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Commerce and Industry

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Green light for York Minster Refectory Restaurant plans

Award-winning chef Bex Toppin and partner Will Pearce of Robinsons Cafe, York, have been brought on board to run the new York Minster Refectory Restaurant as part of a prominent, award-winning development team that also includes GEM Construction (York) Ltd., The Star Group of Restaurants, and Rachel McLane Ltd.

This follows last Friday’s City of York Council’s Planning Committee unanimous resolution to grant planning permission for a new refectory restaurant on the site of the former Minster school.

GEM Construction’s chairman Mike Green, who is joint director and partner in the new venture with The Star Group’s director Andrew Pern, said: “This is an ambitious, high quality but accessible restaurant launch in an historically sensitive refurbishment of The Minster School, York, that will benefit the people and the city of York with new jobs and a fabulous restaurant while embracing the vision of the Chapter of York, the governing body for York Minster.”

The Right Revd Dr Jonathan Frost, Dean of York said: “We are delighted that City of York Council granted planning permission and listed building consent last night. This excellent partnership fully embraces Chapter’s vision to create a warm, welcoming refectory facility in the heart of the city. Re-purposing the former Minster School buildings to create a wonderful new space is fundamental to the principles of sustainability set out in the York Minster Precinct Neighbourhood Plan. 

“We are also delighted to work with partners whose ethos as a community employer is aligned with York Minster’s core values for openness, inclusivity and support for disadvantaged groups, such as ex-prisoners, who are often excluded from mainstream employment opportunities.

“We are confident that the new Refectory Restaurant will operate very much in the caring spiritual, historical tradition of York Minster as a place of sanctuary and alms for feeding and watering pilgrims and the needy.  The venture remains ‘subject to contract’ and we continue to work closely with Gem and The Star Group to finalise the detail”.

The team behind the new Refectory Restaurant are experienced, highly talented professionals working on the project from the historical conservancy side, to interior design, hospitality and catering.

GEM Construction itself employs 35 full-time staff including project and professional staff, alongside Gem’s sister company, Lanstone Conservation, which specialises in the maintenance, restoration and conservation of ecclesiastical, historic and ancient buildings and monuments. 

Gem Construction was founded in 1997 by Chairman Mike Green, who is passionate about the project, the jobs in construction and hospitality the new restaurant will create, and the opportunities it has opened up for the project team. 

“At Robinsons, Bex and Will have really made a name for themselves since they opened the cafe in 2016 and will bring good quality but very affordable dining in an accessible-to-all refectory-style restaurant cafe,” added Mr Green. 

“Plans are still being finalised but we expect there will be a daytime takeaway element, and day time and evening dining; we also aim to have a mix of smaller function and private dining rooms, which are relatively rare in York,” added Mr Green.

Looking after the interior design side of the project is Rachel McLane Ltd, the multi-award-winning interior designer from Pickering – a finalist in three categories at this year’s Northern Design Awards, including best Interior Design Practice. 

Bringing 20 years’ experience to the project across numerous hospitality projects, Rachel McLane said: “We want the Refectory’s design to be an honest, community space, unpretentious, public focused and accessible, making it look like it belongs and won’t take away from the essence of the building, by doing justice to its historical importance. 

“The design concepts that we have come up with really respect and enhance the old school – the main floor Refectory restaurant space will be the space in which school pupils and staff ate their meals and hosted school concerts,” she said. Andrew Pern, at the Star Group of Restaurants is the other main investment partner and brings the expertise and resources of those restaurants including The Star at Harome and The Star Inn the City, York. 

Mike Green added: “Although Andrew and I have been working very closely together on this project as we have on our other Star restaurants, people can expect the Minster Refectory restaurant to be a distinctly different concept to the Star.”

This new project is obviously very close to the hearts of the Refectory team Rachel, Bex, Will, Andrew and Mike, who added: “We are all from the area, or live, work and have close connections not just to York, but to York Minster and the former school itself.

“So, it goes without saying, that we want to see that the building’s history is respected and that any project is done well and to the highest standard.”

The new team also hope that the new restaurant will add to the increasing lure of York as a destination place for high quality, good value restaurant and cafe dining.

“We’re keen to build that up for York and the people here, not only to attract more people from Yorkshire and further afield to the city but to give local people employment and opportunities in what will be a fantastic new restaurant,” added Mr Green.

The plans for the new Refectory Restaurant remain subject to final planning permission in a deal that is ‘subject to contract’, as York Minster, Gem Construction and The Star Group of Companies work in partnership to finalise contract arrangements. 

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