When Cindy McKinstrie opened The Busy Chef in Essex, her business seemed like the perfect solution to a sizable American problem: Folks want to eat healthy, home-cooked meals but don’t believe they have the time to do the chopping and stirring. Her solution: Prepare the ingredients in advance, let customers mix them together for a DIY feel, and send them home to heat up the final product. In this way, dishes such as shepherds’ pie and chicken ’n’ biscuits could be assembled in minutes and popped in the oven.
But last year, McKinstrie realized the concept wasn’t as hot as she’d thought. She swapped the prep stations for tables and focused on building new business as a café. It wasn’t enough. On May 16, The Busy Chef will be closing for good.
“The economy is doing all the little businesses in,” McKinstrie pronounced sadly. She notes that even her regulars admitted to “eating out of their freezers.” Although the catering side of things was “picking up,” she had gotten behind on her rent. “My landlord has been really good,” she says, “but I had to come up with the back rent and I can’t, so I’m being forced to leave. I understand he has to do what he has to do.”
What is McKinstrie’s next move? She’s looking for work in restaurant management. “It’s what I love to do,” she says. “People have feelers out for me. I’ll just go from there.”