Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend

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Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend

British chef-owner of the alternative in-house restaurant Walled Gardens in Manchester, describes at about his new project explaining the pros and cons of setting up a restaurant in your own private space.

Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend You’ve been working at several restaurants for 15 years. What triggered you to start your own food business?

E.S.: I had reached the point where I was ready to have my own business and work for myself and I felt like to keep progressing and learning I needed to carry on in the directions that I wanted to explore independently.

I had already worked as a consultant for some food companies as well as being a restaurant chef so I wasn’t completely new to working for myself and I have published my own digital cookbooks.

These projects which I did on my own had always worked well for me and about 6 years ago I decided it was time that I made my own creative work my main focus. You are owner of a food business, set at your home. How did the idea came up? Were you inspired by a concept that already existed?

E.S.: In the UK there have been a lot of interesting types of independent food businesses over the past years, there was a big explosion of street food businesses here and temporary pop-up restaurants, as well as some people setting up more casual home restaurants.

What was unusual about mine was that I set it up in a space in our home but very much as a full time professional business, not a more casual side project.

I took my experience in the restaurant world and applied it to what I wanted to do here.

When we bought the house I knew I wanted to do this so looked for a home with a good space I could convert to a small restaurant space. I have invested in re-designing the kitchen and setting it up with professional equipment. I have it register with the local government and inspected and regulated for food hygiene and even have a licence to distil alcohol here, and I use there TOCK restaurant reservation system for bookings.

So it is a tiny restaurant within where I live but in all other senses it is run professionally like a normal restaurant

Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Why start a food business at home and not in a typical set? What are the advantages and the disadvantages of building a restaurant at your own personal space?

E.S.: The biggest advantage was financial.

I didn’t want to have a huge amount of dept hanging over me to open a commercial space in the city and I wanted full creative freedom so I didn’t really want to have investors asking me to do way.

Also because I cook everything there are no staff to manage and as much as my time as possible is spent in the kitchen on the cooking, I dont have to spend my time managing staff and organising rotas and contracts etc. It also helps me to keep the level of the food very consistent because I can make everything myself and I can try out any creative ideas I am interested in.

The disadvantages can be that I have to work very long hours, because it is just me there is no one to give some of the jobs to and I have to do even the smallest jobs, cleaning and peeling vegetables myself.

And because it is just be cooking I am here for every service. I cant leave early or easily go and do another project one weekend. I am committed to being here and the only way to have time off or to do another project is to close for that time. How did you gradually built your home food business, could you give us a description of its evolution until today? Tell us about your collaborations with renown brands (such as Google etc)

E.S.: Yes, I already had some following online from books I had done and social media, and I had done some temporary pop up restaurants in Manchester too before I opened.

When I first opened it did take some time for the demand to grow and for the food to evolve. I think the first two years it would always sell out but not quickly and I was open less nights.

During this time I still was doing work as a consultant and this wasn’t able to be my full only job yet.

But over time the menu got better and the word of mouth spread and the demand got to be much more than the number of people I can cook for. So now it has a really good reputation and there is a lot of demand for people to come. So much so that now when I release the latest months reservations they usually sell out within 5 minutes.

It took some time and commitment and a lot of work but I am extremely happy and proud now of how popular it is.

Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend You’ve built a deep reputation and you’re fully booked for six months. How did you manage to do that?

E.S.: It has mostly been from word of mouth, guests that have come and enjoyed it telling their friends or sharing the experience on social media. And from this I had some nice articles and reviews in the press.

But I think the main thing is people enjoying it and telling their friends and family and it has been quite and organic natural process in that way. How did people respond at this project? It’s brand-new idea, well-orchestrated, interesting and revolutionary. Could you describe us some of the positive and not so positive comments, from your customers?

E.S.: At first I think people found the idea more unusual.

It was something different but that was good in lots of ways and attracted people who wanted to try something different.

I think now because it has a good reputation and there has been more press about what I am doing people tend to come knowing what to expect and looking forward to a different experience. The feedback has been really positive. A lot of people compare the food to other Michelin starred restaurants in the area.

One negative thing might be that I cannot serve wine or have a wine menu bause it is very difficult to get that licence. So I can give my guests a welcome drink of gin & tonic that I distill here, but they choose which drinks / wine they would like to bring with them and I give them a fridge they can chill these in.

That is a something which is not perfect, I would love to have a great wine menu, but on the other hand some guests really love that they can bring their own wines and this means they can bring wine which would be very expensive to buy in a normal restaurant. Do you have repeated customers?

E.S.: I do have some people who will come maybe once a year, and a very small number will come several times a year, but most guests are coming for the first time or a special occasion.

Describe some of your signature creations from day one of your home food business.

So I think my home distilled gin and tonic is a great way to start the menu because it is very refreshing and delicious I hope but also it lets my guests know that this is the philosophy of the whole meal, I will be making everything myself, from the gin to the bread and butter etc

A very popular small course with links to Greece is a halloumi dish which I make where I marinade the halloumi in a mixture of rose and koji (the inoculated rice you use to start many Japanese fermentations), they enzymes in the koji break down the protein in the halloumi which softens its texture and tenderises it, giving it a soft marshmallow like texture when it is cooked and a subtle rose flavour.

I cook this in a jet black batter made with charcoal and serve it with a concentrated sauce of rhubarb which is a local speciality fruit here in the north of the UK, I use the rotavap to make this sauce at low temperature in a vacuum to get the freshest flavour possible.

It is a simple dish in that is only really has two elements but both of these have complex levels of preparation and a lot of hidden work to make the flavour and texture something beautiful and very unique. I think this dish is a good example of my style of cooking.

Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend What’s the main profile of your menus?

E.S.: It is a tasting menu with 12 courses and the guests get no choice in what they have, they all get the same menu unless someone has a specific allergy. The meal lasts around 4 hours normally. Is building a food business at home a new trend?

E.S.: I think it might be, now after the pandemic and with challenges getting good staff at least here in the UK, and the amount of expense involved in opening a restaurant I think it will get more popular.

Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend Eddie Shepherd: In-house restaurants are a trend What are themain advices you would give to someone who builds a home food business? (If you have something to add besides the ones you mention at your video)

E.S.: I think it is a great thing to do and I would definitely recommend it but people should know it is not easy and it could take some years for it to become successful.

It may be even harder that opening a normal restaurant in some ways and certainly a lot of hours, but on the other hand you completely own your own work and have full creative control and for me that is worth it.