Writing this blog is probably the first time since opening the restaurant that I’ve properly sat down and thought about the incredible roller-coaster ride I have taken to the opening of my first restaurant, in April.
I’ve wanted to open my own restaurant for so long now that I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe that it really has happened. I’ve worked at some of the finest restaurants in the world and watched and learnt from some of the greatest chefs, such as the remarkable Raymond Blanc. This experience is priceless, but when you’ve seen how every element of running a restaurant should be done at the highest level, having to do it yourself is inspiring and daunting in equal measure.
Like many young chefs aspiring to open a restaurant I became aware of the chasm that exists between the desire and opportunity. I thought that I had a strong CV and robust management skills but it still took over 18 months for someone to believe in me and my business plan. This is not an industry for the fainthearted.
One of my most vivid memories of the process was the sense of longing and anticipation when I was waiting for the final papers to be signed to take on the next phase of my life. Nothing seemed to move fast enough and yet the second that I had the keys there was an overwhelming sense time was flying as the launch date loomed closer and closer, and our belief that it would be impossible to get everything done in time. We did of course open on schedule and that was mainly thanks to having the right team of people around us. The team at the restaurant are exceptional and offer a huge level of support.
In terms of learning, I guess I wasn’t fully aware that running a restaurant as the business owner is so much more than just being a head chef. My CV should now rightly include pot washer, electrician, plumber, painter and decorator, and all round dog’s body. The hours spent hiring and managing staff, evaluating and choosing suppliers and keeping on top of marketing and promotions in the digital age seems to be a full-time job before a single morsel has been cooked.
However, all my efforts are for my family and as the cliché goes, behind every successful man there is an astonished woman (sic). I have the unwavering support of my wife Gemma who delivered our beautiful son Alfie (presumably believing that we hadn’t got enough on to keep us busy) just two months after the restaurant opened.
On sunny days after a lunch service, I sit on the deck and take a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to have a restaurant baring my name. This period of relaxation can sometimes last for as much as 10 whole minutes (!) before I think of something else that needs to be done before our next service.
It’s challenging, exhausting, sometimes fraught but always rewarding. And I wouldn’t change it for the world!
TRY IT The Boathouse, Station Road, Henley-on-Thames RG9 1AZ Call 01491 577937 or email enquiries@ shaundickens.co.uk