Shwings in Chelmsford to shut restaurant and move into private catering as owners shares plans for the future

The Shwings team with owner Mark Strutton (centre) at Wing Jam festival where they won "best unique flavour" for their Black Curry wings. The Shwings restaurant in Chelmsford will be shutting on May 6
The Shwings team with owner Mark Strutton (centre) at Wing Jam festival where they won "best unique flavour" for their Black Curry wings. The Shwings restaurant in Chelmsford will be shutting on May 6 -Credit:Mark Strutton

A hugely popular, multi-award-winning chicken wing restaurant in Essex will be shutting its premises and moving into private hire and events catering, almost six years after opening. Shwings in New London Road made waves when it arrived in Chelmsford in November 2018, quickly establishing itself as a recognised brand in the county. But with overhead running costs jumping by 40 per cent, the owner has made the difficult decision to cease the restaurant operation.

Known for its extravagant flavours and sauces for its chicken wings and renowned buffalo chicken burger, Shwings proved a hit in the city and beyond, taking their food to festivals across the UK including Wing Fest and Wing Jam. It's been visited by Premiere League football players and stars of The Only Way Is Essex, trying their big flavours such as smokey honey jalepeno, black curry and SFC.

But despite the popularity and successes, owner Mark Strutton said the restaurant is now running at a loss due to the prices for "everything" rocketing up. Mr Strutton said a combination of factors such as Brexit, increasing wages and rising electricity bills have led the restaurant to no longer be viable. Its last day will be Monday (May 6), and this will also mean it will not be doing takeaway orders via any delivery service.

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However, it will still exist and be available for hire for private events, with the restaurant set to be open "sporadically" for one-off events, including Father's Day weekend in June. Additionally, Shwings will be moving into the catering business, having secured contracts with the likes of The Jockey Club, which manages events such as Cheltenham Racecourse, and Sky for its darts coverage over the Christmas period. They also have a mobile food truck which will appear at various other events in the future.

'You can't put up chicken wing prices to match the costs'

Speaking to EssexLive, Mr Strutton said it was "a sign of the times" and said spiralling costs mean the high street is "dying". He said: "Our overheads have gone up 40 per cent, you just can't put a chicken wing up that amount of money. I always have a plan in the background if things don't work; I started sorting the catering side of it out after Covid about a year ago in case things went sour.

"Because of Brexit, everything's gone up that is imported. Wages have gone up, just everything has gone up to the point where you can't afford to run it. It's running at a loss now, I just thought to myself, there's no point doing it. I'm keeping the shop, I've got a five-year lease on it, so I'll be keeping it there and opening it for sporadic days here and there."

Shwings in New London Road, Chelmsford will be ceasing trading as a restaurant in May 2024
Shwings in New London Road, Chelmsford will be ceasing trading as a restaurant in May 2024 -Credit:EssexLive

The announcement of the Shwings restaurant ceasing was made last week, but since then, Mr Strutton said he has been blown away by the support from "The Shwings Army" - with the restaurant filling up its bookings on multiple days since. He said: "A woman messaged to say 'thank you very much, my husband is crying in the corner'.

"We got some really good feedback; as soon as I told everyone we were shutting, the restaurant pretty much each day, day by day, selling out in terms of bookings. The support we've had has been unreal. I'm gonna open up every now and again when we have time to; on Father's Day in June, I'll be opening up all weekend on the 14th, 15th and 16th of June as a one-off. We'll do little things like that, plus I want people to rent the restaurant out for a private space, with Shwings food and a DJ if necessary."

Mr Strutton said the level of customer support has never been an issue, and the decision to shut the restaurant has purely been due to the costs they're facing as a business. He continued: "It's a sign of the times; we've got a huge following, any business you have good days and bad days.

"We've always had clientele in, but the amount of clientele we've had in, we've been running five years and would earn money. We were still growing and having clientele in, but the figures were still going up, they can't get rid of the bills coming in. It's just constantly losing.

Chicken wings from Shwings, served at a festival
Chicken wings from Shwings, served at a festival -Credit:Mark Strutton

"Everyone's going 'it's one of the best restaurants in Chelmsford'; we've won lorry-loads of awards, we're in the top ten in Chelmsford on TripAdvisor. I won Wing Jam last week, won Wing Jam in September. We've won at Wing Fest, won five medals in Wingmania. We're in the top one per cent of restaurants by TripAdvisor's account in the world, so when you look at that you think to yourself 'they'll be fine' - but no. It's mad.

"Everything that's come in is more money, the ingredients from abroad. With that, it was also hard to find staff as well. The other thing you had a problem with was you had Covid where loads of people left kitchens, and after Covid came Brexit, so anyone that was [an EU citizen] that worked in kitchens had to leave the country. It's been an on-going battle."

'People have travelled hours just to eat with us once more'

Awards won by Shwings include Wingjam champions, most recently winning "best unique flavour" for their Black Curry wings. They have five awards at Wingmania and another at Wing Fest. The brand also won in the BBC's "Britain's Top Takeaways". Despite the restaurant closure, Mr Strutton said the Shwings brand "has a lot coming in" for its catering, and they have been blown away by the support since the announcement.

He added: "We've loved it here; we started in Chelmsford and we've grown in Chelmsford. I can't believe the support; I've been stopped in the street with people saying they're sorry to hear about the place closing and that they're gutted. I had loads of people at the racecourse coming to me there. My phone is blowing up constantly with people messaging me saying they can't believe it and they're gutted. The support has been unbelievable.

Owner Mark Strutton inside Shwings when it opened in 2018
Owner Mark Strutton inside Shwings when it opened in 2018 -Credit:Edward Starr Photographer

"The other night we had people driving in from miles away to come and eat with us. They said they used to live in Chelmsford and saw we were closing, and didn't want to miss out. There was one guy that drove about four-and-a-half hours to come to us. We've had people doing stupid journeys before, but he called a sickie at work and came down to us, which is kind of nice - it's crazy."

People can follow @EATSHWINGS on social media to keep up to date with Shwings and contact them about hiring the premises.