Matt Orlando: “We fought. We fought to be out here. We’re not in the centre of the city. I mean, 80 per cent of Copenhageners that came to eat here when we first opened had never even been here.”
Camilla Topham: “The demand from chefs and budding restaurateurs is enormous and it frustrates me because there's this big talent pool and I don't know what to do with it.”
Torsten Vildgaard: “I don't need a swan outside my window or something that's unrealistic. I'm quite an easy-going guy. But if I could just see the sun or get some fresh air sometimes, open a window.”
Hello and welcome to The Recipe, a podcast about restaurants and the people behind them. I’m your host, James Clasper.
In previous episodes of The Recipe, we’ve explored the new normal for the restaurant industry, met some brave individuals who’ve opened a restaurant during the pandemic, and discussed how to turn ideas for restaurants into reality.
But in this episode, I want to bring things back to earth, quite literally. You see, the number one reason that almost two-thirds of restaurants fail within their first year is their location. Open any textbook on opening restaurants — I’m assuming there is such a thing — and the standard advice about location scouting is to consider demographic factors, like the median age and income in a particular neighbourhood, as well as foot traffic and proximity to other restaurants.
In this episode, we’re not going to talk about any of that. At least not directly. Instead, we’re going to hear from an American chef who took a big risk with his restaurant’s location in Copenhagen, as well as the co-founder of a restaurant in the Cotswolds whose rural location is critical to its goal of being as seasonal, ethical and local as possible. We’ll also talk to a London property consultant to find out why some restaurant operators succeed in finding a prime location while others struggle.
But first, we’re going to stay put in Copenhagen and try to understand why one of Denmark’s most successful chefs has spent more than two years searching for the right location for his new restaurant.
Torsten Vildgaard was just 26 when he was named chef of the year in Denmark in 2005. He then spent seven years at Noma, holding a number of roles, including in the fabled test kitchen, until Claus Meyer lured him to the other side of the harbour in 2013, to head up Studio — which won a Michelin star four months later. In 2017, René Redzepi invited Torsten back to Noma to be his “right-hand man” — a position he held until spring 2019 when he decided it was time to launch his own restaurant again.
Given all the awards and accolades, you might think that that would be easy. Think again. Late last year, I visited Torsten at his house in southern Copenhagen and once he’d made us both coffee, I asked him to tell me what kind of space he’d be looking for — and why it had been so difficult.
Torsten Vildgaard: I'm looking for a space where I can grow, but I'm also very realistic about it. I'm not looking for a thousand square metres, located in the best spot in Copenhagen. I'm much more of a humble guy, but I'm looking for a space and enough square metres where we can do things correctly. So I would like not to go down the stairs and hit my head. It should be easy for the waiters to clear the table, go and put it in the dishwasher, where's there's enough space, and I'm not asking for something unreasonable. But I also believe that to cook for 30 people, you need around 300 to 400 square metres. Many of you have seen this picture of an iceberg, just the tip of the iceberg, and it's like a fifth of it and the rest is hidden under the water. That's how I see a restaurant. You see the dining room, where you make money and maybe you have a lounge or the toilet and stuff, but the space where you have guests is quite small compared to what you need. Because you need storage, you need a wine cellar, you need changing rooms, you need a prep kitchen, and if you want to do things correctly and do things right, then you need space to do that. So, of course, there's not a lot of these spaces, and I have been very close, five times now within the two years, sitting with the pen, ready to sign, and the day before, the salesman or the government puts a fucking stick in the wheel and it doesn't work out. I was also hoping some opportunities would have popped up during that period. Not that I wanted any of my colleagues to close, but maybe some of the landlords have been looking … a lot of office space has been minimised because people now work from home, so they don't need that much office space. I've been flirting with the idea of trying to be a little bit creative because there are no real restaurants as such, maybe I could build a restaurant in a location that's not a restaurant. I have also been looking at warehouses because the square metres are fairly cheap and we have a big frame where we can just set up our own walls and create our own infrastructure, you know? And then I have also been looking at some beautiful locations up north. But when you move up there, the last bus goes at 11:30. So how do the staff go home afterwards? Staff are one of the most difficult things nowadays to put into a restaurant, to be honest. I want to make it difficult for myself, but I don't need