'It's the hardest and worst thing I've ever done, but also the greatest'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

The hospitality industry has become a supportive place. Restaurant owners and chefs look out for one another in ways that they never would have done two or three decades ago, which makes for a much richer food scene - but that doesn't make opening a restaurant an easy process, by any stretch of the imagination.

"When we opened," said Grilled podcast guest and chef owner of 3-AA Rosette restaurant Benedicts in Norwich Richard Bainbridge, "I remember telling Dan[iel Clifford] that I was going to open my restaurant, and he was like, 'yeah, good for you, do it."

The chef owner of two Michelin-starred Midsummer House had of course been impressed by Richard's talent when they met on the set of Great British Menu and saw it as a natural progression for him to stop retaining stars for other people's restaurants and do so for his own instead.

While not an elder in the industry per se, "he is a driving force and I think a game changer," Richard said, "because he was the first to get onto that bandwagon, maybe five six years ago, about supporting young chefs, what this industry has to offer and inspiring us to open our own restaurants." 

When invited to eat a Sunday roast with the chef and his family, he said, "I remember sitting there going, I'm at a table with Daniel Clifford, in his home, with his children, having pork. This is incredible." 

When he left, he said, "my car was full of plates and bowls and spatulas and moulds that I still use to this day. I  had a Big Green Egg in there, he literally filled my car - my daughter who was a year old had a stack of plates on her lap.

"Without that help, genuinely, I wouldn't have been able to open the restaurant. Without that information, knowledge and passion that he infused into me when I was so terrified and didn't know what I was doing was so invaluable." 

Checking in regularly, Daniel acted as a real mentor, and Richard couldn't be more grateful. 

"When you open your own restaurant - and I don't think people really understand what it's like to open your own restaurant, to stand there and go, 'if this goes wrong, I can't afford my mortgage, I'm going to lose my house, I'm going to lose my staff, I'm going to lose everything. 

"That's such a daunting process, and terrifying," but knowing that he had that support there, on call all day everyday, "I'll be indebted for the rest of my life to say thank you for." 

Easier said than done

To this day, he says of opening his own restaurant, "It's still the worst thing I've ever done in my life if I'm honest. It's the hardest and worst thing I've ever done, but also the greatest."

Given how much Britain's culinary landscape has changed in the six years since he opened, the chef is clear that should he be asked to do it all again, he wouldn't.

He said: "It's harder than it's ever been to open the doors; we're lucky that we opened six years ago when I had the opportunity to open up and feel fairly confident before multinationals opened in smaller cities - and also people's education got more and more."

"I would probably be more inclined not to open a restaurant now than six years ago - I'd be more terrified now."

And even having had that upper hand on people starting businesses now, as he sees it, it has taken him this long to get to a point where he can enjoy the fruits of his labour as a chef restaurateur, and the reality of this has yet to sink in.

"It still blows my mind that people get up in the morning and come to my place that I own to do something that I can pay them to do." 

"The fact that I make my own money blows my mind; the fact that when I pay my mortgage at the end of the month, I have earned that myself."

"Nobody can take that away from me, but it's hard to make those decisions.

"You get those complaints, you take them personally. It can be the loneliest place in the world, owning your own restaurant - and doing it with your wife, which makes it incredibly harder." 

Overcoming The pain of not getting a star

What's more, as a restaurant owner, it's not just every criticism that hurts, but every accolade you don't get is an attack on your concept, your hard work and your dedication.

"You have these ambitions when you open a restaurant where you want a Michelin star and you want to be up there and known nationally for what you do.

After six years without a star, Richard said, "that hurt every single year until last year when I sat there and went, 'I don't think I'm going to get one, but I have a restaurant that turns over a £1,000,000 a year, I have 12 members of staff that I'm incredibly proud of and I'm fully booked every night of the week, and what do I need to prove to anybody that I can do it?'

"I am doing it, and that's something that blows my mind. 

Thankfully, he said, "I'm turning 40 next year and I'm more comfortable in my own skin than I've ever been. In my food, of who we are, I now have a direction, I have a narrative of who I am." 

"I'm very grateful that I'm an industry where somebody who has dyslexia and doesn't really grow up with much can now have the best restaurant in their own city where they grew up." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 15th October 2021

'It's the hardest and worst thing I've ever done, but also the greatest'