Frances Atkins, Laurie Gear: We need to try and open up people's eyes to what a wonderful career it can be

The  Staff Canteen

Hospitality has become a much more equal industry over the years but there’s still more that needs to be done to make it attractive to all.

Long gone are the days of kitchen crews being exclusively dominated by either men or women, with today’s kitchens being more diverse than they’ve ever been before.

Despite their differences in gender and experiences in getting to where they are today, it’s a topic of conversation that both Frances Atkins, Owner of Paradise Café, and Laurie Gear, Co-Owner of the Artichoke Restaurant, agree upon after witnessing first-hand how the industry has changed over their lifetimes.

 

“Encouraging anyone to come into the industry is a positive thing,” explained Laurie.

He added: “I think we need to try and open up people's eyes to what a wonderful career it can be, you know, it’s challenging.”

Frances argueed: “The days are long since gone of any form of prejudice at all [existed] in a kitchen”

Laurie explains: “My wife Jacqueline who I met at Coombe House ironically, she’s a key player in the restaurant and its success and anybody that worked there or worked there previously understands that.”

This year marks twenty years since Laurie and his wife Jacqueline opened the Artichoke restaurant and since then have enjoyed continued success.

Offering the very best neighbourhood dining experience whilst focussing on an inventive and refined modern European cuisine, it’s not surprising that the Artichoke received a Michelin star in 2020, highlighting the pair’s success and hard work.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Laurie’s journey and career explains a lot about the success of the Artichoke restaurant.

After growing up in Lyme Regis, Laurie started working at Coombe House hotel in Gittisham after leaving college. Looking back to his first job, he reflects on the wide variety of fresh produce available at the hotel.

“There was an abundance of shellfish coming down from Scotland and gamebirds,” explained Laurie,

“just seeing that next level of ingredients really, I think that fired me up. The initial stage was very, very humble, I didn't get to see very much at all but the more I saw, the more it excited me.”

At Coombe House Laurie was one of few men in a mostly female kitchen team, a rare occurrence back when hospitality was a vastly male dominated industry, reflecting the hotel’s determination and Laurie’s tenacity to succeed.

“Once you earnt their respect, they were really nice to you, but they certainly weren't in the early stages,” explains Laurie, “They were very feisty, very strong, very hard working and yeah it was an eye opener for me.”

Being witness to these environments gave Laurie a unique insight and placed him in good standing to achieve his dreams of opening a restaurant of his own, which he did with the Artichoke in 2002 some twenty years ago.

“WE WANTED A RESTAURANT WHEN WE WERE 18, THANK GOD WE NEVER GOT ONE”

The dream of opening a restaurant is a common one that most working in hospitality industry have throughout their career.

The reality of starting one from scratch and ensuring it remains successful is a no easy feat and one that’s become more challenging in recent years.

For Laurie and his wife Jaqueline, opening the Artichoke was no different story and one which required a lot of sacrifice, hard work and great uncertainty from the pair.

“We wanted a restaurant when we were 18, thank God we never got one!”, explained Laurie.

He added: “We would have crumbled within seconds. We just wouldn't have any experience or life skills that we would have needed. It’s always been a dream and an ambition, and I think when you meet somebody like minded, obviously that accelerates the journey. Perhaps that helps the journey, and it was something that we wanted to do.”

Between the two of them they worked together and started the Artichoke, with Laurie working in the kitchen and Jaqueline working the restaurant floor in the evening, whilst juggling a full-time career.

Reflecting on the early days, Laurie commented: “My wife actually at the time, had quite a good career at the BBC as a production accountant, so we were kind of juggling everything. When we first opened the restaurant. Jackie was still working at the BBC by day and coming and doing artichoke by night So it was it was it was crazy times, as you could imagine”

THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY

Whilst a lot more needs to be done to make the industry more equal, hospitality in the UK is more diverse now with regards to gender, background and ethnicity than it’s been before with the results plain to see.

However, the challenges around age and ensuring it remains an attractive career for future generations is a focus for many restaurants and one made ever difficult by spiralling inflation and growing cost of living crisis.

Commenting on young people in the industry, Francis explained: “At the moment we've got a lot of youngsters in, they're allowed to do four hours work at a time and we're trying to work on that to give them some enthusiasm and some insight into restaurant work.”

Despite these efforts, the industry is very much in unchartered water with the future very hard to navigate and prepare for.

Francis said: “We lurch from month to month really, so we’ll just cope with that as it presents itself. Our business is very transient you can’t project it, you can just hope that you’re going to continue to be busy.”

Commenting on effort to keep prices low for consumers Laurie said: “There’s an element of absorption, as restaurateurs and people in hospitality, we absorb a lot of the costs and we have been for a very long time.”

Laurie added: “It’s a national crisis and it’s something that everybody is experiencing so we’re not alone.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th August 2022

Frances Atkins, Laurie Gear: We need to try and open up people's eyes to what a wonderful career it can be