From Paramedic to Restaurateur in 2 years
So, with Dill & Bay Restaurant now open and in full swing, I thought I'd share my story (so far). Partly for myself, to document the journey my family and I have been on for the last 2 years so we can look back and reminisce. Partly for our guests dining at the restaurant to have an idea of how and why Dill & Bay came about and the passion that drives it. And partly, to maybe inspire anyone who is sat at a desk, behind the wheel of a car, or just working to pay their bills when a passion for something else sits in the pit of their stomach.
That was me 2 years ago. With 8 years in the ambulance service it started to feel like work. For the first 8 years I would cycle or drive to work happy, knowing that on that day I might save a life or help someone in need. I loved every early morning, late shift and all nighter. Having a laugh with my workmates and the old nan's of East London, taking the mickey out of the drunk students while you bandaged their knee. People say to me all the time that "it must be stressful", but for me it genuinely wasn't. Every job was a chance to learn, show off my training, teach someone or simply listen. My colleagues warned me that my love and enthusiasm would wear out, little did I know how right they were.
On our days off Remmy and I would spend the time preparing meals together or heading out to fantastic restaurants. Our holidays would always tick off another Michelin starred restaurant. Food was always a major part of our leisure time, and I hoped eventually it could become something more.
With ambition, drive and determination I tried to progress in the ambulance service. But for one reason or another my efforts were snuffed out and my passion started to dwindle. I was working for "the man", being a cog in the machine, and the more ideas I had to make the service better the more frustrated I was at how little change happened. The enthusiasm waned!!
So, at a cross roads with all the political stuff going on (pension contributions at 9.3%, retirement age further away, no payrise for years) and a burning desire to make a change, Remmy and I decided that I would leave full time employment (AAAAGH!!). I enrolled at Leeds City College on Professional Cookery level 2, joined the Bank register with Yorkshire Ambulance Service, and took a pot-washing job in my local pub (The Unicorn, Carlton - awesome pub grub!!).
It was February 2015 and College didn't start until September, but I couldn't wait. I wanted to cook. I needed to know if my cooking was up to scratch and that people other than my family would appreciate it. I remembered an old 'Jamie does...' episode, where Jamie Oliver visited New York and went to a Supper Club. What a fascinating concept - social dining in our house with strangers eating my food. Having bought my family home off of my parents, we now had a setting. The dining room I'd eaten more meals than anywhere else as a kid, would now be the venue for Passion Supper Club.
I designed and costed a menu, invited friends to be my guinea pigs, produced flyers and hand delivered 5000 to as many houses my time and legs would let me. This was it, I'd started my first restaurant. Albeit a table for 10 once a fortnight, it was still all mine. If I wanted to add change develop anything, then I could. The feeling I got after that initial flyering session and the phone ringing to enquire - wow. I had tapped into something that was missing in the area. a little touch of fine dining. A social experience focused around food, rather than just popping to the pub for food. The interest was fantastic, and I quickly booked up my first Friday, and then a Saturday a fortnight later.
The first tester night came, and I had 10 guests arriving for dinner at 7pm. I'd built an extension for my dining table out of MDF, redecorated the dining room, and enlisted my dad in covering chairs. Up and out to the market for veg and fish, and back to Oxley's Butchers for my meat.
Fresh was the key word, everything prepared there and then, on the day, cooked and served. Passion was the key to drive me through, and deliver a 4-course meal I could be proud of. I learned a lot from the first event and with honest feedback from my friends and invited guests, I knew what to do next - go bigger!!!
The phone was still ringing from the initial flyers and so I booked in another table to follow the original Friday and a Friday to precede the following Saturday. Prep for 2 days would be as easy as one. In for a penny, in for a pound!!
Alongside all of this I registered the business and got myself compliant with environmental health laws, knowing that with a restaurant in my future I'd need to do it properly so might as well start off this way. I can't do things 'half-baked', I give everything to whatever it is I'm working on. All the research and reading I did around food service laws and compliance, have now paid off.
I was busier than ever when September came around and I started College. I'd been hosting Passion Supper Club 4 times per month with a new menu every couple of months. Worked almost full time at The Boundary House, Methley as a Commis Chef, left there to take up the opportunity to host a Supper Club Pop-Up at Salute, Rothwell, all while continue to work part-time as a Paramedic.
But September allowed me to slow down a bit. Take on some sort of a routine. Monday's at college, 2-3 night shifts in the Ambulance, and then supper clubs on the weekends. I really started to enjoy the ambulance work again, regular wage, no worries about rotas or pension. I was seeing and treating patients with no stress at all. I was there to do the best job I could, with no aspirations of promotion. That seed was planted elsewhere.
I like to say yes to opportunities when they present themselves, and then figure out a way to make things work, and Carlton Hall Farm was an opportunity I could not say 'no' to. I'd planted the idea of developing a B&B, Café, Restaurant with the owner and started to pursue planning permission. Despite some neighbour concerns I was confident that I could develop a fantastic community boosting neighbourhood restaurant in this fantastic old house. The project ran for around 6 months, until the Heritage Officer suggested the only way to install a commercial kitchen was to build extensions. This killed the project as I was looking to remodel conservatively, not build an annex.
But after living with the possibility that my dreams were only a couple of steps away (although big zero gravity steps), I was still keen to progress my ideas despite not having a location anymore. And then there was a sign....a big 'To Let' sign on the side of Stephen Wards old place. On the first viewing I knew there was a potential. I'd need planning permission but I'd already spent 6 months learning the rules, so I already had plenty to fall back on.
To be continued...