Banned chef Stephen Jeffers lifts lid on restaurants' struggle
A chef described as a 'senior statesman' of Northern Ireland's restaurant trade has spoken of the financial burdens facing restaurateurs, following his eight-year disqualification as a director.
Stephen Jeffers and his wife Lisa were given boardroom bans over their handling of the company accounts for their failed, award-winning eatery, Jeffers by the Marina. The restaurant on Bangor's Gray's Hill went into liquidation in January 2012 after eight years in business.
Jeffers (47) is now principal of the Belfast Cookery School, which is part of the Mourne Seafood Bar group. Mr Jeffers and his 44-year-old wife, from Warren Road, Donaghadee, were banned from being directors last month "in respect of their conduct as directors of Becker Merchants Limited" which traded under the name of the seafood restaurant.
The High Court accepted the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's allegations of "unfit conduct" against the couple, whose Bangor restaurant business went bust owing creditors just over £240,000. The matters of unfit conduct included debts worth £304,000 in tax and national insurance as well as £47,000 of unpaid corporation tax for periods spanning 2007 to 2009 as well as the year 2011 to 2012.
Mr Jeffers told the Belfast Telegraph: "I had many, many years of trading very well, from the age of about 28 until then.
"But the last few were very tough and I found it very hard to keep on top of things.
"That's the reality and that's the same for people trading today. My heart goes out to them."
Mr Jeffers said the VAT and taxation burden facing restaurateurs in Northern Ireland was heavier than in the likes of the Republic of Ireland and France. He added: "At the moment I've no ambitions to go back into business. Not in this climate.
"I'm really thriving teaching at the school."
Belfast Telegraph food critic Joris Minne described Stephen Jeffers as a "senior statesman" among the chef fraternity, while the Guardian newspaper said he "scores on all seafood".