DAVID Baldwin, founder of Baldwin’s Omega banqueting rooms and the Grand Old Man of Sheffield’s hospitality industry, has died in his sleep at home in Dore. He was 80.
“He passed away peacefully at 3am, about the last kicking out time that would have been at the Omega,” said his son David Junior.
While he had retired through ill health after selling off the Omega on Psalter Lane two years ago, his passing marks the end of an era for the city’s restaurant trade. He put his stamp on it in more ways than one.
“He was most proud of the number of chefs he had trained who had gone on to bigger and better things,” added David. They include Ray Booker, now head chef at the Chester Grosvenor, chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko, and Sam Lindsay, head chef at Owlerton.
Yet, at the same time, he inspired a terrific loyalty and many staff (as well as customers) stayed with him for years.
Among them were head chef Steve Roebuck, who worked for him for 30 years, and operations manager Jamie Christian, for 25, who have continued his legacy at the Omega at Abbeydale Sports Club.
He was committed to high standards of food and service, was known for providing value for money, and half the city must at one time have attended an office party or a works dinner, or perhaps been to a salmon and strawberries evening, at the Omega.
Bluff, gruff and wickedly funny, with a personality the size of Yorkshire, he was a great raconteur. A former chairman of the Restaurants Association of Great Britain, he actively promoted young talent through Young Chef and Young Waiters competitions, and had an unrivalled network of contacts throughout the industry, from Brian Turner to Rick Stein, using them to send his own brightest staff on placements.
He was known for very colourful language. Jamie Christian remembers calling his boss from the kitchen one Christmas after a woman diner found lead shot in her pheasant. He roared back: “What do you think it died of? A f*cking heart attack?”
Known affectionately as Mr B or The Big ‘Un, he and his wife Pauline took over the white-painted hacienda-style building in 1980, after it had been dark for two years.
With a catering background that included running the Angler’s Rest at Bamford and the Hillsborough Suite at Sheffield Wednesday, they acted on a hunch that Sheffield needed at top class banqueting venue. They were right and in its heyday the Omega was constantly busy but times change and they were hit by the decline in office parties as businesses tightened their belts.
It was offset to some degree by the popularity of lunches in the Rib Room for an elder clientele and people who wanted to give customers and friends a taste of Sheffield. When present and not on holiday abroad, he was a legend in many people’s lunchtimes.
David was born into the hospitality industry as a publican’s son. He was a former communist and a ship’s steward, no doubt accounting for his expletive-laden language. Customers often liked it gently directed at them.
Very much a family man, he had three children, David, in construction; Benny, a TV producer and presenter; and Polly, a photographer. He had four grandchildren.
Many spoke of his generosity. John Janiszewski, a former lecturer in hospitality at Sheffield College, said he had held a fund-raising dinner in aid of its restaurant equipment.
“On a personal note he was a mentor, almost a father figure and a hell of a laugh. We need to think about a proper memorial after Corvid-19.”
The Omega had a certain style, from its massive car park, big enough to house a squadron of tanks, through its entrance hallway with ‘flaming torches’ to the ballroom, scene of so many dinner-dances, with its sprung floor.
The menu might not have kept up with trendier places – roast beef sliced from the trolly by the chef at your table was a highlight – but it was always exceptionally well done. If you couldn’t manage that there was always the Yorkshire Pudding and gravy starter on the plat du jour menu.
Whatever the occasion, lunch or dinner dance, it was always enhanced by the appearance of Mr B himself.
David Baldwin was something of a rarity in the catering trade, equally at home in the kitchen as front of house, a born Maitre D. He will be very sadly missed.
The private funera is on Thursday at Hutcliffe Wood crematorium at 3pm. Friends and colleagues will line the streets as the cottage passes. Donations for the Alzheimer’s Society can be made online at http://www.johnheath.co.uk
Some comments from those who knew David
Jamie Bosworth, chef: “He was a true gentleman and very generous. He lent us plenty of catering equipment when we started Rafters (with his brother Wayne) and always provided an ear to listen. Jayne and I got married at Baldwin’s and we had Wayne’s wake there.”
Cary Brown, chef: “He was the Godfather of so many chefs.”
John Mitchell, wine merchant: “It’s a sad day the Big Un leaving us. There was nobody like him.”