Jackson Boxer and Andrew Clarke on new restaurant St Leonard's and staffing challenges

By Georgia Bronte

- Last updated on GMT

Andrew Clarke (L) and Jackson Boxer
Andrew Clarke (L) and Jackson Boxer
Brunswick House duo Jackson Boxer and Andrew Clarke are about to open their second restaurant together, St Leonard’s in London’s Shoreditch.

How does the new restaurant​ compare to Brunswick House?

Jackson Boxer: St Leonard’s is a beautiful site. It’s a bit bigger, and it’s better located than our first restaurant. I grew up around Vauxhall, but with the greatest will in the world, there isn’t that much around there – no theatres, no cinemas and no reason to be there unless you live there. The restaurant is a destination for the evenings. St Leonard’s, by contrast, is in a very busy neighbourhood with a great restaurant community. We are anticipating it being busier than Brunswick House even though it isn’t significantly bigger.

Where did the name come from?

JB: Saint Leonard’s is the ancient parish church of Shoreditch. Organised religion isn’t really my bag, but Saint Leonard is one of those ‘nice saints’ – the patron saint of prisoners, women in labour, and those in bondage. His mission was to free people. There might be a certain sympathy from kitchens about those who work in bondage – we felt he was an appropriate patron saint.

What's the site like?

JB: We’ve taken a beautiful restaurant, gutted it, and then built a new one in its ashes. It is absolutely the restaurant that Andrew and I want to cook in so we are owning it and building it from the ground up.

What will the food be like at St Leonard's?

JB: The food we’re doing will be innovative, but classic. We’re applying a lot of creativity and thought to everything, but the heart of the menu comes from a traditional, pre-industrial form of cookery. We’ve got a big log fire and a tub of ice, and we will be serving raw things and roasted things.

Why have you chosen now to launch a second restaurant?

JB: The second site has been in the pipeline since August last year. We could have carried on evolving Brunswick House, but it is a neighbourhood restaurant and we’ve suffered there before for being too ambitious. We heard that the Eyre Brothers’ site might be available for offers, and we took it.

Is anyone moving over from Brunswick House?

Andrew Clarke: For the most part it will be a completely new team. We didn’t want to rock the boat at Brunswick because it’s in such a good place, and now we can bring in staff from east London.

JB: It would be a great shame if the inception of St. Leonard’s meant we cannibalised Brunswick House. The front of house team will all be new except our head of wine, Donald Edwards, who will look after the wine at both sites.

Do you train your staff from the start, or hire established chefs?

JB: We will always take and train people who have no experience, but only if they are serious and keen to learn. The dropout rate for entry level staff can be very high. We get an enormous amount of applicants who have tried other careers and found them dissatisfying, and then they try to come and work with us in their late twenties and it’s just too much.

How is the staff hiring process?

JB: We’re missing people in their late teens and early twenties. That is when you can really inculcate them with good habits and behaviours. When people are young they’re incredibly good at absorbing information and adapting to new environments. We aren’t reaching young people when they’re able to get the most out of the early years of kitchen life, so we have been talking to local schools to try to make this industry an attractive career choice.

How do you manage your team?

JB: As a restaurateur my duty as a mentor and an employer is not just to educate but to create an environment in which people learn. It might be a strict environment, but it brings the best out of people. Our kitchen creates the necessary structure to ensure everyone performs to the best of their ability, but we also have to make sure their outside life is healthy.

How do you feel about staff shortages?

AC: The chef shortages conversation has been going on for the past five years. The industry was already deplete of staff, and the more restaurants that open, the fewer chefs there are. With chefs, longevity is important. Money doesn’t always pull people in – you have to make sure people are well rested, nurtured, and listened to.

This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the June issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here

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