Things I Have Learned’ is a series of short interview articles in which the same set of questions are put to members of the bar industry who have launched their own business, changed career path, or done something interesting. The aim of the series is to provide guidance and inspiration to bartenders who might like to launch a new project of their own.
Who are you?
Former NYC bartender — I worked everywhere from dive bars and restaurants to cocktail bars, and one less than glorious night in a club.
Ex-Belvedere Global Brand Ambassador — After winning my job in a cocktail competition in 2010 (yes the prizes were really good back then!) I spent the next 6 years traveling the world with Poland’s finest super premium vodka.
Creative Director of London Beer Week — For my next move, I joined the team at DrinkUp.London to look after all things beer, including the running of London Beer Week. Beer is one of my true passions and probably my favourite thing to drink!
Proprietor of Ceremony — In September 2017, I opened Ceremony, a vegetarian restaurant and bar in north London, with my husband and now business partner, Joe Stokoe.
What are you doing now?
Ceremony is a 38-cover restaurant and bar in north London’s Tufnell Park. It’s a neighbourhood restaurant with delicious cocktails and indulgent food that even meat-eaters will enjoy — think butter and cheese aplenty! That said, we do cater for vegans as well and put lots of love into making sure our dairy-free options aren’t simply an afterthought. Our menu changes seasonally and we source much of our produce from our 400 sq foot private garden, which is something of a rarity in central London.
Expectation Vs Reality – Have things turned out the way you though they would?
Opening a restaurant is hard; everyone tells you that it’s going to be, but nothing prepares you for that reality until you’re living it. Joe and I are both high-achievers who love a challenge, so the friendly warnings from friends only made us want it more. We definitely took for granted how difficult the process would be, and even when you think you’ve considered everything, having food (as the main offering no less) adds a complex dimension. About halfway through the process we were kicking ourselves for not opening a bar (sans food) instead — a hard feat as well, but one that seemed like a breeze compared with a restaurant. In the end, both Joe and I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s been incredibly challenging from day 1 but we’ve learned a lot and are proud of what this little place has already achieved.
Hard Yards – What has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
All of it, see above! No, but seriously, the hardest part of running a restaurant is finding and keeping good staff, especially chefs. Those of us who have spent our careers working front of house, behind the bar for example, can never fully understand the pressures of a chef. The kitchen is a totally different arena and the conditions are intense, it’s no wonder so many chefs get reputations for being difficult, anyone would be when tested in extreme conditions day in day out. That said, we’ve been really lucky at Ceremony and have had the same (female) head chef since the beginning. The hours here are not long and no one does back-to-back doubles or works more than 5 days a week on the regular. It’s really important to ensure that your team is well-looked after or else you risk burning out these wonderful people who were so difficult to find in the first place!
Pleasant Surprise – Describe something you have enjoyed during your adventures
Since opening last September we’ve enjoyed great reviews from national food critics, Giles Coren and Grace Dent, were shortlisted for a GQ best breakthrough award, and have recently been included on a list of the 20 best vegetarian restaurants in the UK. We didn’t do any PR and certainly didn’t set out to be on critics’ radar so it was a pleasant surprise to be reviewed so favourably; it’s nice to know that people like what we’re doing, it certainly makes all those sleepless nights worth it!
Need to Know – Describe a vital lesson you have learned
Write the business plan. Even if you’re not looking for outside investment you need to do the research and run the numbers to ensure that your idea has legs. It’s easy to got caught up in the fun bits of the project — design, concept, menu — but if you don’t have a blueprint for what the business looks like, you’re setting yourself up for a hard road ahead. While it might seem daunting at first, it’s easier to make changes to a plan on paper than get six-months in only to find out that your model doesn’t work.
Change is Good – What do you think the industry should be doing differently?
Less of the expectation around partying and drinking to excess. That said I think the industry is already making the move in the right direction here, especially with the rise in popularity of non-alcoholics and brands like Seedlip leading the way. The pressure to take shots and get wasted on a night out is damaging and sends an irresponsible message to young bartenders. As with everything in life, moderation is key. .