to make it stupidly difficult for myself, to put myself too far away, where it's too difficult, first of all, for the guests, but they can always take a taxi, right? A chef cannot always take a taxi and you finish up at one o'clock in the morning and have to be there again at maybe eight or nine in the morning. And I have two kids, and since I'm going to be in the restaurant most of my life, I also would like a spot where they can just come and visit, or at least my wife can take the car and they could join us for staff meal. Or there’s this big dream I have that my daughters can just take the metro and come by themselves and sit and do some homework and I can be chopping some stuff. I don't want to move away from my kids. I want this restaurant to be something else that brings us together, even though I'm going to invest a lot of time and effort in this because I'm going to be a chef who’s going to be there every day when we open. You can see there are a few things to consider, but it doesn't mean I have said no to these things only on these terms because, when I say it, I don't know if it sounds a little spoiled. Like, “oh, you know, it has to be like 500 metres from my house”. That's not what I'm saying. I love to bike, but to bike 20 kilometres one way and 20 kilometres the other way, that's maybe fun the first week, then your legs are tired. Also, you’ve been standing up for 12 hours or more. No, that's not what I was looking for. So as you can hear, I've been searching for all sorts of opportunities. And I have probably been looking at 60 locations. And five of them have been narrowed down to almost signing a contract but never happened.
James: From a logistical point of view, do you have a broker scouting the market for you?
Torsten: I have activated every single broker in Copenhagen. I used family members and their network and “Do you know someone?” I've been so frustrated that I found myself asking people, “Oh, you know, I'm also on a journey looking for a restaurant. Do you know anybody?” You know, it’s like rings in the water. “Maybe.” I have everybody out looking for it for me. Already this morning before you came, I have been on the phone, activating the network again, telling them, “Yes, please go out and scout again and please do not show me the same fucking stuff I've been looking at three times.” There have been times when I've been looking at a location, one time where I said, “This doesn't work. First of all, the rent is maybe ridiculously high, and I'm going to have 30 covers, you know that. Who the fuck is going to pay for this rent?” And then the next time you talk to him, he puts the same spot out as a suggestion, and you're like, “Did I miss something out?” And then you're like, "Okay, let's go out. Maybe the landlord is willing to reduce the price a bit." And then you'll look at the space again and it's like, "There was a reason why we sifted away” and the third time in half a year, that guy mentioned the same one. It's like, “Come on, dude, find something else, please.”
James: You mentioned that you wouldn't want to be running up and down the stairs, banging heads and so forth. And that's a reflection of how you've changed, but is it also a reflection, do you think, of how the industry is thinking about the health and safety of people in the industry and the environment in which they wish to work?
Torsten: Definitely. In the old days, many restaurants were in a basement and they never saw the sun, and you were just working in this basement environment. It was a little bit difficult to breathe and maybe the extraction was not the best and so on and so on. And, as a chef or as a worker, you never knew if it was raining or the sun was shining and stuff. It used to be like that for a lot of restaurants. But now we work so many hours, we put so much effort into this. So why not have a window where you can have some light and you're not necessarily having to look at a dumpster, a container or something like that. And it's not to say that you want a lake with a swan moving around, but working at this high level that I also represent, in order to be creative and get inspired and stuff like that, it doesn't come necessarily just by itself all the time. You also need to be in a healthy work environment that can let your mind go, because you get pressure from the daily routines of being ready for service and all this. So there are so many things going on, if you want people to work for you on tough terms because as a chef, you work on tough terms, but you might as well do your best to make them good as long as you're there, and make it as healthy and good for them to go to work. And I also want to put my foot down and also if I need to tell my family that they are only going to see me one or two times during a week for many, many years to come, it has to be done correctly. But yet again, I don't need a swan outside my window or something that's unrealistic. I'm quite an easy-going guy, but if I could just see the sun or get some fresh air, sometimes open a window. Many restaurants actually cannot even open the windows because they are located in a building where people are living above or something like that, and it's suffocating. It kind of drains you. And that's not what I want to achieve as a chef.
