There's nothing quite like opening a new restaurant

The Staff Canteen

Recent months have seen some huge changes for me.

Seven weeks ago, I left my role as general manager at Stem, and became GM at Darby’s, a new restaurant from the team behind The Dairy, Sorella and Counter Culture. I had the invaluable chance to take a good break between jobs due to leftover holiday from Stem and spend two relaxing weeks back home in Wales.

Days filled with mountain walking, reading, gossiping with my mum and watching the snooker with my stepdad were a Robin Gillwelcome contrast from the constant bustle of London. It was the perfect chance to reset before my life was taken over by opening Darby’s.

I love opening restaurants. This will be the fourth restaurant opening I have worked, the third one as general manager, and while the stress levels are incomparable, the rewards are incredible.

My friends and family are well used to it now: a good two to three months of unreturned phone calls, a lack of solid commitment to any plans and a flurry of last-minute cancellations following the inevitable rota fluctuations. Everything comes second when you have a restaurant to open.

Image: Chefs Dean Parker and Robin Gill at Darby's. Credit: @underwood_emma

Instead my days are filled with our new work ‘family’. Built through those painful weeks of recruitment we all know so well, of trawling through the multitude of recruitment sites for that glorious ‘YES!’ moment of actually finding an applicant with vaguely relevant experience only for emails to go unanswered.

Eventually the gems are unearthed, and the new team begins to take shape. A restaurant team in its infancy is special, everyone is yet to find their place and on best behaviour, while management are covertly assessing for strengths and weaknesses. Little displays of passions and dislikes are mentally noted for future job roles. Gaps in knowledge are quickly filled, while abilities are elevated and utilised to their maximum.

The weeks prior to opening a restaurant are some of the most exciting, for those restaurant nerds like me that love nothing more than the beautiful little touches of high gram menu paper and well-sourced hand soap. It is like Christmas every day.

Everything is fresh and new, Epos touch screen buttons work first time, the coffee machine has consistent crema and the floor is the colour it is supposed to be.

Then there are the inevitable dramas and disasters that plague every restaurant in its infancy:the vital items that don’t turn up, or suddenly need a six week instead of two-week lead time. The incredibly difficult to replace light bulbs that blow. The WiFi connection that just won’t remain consistent enough for the Sonos to work properly. And of course, all major problems will only ever happen right in the middle of service.

It is always all worth it. The satisfaction of the first glass of champagne poured, of the first oyster shucked and the first guest admiring how beautiful our restaurant is makes all the sleepless nights worrying about soap holders worth it. In two days Darby’s will open, and I can’t wait to see it grow.

About Emma

Emma Underwood is the General Manager of Robin Gill's latest venture, Darby's restaurant. Formerly  the restaurant manager of Stem in Mayfair, Emma previously worked at Where the Light Gets In in Stockport and Gary Usher's Burnt Truffle in Heswall.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012 when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before moving to the sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle as the general manager.

Emma is also part of the TMRW Project along with food writer Anna Sulan Masing  which was set up in 2015.

The project acts as a platform for people starting out early in their career to help them grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, the front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th May 2019

There's nothing quite like opening a new restaurant