weekend events, trade dips in the week. That has been the tipping point. Pauline said: “It’s not just about money, it’s a change in social attitudes. You don’t have all-male dinners any more. There are more women in the workplace and men can’t stay out drinking. They can’t use the excuse of going out when they have to look after the children.”
The standard of cooking here has always been higher than one would expect for the price and the couple are not prepared to cut corners. On top of that David has recovered from a long bout of illness.
They took over the hacienda-style building in 1980, after it had been closed for two years. It was built by Sheffield Refreshment Houses in the Sixties as a would-be rival to high end London establishments. They brought with them customers from their two previous ventures, the Angler’s Rest at Bamford and the Hillsborough Suite at Sheffield Wednesday, then leased from the Mansfield Brewery.
David, a publican’s son, ex-communist and former ship’s steward known for his colourful language, became an important figure in the hospitality industry. The Omega has been a sort of unofficial college, with many of its chefs finding top jobs elsewhere.
He is larger than life, a man with a kitchenful of contacts and a superb raconteur with anecdotes about the rich and famous, not shy of risqué stories. But while he can be hospitality itself he takes no prisoners. Customers love to tell of the time he was summoned from the kitchen by a woman in the Rib Room restaurant who complained she had found pellets in her pheasant. “What did you expect it had died of, a fucking heart attack?” he roared.
As Pauline said, the hospitality industry has been hit by a cultural change. There is now a generation which does not naturally go out to eat to celebrate. At a recent New Year’s Eve restaurant dinner with friends the party telephoned their children to see where they were: without exception they were all at friends’ houses.
In the early years the Omega, now rechristened Baldwin’s Omega, thrived on works clubs and company dinners and when that petered out ‘morphed’, as Pauline puts it, into the present pattern of lunches and parties. They used to slip in events like salmon and strawberries or Caribbean evenings to fill odd free dates then found these became a mainstay.
The news of the sale and closure has leaked out gradually. Staff – there are about ten full time with the rest students – were told first “so they knew more than the customers.”
Over the years there have been persistent rumours that the Omega was to be sold (some of which Mr B now confesses he had started himself to generate publicity) and they have grown since planning permission was granted. The Omega’s website still says: “Just a note to clarify the TRUE facts about plans for the future of Baldwin’s Omega. Pauline & I are not planning to leave for some considerable time and are taking bookings for 2016, 2017, 2018 & beyond. We already have a very busy forward diary.”
The couple said they wanted to give customers plenty of warning and be able to honour present bookings.
So what do they plan to do after next year, retire to Spain where they have a property? “No, I’m a Sheffield lad. It was bad enough moving to Dore,” David said.
*NEWS of the closure comes less than a year after the demise of another equally long-lived top Sheffield restaurant, Greenhead House. You can read that story here http://wp.me/p5wFIX-sQ
And here’s a taste of the food on a previous visit http://wp.me/p5wFIX-5O