He talks to Emma Brophy about spiralling food costs, hard work and being part of Chiswick ‘furniture’
“Since we opened in 2005, I have seen the restaurant scene in Chiswick grow into a real landmark location for diners, not only locally but throughout London,” says Sam Harrison as we discuss the local restaurant scene on the eve of the brasserie’s third birthday. “Three years on, I am delighted to say that we're still here and I hope, have become very much part of the Chiswick ‘furniture’”.
14 restaurants have opened and quite a number have closed since Sam’s Brasserie and Bar opened on 8th August 2005. What is it that has enabled Sam’s to succeed where others have not?
“I believe it’s down to the quality of your offering and how hard you work at it. You have to make sure that you’re offering people something different, maintaining your individuality and staying fresh.”
He continues “It’s what makes restaurants like La Trompette such a success, their relentless pursuit of excellence. The work so damn hard at it and were rewarded with their Michelin star.”
I doubt those that know Sam would accuse him of not working hard. “I do work hard and so does my team at being as good as we can be, to constantly exceed expectations. We have a daily team meeting to discuss how can we do something better today than we did yesterday whether it is serving coffee quicker, changing wine list, adding something to the set menu.”
“Also what makes Sam's work, is our regular customers, familiar faces and their continued support - it means a great deal to us. It’s a continual two way relationship which strengthens the longer we are here. We have customers who come here three or four times a week so we need to make sure there is always something new, something different for them to eat. We also listen to them and respond to them and hopefully nurture their willingness to try different things.”
“Spiraling food prices have meant a 30% rise in costs but I can’t pass this onto the customer especially not in these lean times. Thankfully I have a very talented team of chefs and people like Rick Stein helping create our menus but to ensure consistent value for money we have to work harder than ever, source food cleverly and encourage diners to try, for example, different cuts of meat and conservation friendly. Of course with the Euro exchange rate as it is, alcohol prices have also risen but again we need to swallow this cost, not our customers.”
I broached the current hot topic of ‘child friendly’. “I’ve actually lost customers because they believed that we were ‘too child friendly’. Fundamentally Chiswick is a family area saying that it is possible to create an environment that evolves during the day to suit everyone’s needs. Surely that’s what a brasserie does?”
Sam opened his second venture in Balham this year at which his ‘cool’ dad is currently maitre d’ but what does he see in Chiswick’s future?
“The rest of the year is about survival. We are one of the busiest restaurants in Chiswick but we’re going to struggle to make any money. It’s a tough time we’ve just got to keep working at it.
“We’re lucky that we can make the most of our independence by being flexible, by constantly evolving and ensuring that we continue to offer good value for money.”
August 8, 2008