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Peter Sanchez-Iglesias on the new-look Casamia

By Joe Lutrario , 15-Jan-2016
Last updated on 15-Jan-2016 at 10:18 GMT2016-01-15T10:18:22Z

Peter Sanchez-Iglesias on the new-look Casamia

The chef behind Casamia lost older brother and business partner Jonray to cancer late last year but their plan to move the Michelin-starred restaurant from Westbury-on-Trym to central Bristol is going ahead. 

Why did you and Jonray decide to move?

It made sense to move to another premises rather than spend huge amounts of money on a major refit. We’d have had to close for three months which would have hurt our bottom line. The new restaurant is being done now so the business will only be closed for a few weeks before reopening in its new location mid-month.

What’s wrong with the old Casamia?

We’re running around like headless chickens. The fridges are all outside because we don’t have space for them in the main kitchen. There’s also no extraction in our open service kitchen – which was done on a budget – so we have to cook the meat and fish in the back kitchen. We also get comments about the decor. People say it’s not what they’d expect at a Michelin-star restaurant. It is un-showy but we take care of it so I wouldn’t say I completely agree with them, but the new space will have a more high-end feel.

Tell us about the new site

It’s an old hospital in Bristol’s Harbourside area that’s part of a huge redevelopment project. There will be 200 luxury apartments above it when it’s all finished. We didn’t think we were going to do it at first but when we went and saw it we realised it had a huge amount of character and was being fitted out to a high standard. Our new restaurant will be bright and modern with an open kitchen and we’re using lots of local craftspeople, including the people who made the distinctive wrought iron gate at the original Casamia.

Is the move financially motivated?

Not really. It won’t increase the amount of revenue we achieve. The number of covers at the new restaurant will still be 34 and we’re not going to put our prices up. In that sense it’s a bit nuts. But it’s what we need to do to take the restaurant to the next level. A lot of people would say a business is purely about making money but it’s a bit more complicated than that. We want to know what we do is special.

What about Michelin? 

We’re hoping it’s not going to cause a problem. The restaurant will only shut for a couple of weeks and they’ll have a lot of time to reinspect. But it we lose a star because we moved it’s not the end of the world.

Do you have a business partner?

No. The business is 100% family-owned, which keeps things simple. Mum and Dad told us that we should try and do it on our own and keep it in the family. I’m really pleased we followed their advice.

Will the food change much? 

As always our food will continue to progress but we’re not ripping it all up and starting again. We’ll also retain our seasons concept which sees the menu change completely four times a year. It’s the best idea we’ve ever had because it encourages repeat custom as regulars don’t want to miss out on trying the new menu.

There must be a strong emotional attachment to the old Casamia…

Yes. It’s been going for 16 years and me and Jonray were in the kitchen through nearly all of that. There are a lot of memories there. We watched our mum and dad build a business and then we took it over and undid all their hard work in a matter of weeks. Turning a simple Italian restaurant into something much more ambitious was tough. We put the prices up and shortened the menu, and lots of people didn’t like it. We went from being busy at lunchtimes to being nearly empty. Business is good now, but it’s time to move on. 

What’s happening to the restaurant?

The dream was to keep it and run it as something a bit more casual. But it would have been nearly impossible to launch and operate two businesses at once, which is what we would have to have done to make it work financially. We have a buyer lined up.

Who is it?

It’s not a done deal so we can’t say. They’re planning a return to something casual though. The market is changing. Anyone that opens a fine dining restaurant these days either has a massive set of bollocks or is very naive. 

When will the new restaurant be opening? 

We closed around Christmas and the boys get a holiday before the new place opens on 15 January. We then have two weeks to get it ready and train people up. Like Sat (Bains), we’re also looking at reducing our staff’s working hours at some point. We run five days a week. It’s hard for the guys in the kitchen, but they love it too. They want to be like Marco and work incredibly hard, but we need to get the balance right.

Does this move signal the older generation becoming less involved?

No. I still want Dad (Casamia’s maitre d’) involved. He’s a legend in my eyes. He brings something very special to it. There’s a huge amount of passion behind what he does and he has an incredible ability to talk to anyone and get them laughing and smiling. I want to make his life easier though. He’s 70 now and still works loads of hours. He’s Mr Casamia.

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