James: You've had two years to think about finding the right location. Has anything else evolved in your thinking about restaurants in that time?
Torsten: Definitely. At the beginning of these two years, I was starting to look, I almost had a team ready to sign off for me, where now I have zero. And that is also something that, a few months back, I was biting my nails off, being like, “Oh fuck. You know, one thing is we can sign a deal, but what about a team now?” Because I cannot do this project by myself. I'm going to have chefs. I’m going to have a restaurant manager. I need that but throughout these two years, I have also just come to the conclusion that I want to have professional people around me, of course, because it's an ambitious project, but I also want people around me that I like, who are not necessarily the best of the best — and hopefully it doesn't sound wrong — but actually people that I like and that I have respect for me, so we can agree on the terms that we are doing. But I'd rather go to work being surrounded by people that I feel are like a family and that I would like to see on my days off as well.
James: Tell me about the cooking you hope to do in this new restaurant.
Torsten: It’s going to be rooted in the Nordics. It's such a big part of me and I love the Nordic ingredients and what the forest and the fields have to offer in terms of herbs and flowers and nuts and berries and game meat and all this. But it's not going to be only Nordic ingredients, because I have a big love for the French kitchen as well. Like being able to use truffles. So it's going to be a merger between the French and the Nordic. If you have these parents going to bed, the baby that comes out of that is hopefully going to be my restaurant. I know I have the ability to grow. That's also why I need the space too, because it would be such a shame if I put myself in a spot where I cannot grow and then I need to move after two or three years again. My ambition is to go for two Michelin stars. I had one. I haven't been away from the trade that long, so I will get back into it, but that is one of my goals for this project.
James: How do you stay match fit, so to speak?
Torsten: I haven't been on the field playing in the big league. I've been sitting a bit on the bench, looking at all the other guys playing and progressing. So it felt at times that it was super unfair. And I have also been doubting myself, occasionally. Is it because people don’t like me. At one point, I became so paranoid — or not paranoid, but so sad — that I was like, “Wow, you know, maybe it's not meant to be, maybe I don't have…” I’m doubting that people think I have something to contribute, or they don't like my flavours. When you have it with yourself and you only have … also, because it's difficult to talk about these things and I don't know if I'm doing something wrong, but hopefully, hopefully… If you could see my face, it would be like, “I don't know what to do.” But it's about being patient.
That was Torsten Vildgaard, who, per his Instagram page, is “currently looking for a restaurant” and, well, I’m pretty sure he would appreciate any leads listeners may have.
Coming up, we’re heading to London to find out more about the restaurant scene there. But first, a little interlude, as we hear from a couple of chefs who describe where their restaurants are located. In a minute or two, we’ll hear from Darren Brown, the chef director at restaurant Henne, a 14-cover eatery in the historic English market town of Moreton-in-Marsh. But first, here’s Matt Orlando talking about the pros and cons of launching his restaurant, Amass, in one of Copenhagen’s least accessible locations back in 2013.
