How has the launch of the new site gone?
The customer response has been fantastic; four weeks in we’re busier than we ever thought we were going to be. There have been a few teething problems back of house space-wise but the food and taste is all there.
Why open your new concept in an airport?
A lot of my mates have restaurants in airports, I spoke to them about it and they never want to do it again! It’s the logistics of it, but I already have a restaurant so this was a chance to do something slightly different.
I came up with the grab and go cafe style concept two years ago working with the airport and [food travel experts] SSP. People haven’t got time in airports to sit down and have a gourmet meal; they just want great tasting food that they can eat quickly.
How is opening airside a different challenge to a normal restaurant?
You cannot compare the two. They are totally different, and that’s why some of my mates who have got restaurants in airports have been put off and won’t do it again.
It’s not just the combustible stuff, you want to be able to get certain suppliers in and you can’t, and you have to train the staff a certain way.
It’s been a challenge but we still kept the same ethos [as the restaurant]. It’s taken two years to source the produce, even the bread from the sandwiches is milled 50 miles from here and the carrot cake is a family recipe. This is something new for me. In a restaurant you can pick up a phone and get produce in a day, whereas you can’t do that here.
So you’re not put off?
I wouldn’t do a restaurant concept [in an airport] because I know the hardship of what my mates have had and continue to have. Some of the brands in airports are very well drilled in what they are doing, whereas as a chef it’s very different. There is a hundred times more pre-planning in something like this. With a [high street] restaurant you can open it and you can tweak it, but with this you’ve got to be absolutely certain beforehand.
Will you keep working with SSP?
They already want me to do another [James Martin Kitchen], when I think I’ve aged doing this one! SSP and the airport have been very forgiving as I’m a newbie at this. It would obviously get easier with a second site because I’ve learned from the first, but you never know.
How much of the sites' success do you think is down to your name?
I think a name always helps, but it will only take you so far. The difference is if you go [to James Martin Kitchen] your expectations are a lot higher, so it puts the pressure on us even more. So yes a name will drag you in, but then it’s down to the staff and the taste to over exceed your expectations.
We tasted about 100 different types of bacon to get the one we wanted. I’m a pig farmer’s kid so the bacon was really important. At one point it annoyed SSP, but I told them that the one day my mother comes in here she will notice and I’ll never hear the end of it!
Could James Martin Kitchen open on the high street?
I think there’s a lot of scope for it. At the end of the day you need to get the consistency and quality right, though I’m not sure if I’d want them all over the place.
I’ve waited a long time in this business to be able to do something like this, and it’s been beneficial - if I’d done this at 20 the restaurant wouldn’t have looked like this.
The main thing is to get the initial one right and to build on that. We’ve got a great brand and a great concept, we’re busier than we ever thought we would be, so why not?