Yorke Arms 'redefined' as restaurant closes to become country house for hire

If walls could talk, The Yorke Arms’ story would be one of ancient monks and travellers’ tales, and of a famous chef’s culinary passion in pursuit of a Michelin star.

Karen and Jonathan Turner, owners of the Yorke Arms at Ramsgill in the former 'Little Dining Room' which is now The Snug. Image: Gary Longbottom

Now the Nidderdale restaurant, acclaimed among the nation’s finest, is suddenly gone, reinvented out of necessity as an elite country house for hire.

The change is born of a belief that it had to adapt to survive, said owner Jonathan Turner, as he invokes a Churchillian spirit in grasping the bull by the horns to rebuild.

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“Yorkshire is the best place in the world, but we can’t lock it up and look at it,” he said. “It’s very difficult for everybody, in hospitality. Throw a pandemic at us, and we’ve got to deal with it.

Jonathan Turner, owner of the Yorke Arms at Ramsgill which reopens today as a country house for hire. Image: Gary Longbottom

“We can’t sit with our heads in our hands and hope it blows over.

“We are putting a life back into The Yorke Arms, and into Ramsgill and Nidderdale."

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The Yorke Arms, with monastic cheese once made on the site, has been serving food for 100 years and held one of the region’s few Michelin stars under chef Frances Atkins.

Jonathan Turner, owner of the Yorke Arms at Ramsgill which reopens today as a country house for hire. Image: Gary Longbottom

For 22 years, she has served at the helm, building up the business to critical acclaim and being among the first women in the country to receive the culinary accolade.

The restaurant was bought by Mr Turner in 2017, but with its small spaces and limited covers, he said, it cannot safely socially distance guests and remain a viable business.

“I can’t rip the walls out,” he said. “We just have to react.”

The new venture would see weddings, business meetings, or family and friend groups, who could ‘bubble’ for holidays, cycling tours, car rallies or health retreats.

A major challenge for fine-dining is atmosphere, and Mr Turner believes the country house could safely see a celebratory event for up to 33 overnight guests, with Mrs Atkins’ food, such a draw for so long, coming as part of the package.

Gone already as the announcement came this week were the restaurant’s dining tables, replaced by sofas and a television to give it a more homely feel, albeit well-heeled.

People are social creatures by nature, desperate to be together, said Mr Turner: “If someone wants that high quality service, they can have it, and pay for it. It is an open book.”

'We've got a fight on our hands'

Entrepreneur Mr Turner, by his own words, likes to be on the “front foot” and do things differently.

This week’s announcement on tax cuts and vouchers brought a sector “lifeline”, he said, but he refused to wait on a preserve from Downing Street.

He could have closed for a few years, waiting for everything to “blow over”, or apply for a change of use to turn the building into a house.

This way, he said, while The Yorke Arms has closed as a restaurant, it is still wide open for people to enjoy.

“It’s been welcoming people for food and drink for 100 years,” he said. “I’m not going to be the person that stops that. I’m not going to let a pandemic stop that.

“This is Britain – we’ve all got a bit of Winston Churchill in us. We’ve got a fight on our hands, and we’ve got to stand up and do something.”

Adapting

Consumer habits have dramatically altered, Yorke Arms owner Jonathan Turner has said, believing the high street will return changed.

To survive and to thrive, he added, businesses have to move quickly to adapt, and he warned the writing has been on the wall for some months.

“The world is a different place and it always now will be,” he said. “It’s too easy to sit with your head in your hands and say ‘we’re all doomed’.

“Some people are going to be going bankrupt, and that’s a sad fact. Being creative is what we should be doing. We’ve got to get on with it.”

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