Matt Orlando: We had a good burst of energy right off the bat, which is great. We came out here eight years ago and we were the only ones out here. Taxis wouldn't come out here, there'd be a dude smoking weed right in front of the window and not really caring that there were 60 people inside having dinner. Back then, Refshaleøen was so far away, there was nothing out here and it was so cool to come here. The number of exploratory walks I've had out here by myself, finding open doors and getting to the top of buildings and having this crazy view. Obviously, those doors are all locked now and all the warehouses are filled with businesses. It was really cool and that's what really drew me out here. And we were in the country but post-industrial, and I loved it. But we fought. We fought to be out here. We were not in the centre of the city. I mean, 80 per cent of Copenhageners that came to eat here when we first opened had never even been here. Even René [Redzepi] told me, he was like, “You're crazy”. And fast forward to three years ago, René moved Noma out here. I remember having a conversation with him. He was like, “Oh, we're going to come out and be by you”. And I was like, “You're crazy, René”. René has also supported us a lot and sent a lot of people out here to see us and stuff like that. And so it was cool to see them move out here and it did open this whole area up even more. Until two years ago, we were out here alone almost and then they opened the street food market, which was great for the area, it brings a lot of people out here, but for us, it's not amazing. All the traffic for that goes directly between us and our garden, it creates that separation now, which is not ideal. And it's great for the wine bar and when we were doing fried chicken, because a lot of foot traffic comes out here, but for Amass, it really compromises Amass. I find we’re boxing ourselves in a little bit. And it's frustrating on a lot of levels and I wish the area itself was managed a bit better. There are a lot of bathrooms out here and there are 5,000 people coming out here and you're just managing a group, like a herd of people coming out here, you're just managing them and trying to keep them from destroying all the stuff that you have outside. And there is like a wave them — they come this way, they do some damage, but when they come back when they're drunk, that's when the real “excitement”, if you will, starts for us. Our greenhouse has been slashed three times this summer. It's only been slashed once in eight years before that. We can't build fires in the garden anymore because it just attracts all these people that just start burning shit. Some guy was breaking down, ripping apart one of our wooden planter boxes to burn it one night. I'm like, “What are you doing, bro? Get out of here.” I guess I was hoping the area would develop in a different way and you can see that. This area is slated to be like developed like apartments and stuff like that. And it's a shame because there's such a cool ecosystem out here. Between us and Empirical Spirits and La Banchina and Lille Bakery, it’s the reason people come out here. And so to kind of like give it to the animals is frustrating sometimes. But one thing I learned from René, working at Noma is: stay the course, do not waiver from what you believe in, because eventually it will pay off. It will be a fight to get there. And that was one thing that I really took from working at Noma in the early days, because I was there a year after they opened and just fighting lunches with two people in the dining room and 17 for dinner. But he never strayed from the course and just kept going and I just always remember that experience in my head.
Darren Brown: I'm the chef-director at restaurant Henne in Moreton-in-Marsh. We try to be as local as we can, ethical as we can and sustainable as we can. We buy all our produce within 15, 20 miles of the restaurant. And we aim to give a really personable, enjoyable evening to our guests. Moreton itself, as well, it's not really renowned for its food scene, but over the last year or two, there are a few more businesses starting to open up that are very food-led orientated. We’ve got a new wine shop. There's a brand new bakery Otis and Bell, which is fantastic. And there's another local business coming in, which is more of a farm-shop-cafe-type thing. It's a market square town. It's right in the centre of the country, really, in the Gloucestershire countryside, a very small close-knit community. So we just felt it was either going to be a fantastic addition and work, or it would be an eyesore and not work. And luckily it's gone the first way. The ultimate goal would be to have our own kitchen garden, but obviously being in a small town like Moreton, land is at a premium and we don't have that site yet. But we are actively looking for it and have got a couple of leads. But hopefully within the year, we'll have somewhere and start growing our own and then be as truly local as we can. We want to be as sustainable and local as we can and use as much produce from around the area. The big picture of everything is, it's the right thing to do. I mean, that's what everybody should be doing. The mass-produced and mass-farmed produce is hurting the planet and with the global situation as it is at the moment, especially with Brexit and the pandemic, why are we buying stuff from France, no matter how good it is? We have fantastic local producers. Our local butcher is Paddock Farm. They produce some of the best pork. They have Tamworth rare breed and that pork is incredible. So why buy mass-produced supermarket quality, for next to nothing, when you can have a supremely excellent product like theirs and use that? Like I say, it's the right thing to do. With regard to our produce and things, we are buying so local that we can go and pick stuff up. I often go round in the car. I go to the Cornbury Park estate, where we get our venison from, just drive down and have a chat and a coffee with Tom, the gamekeeper and pick up venison and drive back. So it's a very relaxed way of doing things. We are pretty much full every week, which makes ordering and planning very easy. So I know exactly what I need to buy. And because our suppliers are so local, if I do mess up or we do get busy, I can just nip out and go and grab it. That's the other advantage of not using a national vegetable company that's 80 miles away — everything is so local, if I do need something, I can run out and get it. The biggest compliment and the biggest success that our business will be judged on is if we're full and if we’re still here in a few years. We want to do this as a long-term project and we're not in it to do it for a couple of years and then sell it on or make a fortune out of it. We really want to do it because we're passionate and believe that we can give people an entertaining evening and do with nice food. Our ultimate judgment is whether we're still here in a few years, still successfully filling the place, and that's it.
