What was the inspiration behind Monty’s Deli and how did it all start?
Mark [Ogus] started Monty’s as a street food operation. It was just a gazebo and a trestle table, and some pastrami Mark had been smoking in his parents’ garden in north Finchley. He was motivated by a lack of representation ofthe food he had grown up with – the salt beef bars of the East End had all but disappeared. His grandfather Monty was a barber in east London, and introduced him to that food, and he wanted to bring it back. At the same time, he was completely taken by the American deli culture, which in the UK had died a death. Mark started on Brick Lane, joined Kerb in King’s Cross, and then Maltby Street Market – which is when I joined after an introduction on Instagram.
When did things get serious?
Maltby Street become hugely popular after we were featured on Tom Kerridge’s TV show, and we had queues down the street. After six months, we moved into an archway in Druid Street, with access to a big oven and an off-site smoker, and we were able to increase production . We were selling 300 to 400 sandwiches a day . At that point, we had to decide whether to go down the production road or restaurant road. We did a Kitchen Cabinet on Radio 4 with Jay Rayner, where we met Josh Katz, the chef at Berber & Q.
When did crowdfunding begin?
We ran a Kickstarter campaign to buy new equipment with a £50,000 target . When we started, we had no idea how much work it would be to run the campaign and fulfil all the orders and incentives. It became a full-time job for six months. We committed to hundreds of sandwiches, and it was nice because it brought those people into the restaurant. We still have people coming in now two and half years later. It was exciting and terrifying, as everything was happening at once. In the end, we found a restaurant site and got additional investment.
Tell us about your first restaurants
The site in Hoxton was an old bakery and before that a butcher’s – and very close to the old Jewish community in east London. When we went there we knew it was the right place. It was huge, with a massive production kitchen. We wanted one site where we could focus production, with several satellite sites. All the meat smoking, steaming and pickling happens in bulk, and then it’s mostly reheated. We could function our satellite sites as A1s.
Then, Nuno Mendes, who was consulting on the Spitalifields Kitchens project, offered us a spot. At the time we were very cautious because we were so new in Hoxton and we hadn’t really fixed the restaurant – we were still finding our feet . The Berber & Q guys said it was perfect for us and so kind of pushed us into it – I’m glad we did it. It was a slow start in the winter and very cold, but since then it’s really picked up, and it’s been our easiest opening. We sell a lot of sandwiches at lunch.
You’ve done a similar site at Market Halls Victoria...
Simon Anderson [director of Market Halls] had been coming to Spitalfields, and chatting with Mark. We were very sceptical at first – we felt we’d moved too quickly . But we came [to Victoria], to meet the team, and it was obvious it was a good opportunity.
We are still ironing it out in terms of the menu especially in the evenings and weekends. It’s a model that’s really working for us and we have budgeted for another site like this. With our centralised production kitchen, it’s fairly easy to get sites up and running. It’s good for us as new operators with less experience – we get to work with people who have huge experience.
Who eats at Monty’s and how has the Jewish community reacted to it?
We have the people you would expect to come to restaurants – late 20s, early 30s – and into food. Then you get families coming for the Shabbat diner, which is a real surprise. The Jewish community has embraced it – to a degree. The problem with any type of home-style cooking is everyone has an opinion. They know how their mum made it, how their grandma made it, and they’re going to tell you. The flip side is that people get really emotional, and say this is how I remember it, this was part of my life that was missing.
Are there any other formats you’d like to try out?
The idea we had of creating a Jewish deli that would not be out of place in New York or LA – people here aren’t really sure what that is. It doesn’t exist as part of our eating culture. So it’s been hard to translate that. You can’t tell people how to engage. We’d love to open somewhere in west London and do a posher version, like Russ & Daughters in New York – smoked fish, lots of marble and champagne.
What’s next for Monty’s?
We would like to do more but we are still figuring out what the future is – whether that is more A1-style sites or a move into more retail things. There will be changes to Hoxton to make it more retail-focused, so people can come in and buy cold cuts of pastrami. We would like to be a way for people to get this food beyond the restaurant. There is a huge kitchen in Hoxton, and an undeveloped basement, which we could move into when the time is right. So we’re excited about the world beyond the restaurant. We would also like to have somewhere west and south, which serve as flagships.
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