Dave Patten, managing director, Chop Bloc, Essex

The Staff Canteen

Dave Patten discusses his role as Managing director at Chop Bloc and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Dave Patten 

Place of work: Chop Bloc

Role: Managing director

Bio: Dave started in the industry working at the New Zealand meat co-operative Alliance Group, before graduating in Economics from the University of Manchester in 2009. Dave then spent six months training with Dunbia, gaining first-hand experience in all areas of the business before joining the team at Hilton Meat International in 2010. In 2012, Dave and his brother Steve decided to set up their own steak restaurant.

Chef Skills

Dave Patten takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.

How long have you been in that role?

We have been working on the project for three years, we have been open for twelve weeks.

How has it been going?

It’s been a successful launch, obviously stressful at times but we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response and it is encouraging to see everything in place after such a long development period.

Why in particular was it Essex that you chose, did you look towards London?

Steve and I are from Essex and we both live there now so we knew that the area was quite low on independent restaurants. That was 90% of the reason and the other reason was that it is a big commuter town. It is quite an affluent commuter base, people are used to having a more independent restaurant experience in London and we wanted to bring that out to the suburbs.

Would you say there is too much competition in central London?

Yeah, there are a lot of big players who are already established. I think that competition is hard wherever you look, when it is a commuter town outside of London it is probably harder to find the right location than actually in the centre of London.

How did you find the recruitment process? Did you easily find people to fill the positions or was there a particular role that was more difficult to fill?

Actually, Chefs are the toughest by far, there is definitely a national shortage. We used a bunch of recruitment companies and a head hunting company called The Recruitment Rooms found us our Head Chef and our General Manager.

We then found our assistant manager and ended up using a London based agency recently to place an ad for us and help us find more staff. A lot of the recruitment has been done on our own, it is more the senior positions where we used recruitment agencies.

What were you looking out for on their CV?

The biggest thing is experience and their background, why we think they would be good at Chop Bloc. We are doing something a little bit different, trying to open a premium steakhouse but in a casual and relaxed atmosphere. So we were looking for applicants who could bring the quality we wanted in our kitchen staff and our service staff.

When you were looking for past experience in front of house staff, if they didn’t have a vast amount of experience but they had that passion for customer service, was that enough for you to recruit them?

Yeah definitely. Two or three of our waitresses, some of the best we’ve got, had a bit of experience in the retail sector, but were used to dealing with customers. We did extensive training off-site in January and three weeks of onsite training before we opened; their passion really shone through when we opened the doors and the customers came through.

Would you say that if someone did apply to you and they job hop every six months, would that deter you? What is the minimum that someone would need to have worked in one place?

It depends really, I think there is quite a split on that between front of house and back of house. So kitchen staff, our Head Chef would probably see it as a red flag if someone was jumping through different businesses, most kitchens won’t give you a reference unless you are there for a year.

So if you see someone who has only stayed the bare minimum and then moved on then you kind of question why they’ve moved on etc. That can be explained however, we have just employed a grill Chef who has had a few different roles in the last four/five years and it was for family and personal reasons.

The front of house it is less so, a lot of the junior staff have worked in lots of restaurants around the area, and I think that is common place in hospitality, especially front of house staff.

What would you say would be your ultimate top five tips for someone looking to start a career in the industry?

The number one thing is to do it for the passion. My Head Chef Antonio came to this country from Columbia when he was 16 and started as a kitchen porter working his way up. He said he didn’t earn the best money at the start but it gave him experience and his passion grew through that experience; allowing him to get to where he wanted to be. So I think you definitely have to be passionate about it.

You have to be very hard working as well, it is a tough industry with long, unsociable hours.

You have to be really determined and find the business that fits with what you want to do, lots of Chefs are interested in different cuisines and cooking styles, you have to spend a bit of time and think about where you want to place yourself in the industry.

You have to think about long term career goals, it is important to think about where you would like to end up and make sure that you are constantly progressing in your career.

What would you say your future plans are? If this is successful are you looking to expand?

Yeah, we’ve been open 12 weeks now and are currently looking for sites and hope to pinpoint our location by June/July this year and move to a second site.

When you have that second site, if someone wanted to move locations is that something that you would encourage?

Yeah definitely, I think a lot of people have joined Chop Bloc because they know that we are aiming to be a rapidly expanding company. We are hoping to have three to five sites in the next five years and a lot of people have joined us to grow with the company.

I think it is important to reward staff who have been with you a long time and use their experience moving forward. To take experienced staff to the new venue would be an invaluable asset.

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th April 2017

Dave Patten, managing director, Chop Bloc, Essex