That was Darren Brown of restaurant Henne, in Moreton-in-Marsh. And we’re going to stay in England for the final part of the episode. You see, Torsten Vildgaard’s difficulty finding the right spot for his restaurant got me thinking. What do landlords look for in restaurant operators, and why? Do they care only about the financial viability of a new restaurant, or are other factors on the table too? And how can landlords be more creative about helping would-be restaurateurs like Torsten?
To get some answers, I turned to Camilla Topham. She’s the co-founder of a London-based consultancy called Distrkt. They work on behalf of major London property owners and landlords like the Shaftesbury Estate, which owns much of the West End, the Crown Estate, which owns the area around Regent Street and St James’s, and Borough Market. They’ve also been advising Sheffield city council about the northern city’s new food hall. So if anyone knows what an address for success is, it would likely be Camilla. I called her recently and began by asking her to give me Distrkt’s elevator pitch.
Camilla Topham: Distrkt is a hospitality property consultancy and we essentially work on behalf of landlords to find amazing restaurants and chefs and food-and-leisure operators in our estates. So we're essentially an agent who acts on behalf of landlords to broker the lease, but we undertake a lot of strategic work and our clients are really the landlords who care about their restaurants and food-and-beverage offer within their developments and estates, and while we act for the landlords we've got really close relationships with all the operators.
James: OK, let’s go back to basics. Why is a restaurant’s location so important?
Camilla: Location ultimately impacts on the type of restaurant business it can be and I think any operator looking for space has to look closely at those dynamics of the area and really understand what they're offering and how what they want to do fits them with those dynamics. There are of course some operators who can literally locate in the middle of nowhere and the people will come, like the Nomas of the world, but mostly our operators would want to pair their offering with an area that has compatible dynamics, whether that's a strong lunch trade — for example, if you go out to East London or more neighbourhood areas, it might just be an evening trade, and all of this impacts on budget and the overall model and what can afford to be paid in rent, essentially.
James: So what are the sort of questions that restaurateurs should be asking as they look for a suitable location for their next restaurant?
Camilla: We have lots of meetings with operators where they come into our office and they've got a new concept and we sit down and talk about where it would fit, and I think the first question that we always ask is, what is the offering? Who is your customer? And secondly, it's really important to know what the budget is because if you've got a really low budget, you're just not going to be able to afford Soho rents, and you will have to look at more neighbourhood locations, perhaps look a bit further east if it's quite an edgy food concept. And so that is really critical. Budget is everything.
James: OK, let’s flip that question around. When landlords are looking for the right restaurant to fill a property, what kind of questions do they typically have for candidates?
