We hear you're dropping your prices. Why?
Before lockdown we had a tough year. We opened a farm and I found I was stretching myself a bit too thin. When we were forced to close I was at home more and cooking in my own kitchen and spending time with my young daughter. I realised that I wanted to stop running around and enjoy cooking again. I realised that I hadn't enjoyed work for over a year. That meant simplifying things.
How much does a meal at Where The Light Gets In cost now?
We've gone from £95 to £65, so it's a big drop. To make it possible we've gone from about 15 to just six courses. It's been a process of distillation and restraint. We don't want to flood people with ideas anymore. We're going to focus on six things that we really work on and really talk about as a team. People are still leaving full, which makes us wonder how they were fitting in an extra nine courses before.
And how's it going?
Great. We're fully booked and we have really high energy levels as a team. The whole thing is so much more enjoyable for everyone. The changes make the restaurant more accessible. I want more people to be able to eat here. Restaurants cab be elitist places. I'd rather have more people in here and put the music up a bit and have a good time. It's early days so it's difficult to be sure but it does feel like we're attracting a younger crowd and the place feels more sustainable in every sense. It feels better, but I don't know if the numbers will work. We're not doing any extra covers so we have to ensure we're fully booked. We've not lost any staff though, which is good.
The restaurant was quite sustainable anyway...
Yes. for me sustainability means being able to keep something going long term. In that sense every business needs to be sustainable. We do yoga once a week with each other which lowers inhibitions and heightens our awareness. It also straightens our backs, which is important when you're hunched over a chopping board all week. And - as I said earlier - we launched a farm last year but we don't have access to it at the moment because it's in an area where there are a lot of older people. So during lockdown we created a new one.
Where is it?
It's on the rooftop of a multistory car park in Stockport town centre. It's called The Landing and we'll be offering food up there at some point as well. I built it with the help of my team who worked on a voluntary basis. It has a greenhouse and a full irrigation system. The car park has height restriction barriers so all the materials we needed had to be shifted by hand. It's also helping us to tighten our closed loop approach - we can now compost all the cardboard we receive, for example. It's four minutes from the restaurant, which is just as well as I got rid of my car during lockdown.
Sounds like a major project, did you receive any support?
We've had support from the council, MUD (Manchester Urban Diggers) and also the clothing company Patagonia. It's private at the moment but ultimately we want it to become a place for workshops and community engagement. It's not quite rewilding but it's a green urban project. Farming is important to us because we need to appreciate what the producers we use are up against to fully understand and respect our produce.
With restaurants under so much pressure, do you worry that the industry may become less sustainable as a result of the pandemic?
We did a takeout thing during lockdown and we had so much packaging. Eventually we found a sustainable product which was much better and not too expensive. We're also getting our handwash made by the person who does our soap, it's a better product that's more inline with our approach and it also allows us to support a fellow local business. I do understand why restaurants might be tempted to let things sip on the sustainability front. We were tempted too but my business partner in particular was adamant that we resist. As we come out of this people will need to check themselves over. These were big habits to shift, single-use plastics in particular. It's been a horrible and negative time but there have been positives. The planes out the sky were great. I heard birds more. This crisis could help us become more green.
For more examples of how restaurants have reopened in a more sustainable way post-lockdown head to the Sustainable Restaurant Association's website.