Camilla: Our clients are always looking for the best in class. It doesn't always have to be something new but just something really, really good — really good quality. Our role is to pair landlords with operators that are complementary to their objectives, and it's different for different types of landlords. We have to get under the skin of that in order to do the right deals for them and introduce them to the operators. For some landlords, it's really just about rent and security of income. We have a thing called covenant which is a little bit historic now, where a landlord would literally look at the accounts and financial standing and make a decision on that basis. But we don't see landlords making decisions like that now and certainly not the landlords we work with. For someone like Shaftesbury, they want the most relevant new restaurant brands going into their estate. This is a really strong central London destination and they are a best-in-class landlord. So they want to know who are those people, who is the next big thing, but while every landlord has different criteria, the one thread really is that backing is important. We see lots of new concepts come through for more independent operators but landlords are also looking for comfort that it's the right team in place, that the team has experience, that they're able to run a restaurant, that this restaurant is likely to be successful, that they can afford to fit it out and that they can afford to pay the rent. So we do look closely at backing and who the team of that restaurant is. For a landlord like Borough Market, those criteria are very much sustainability-based. Borough Market is a charity so they can not make a profit. And they have a board of trustees who are in place to protect the market and protect the heritage of it and make sure the right operators go in. They score every single restaurant proposal we get and whoever gets the highest score is the operator they choose. And the scoring is very much sustainability initiatives, provenance, sourcing, company ethics, and we hope to see more of that with other landlords. Sustainability is a key driver, for landlords now as well as for restaurant operators. We definitely think that landlords will show more interest in tenants’ sustainability initiatives going forward.
James: If I’ve understood you correctly, while landlords want to see who’s backing a project and whether it’s financially viable, other factors are in the mix. Is it fair to say that landlords will consider whether restaurants are able to attract other tenants to their commercial spaces?
Camilla: Yes, we’ve worked with Derwent London, who owns the Tea Building, which is a really iconic building, and they've got really amazing office space in there. They’ve got Soho House in there and the restaurants that we've done there have had to complement that offering and fit that overall destination. And you're absolutely right, for someone like Derwent, where most of the space in their buildings is office space, it's absolutely critical that the restaurant operator complement that and be somewhere those office users will go. In the Tea Building, we put in Lyles. It was the first restaurant space that we had which they created, which is incredible, and it's a destination as well. People travel from all over the world to go to Lyles. More recently, even though it was a few years now, they had a strip club on the corner, which is now the Smoking Goat and Brat — again, two incredible restaurants. And Derwent London really cares about having great relationships with their restaurant operators as well, so we always make sure we're introducing Derwent to a restaurant that we feel they're going to gel with, on a personal level as well, because their relationships are absolutely critical.
James: Does that mean it can be much harder for an independent or first-time restaurateur to get a foot on the ladder, so to speak?
Camilla: I think that is fair. It can be very difficult for people striking out on their own to get a good site. I was actually working with an amazing chef recently, and she's got a brand new concept which hopefully is going to open this year, and she's been looking for a site for over six years, and this year she will finally open a restaurant. And it's been a really long journey for her because she had this amazing concept and the landlords all liked it and now she's got this team in place around her, she’s really well backed by a guy who's got a really successful restaurant group, and I think it's all those pieces that have come together that really sort of helped with that. But I think if you've got a new concept, it can be really worthwhile for those independents to do a pop-up or a supper club first, so the landlords can actually see it, because it can be really hard just having a presentation deck and really understanding how the restaurant is going to be and how it's going to trade. We see a lot of things on paper that looked great, but turning that into a fully functioning restaurant takes so much more than just an idea. We often see a lot of brand new concepts coming out of things like Boxpark and Pop Brixton and Containers and also pop-ups in pubs. And I think it is those stepping stones that need to be in place first for those operators, and often when they have a supper club or pop-up, they attract a team, they attract a funder or an investor who's got hands-on experience, and that is really what unlocks the sites with the very best landlords.
James: I’d like to shift gears a little and talk about Residency. This was a concept you launched a few years ago, to support startup restaurateurs and independent operators.
Camilla: We worked with the Crown Estate. There's a street called Heddon Street, which is a restaurant street in London, and they got a fully fitted restaurant back and thought about having a bit of fun with the site and doing some pop-ups in there and essentially turning it into an incubator. It was a fully fitted restaurant, so it had everything in it, even crockery and glasses, so we launched an incubator with them and put in the first tenant, which was actually called 10 Heddon Street, and they've now gone on to open a restaurant called Manteca in Shoreditch. It was really successful and it rotates every six months or so. We worked with a restaurant consultancy in terms of them actually helping the operator, and at that time we thought, “Well, this is great, surely we can do this in any site”, and just seeing how it really regenerated the street as well and attracted footfall and kind of changed the area. So we launched Residency, which essentially was a project to populate vacant restaurant sites with independent operators and help them by helping them to trade. The chef that I just talked about who's got a great new concept but doesn't have a front of house team, we could do the whole thing. We could put them into a property and also teach them how to run a restaurant. So we just thought it was an absolute no-brainer. There are just so many people that have got new concepts, so many chefs that want to open things and there are such big barriers in the way to that, in terms of everything we've just talked about — having rent, having a budget having a full team — but we definitely have experienced limited demand from landlords. And 10 Heddon Street's been hugely successful and the Crown Estate, all credit to them, It's been their initiative and they've invested in it and that's the barrier that Residency faces. It needs some investment from the landlord. And there has been limited demand, not because they don't love the idea and they don't want to do pop-ups, but sites in central London come at a premium and we haven't seen a big influx of vacant property come onto the market, and when we have seen vacant properties, there’s been demand from operators to take them on a lease, and really the appetite for landlords to invest in It has been really limited.
James: What do you want to see landlords doing to be more creative and make life easier for first-time restaurateurs, independent operators?
Camilla: Property valuation needs to change, really, which would then help landlords be a little bit more creative. But we have seen a lot of creativity in the past year. We've seen things like landlords giving independents loans to fit out space, which is something that we hadn't really seen at all before the pandemic. We're seeing landlords committed to getting independents into their estates and loaning them the money to fit out, and that's hugely creative. We still love the idea of Residency and we get follows every day on Residency from another new concept, another new supper club, another new chef, a pastry chef who's got an idea. The demand from those chefs and budding restaurateurs is enormous and it frustrates me because there's this big talent pool and I don't know what to do with it and there's got to be home for it, There's got to be a way of being able to break down the barriers. I don't know what the answer is yet but that mindset has to change.
That was Camilla Topham of the London hospitality consultancy Distrkt. And I hope that she and others like her can find a way to make it easier for independent restaurateurs to get their foot on the ladder. It doesn’t feel right that experienced chefs like Torsten Vildgaard can’t find a suitable location for the kind of restaurant he wants to open. To carry on the football metaphor, talents like him shouldn’t be left on the bench.
And it’s especially galling when you stop to consider quite how much the hospitality industry does for cities like London and Copenhagen, how much tourism the restaurant sector inspires, how much cultural capital award-winning chefs and restaurants generate. In that light, it’s curious that so little appears to be done at the municipal level to help restaurateurs get their foot in the door. I mean, it’s all very well saying that the wrong location is the number one reason why so many restaurants fail within the first year. But if would-be restaurateurs can’t find the right location in the first place, is it any wonder that many make fateful compromises — or give up on their dreams entirely?
Then again, in the absence of any market correction, the long-term consequence of all this may be the rise of the suburban destination restaurant. A recent New York Times story noted that while the American suburbs are most often associated with restaurant chains, an increasing number of independent restaurants are “raising the collective aspirations of the local culinary culture and turning suburbs into dining destinations”.
That makes sense, right? With people more likely to work from home now, destination dining in the city centre is less attractive — or at the very least less convenient. And, as the Times put it, as people move to the suburbs from cities, they bring with them their appetite for more sophisticated, varied menus. But who knows? The apparent increase in independent restaurants setting up shop in the ‘burbs could signify a sea change in how we dine out. Or, like so many other trends before it, it could just be another flash in the pan. Excuse the pun, but watch this space.
Now, if you’re a fan of British accents, I’ve got good news. If not, it’s a wonder you’re still listening, frankly. You see, Superb has just launched in the UK, so I can’t wait to start featuring more British restaurants on The Recipe. Right now, we’re planning episodes on restaurant design, the role of technology in restaurants, and improving working conditions and mental health in the industry. So if you’ve got a story to tell — or a point of view you want to share — we’d love to hear from you. Just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Instagram and we’ll take it from there.
This episode of the Recipe was written, produced and hosted by me, James Clasper, for Superb. Many thanks for listening — see you next time.