How I Got Here: Duncan Edwards

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here with Duncan Edwards co-founder of Four Hundred Rabbits London-based sourdough pizza brand.

Related tags: Four Hundred Rabbits, Pizza, Casual dining, Multi-site

The co-founder of Four Hundred Rabbits, which recently launched a new flagship location at Elephant Park in Southwark, on building his London-based sourdough pizza brand.

Why did you get into restaurants?
I was DJing with my brother [Daniel, co-founder of Four Hundred Rabbits] and producing music on the side while working in telecoms as my ‘day job’. The DJing came to an end, but the day job carried on. I needed something else. The passion I had for food was too overwhelming to ignore, so that then took over the huge gap music had left. My brother was in a very similar position and we started to plan. We worked for free at decent restaurants in our spare time to get some much-needed experience. Then the opportunity to open The Lido Café in Herne Hill came up and we just went for it. Four Hundred Rabbits then followed five years later and has been the best thing we’ve ever done. I was still doing the day job until last year and managed to run the restaurants on the side without anyone at my day job knowing about it for almost 10 years! I only told them when I finally got made redundant. It feels so good to be able give it 100% of my energy now - although have no idea how I managed to do both for all that time.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
When the toilets get blocked it’s probably going to be you that has get on your knees to sort it out.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Probably Hawksmoor. They have become industry leaders and give a lot back. We were watching them so closely as Covid was scaring the wits out of us to see how they treated their staff and spoke to their customers. It was great to have that balanced, kind outlook on twitter when so many people were panicking. I doubt we were the only ones they helped with this.

What motivates you?
Our head office team is made of people who started working with us as waiters, chefs or KPs and have developed with us as the business has grown. It's so rewarding to seem them flourish and develop themselves. The team we have is so strong because they are being led by people who have worked in all positions and understand those day to day, hour to hour challenges of service. They also challenge us, direct us, and keep us in check, and that’s been so important in these last couple of years as we’ve expanded from five to five restaurants so quickly. They keep us present in the day to day, and also help us expand in a way that leaves no one behind.

What keeps you up at night?
So. Many. Things! At the moment it’s worrying that we will have too many people self-isolating to open, but normally it’s mundane things like forgetting to do fire extinguisher checks.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
We worked with [strategy consultant] Monique Borst quite a few years back through a subsidised development scheme and we really needed it as we were pretty much making it up as we went along. It was so important to get some focus, strategy and expertise that we were lacking at the time. She was great and managed to get us some time with Will Beckett from Hawksmoor which was incredibly helpful.

Worst business decision?
Deciding to use 100% sourdough (and 0% yeast) and slow fermenting our dough for at least three days, usually more. It makes life really, really hard for us to as we grow as a business, but on the other hand it does make our dough very special. It’s honestly the worst decision we’ve made, but it’s also one that we’ll continue to make over and over again, as what sets us apart from other pizza operators.

Best business decision?
To start making our own gelato. It was our lockdown project last year, and it made us relook at all of our values and all of our priorities in terms of flavour and ingredients; where we source and how we create. It was like starting from scratch again and going, right – what do we want to be, and how do we achieve it? Like we did right at the beginning with our sourdough pizza.

What time do you wake up?
4.30am for the fever dream worries. 7:30am for the actual start of the day.

Coffee or tea?
Six-ounce flat white, no lid.

How often do you check your email?
Way, way too often. But not as much as I have to check WhatsApp...

How do you let off steam?
Running off to Margate for a barbecue on the beach, a bit of swimming and some heavy drinking.

Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
These days I'm probably 50/50 on that.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
A Roman lamb dish that involves ridiculous amounts of sage and vinegar.

Describe your typical Sunday?
Almost certainly a long, slow barbecue, proper family time, probably involving a South London park (if we’re not in Margate).

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Bought an ex-police riot van at an auction.

Favourite holiday destination?
Margate and Brazil.

What are you currently reading?
Barbecue cookbooks mainly.

What boxset are you currently watching?
Mare of Easttown.

What was your dream job growing up?
Probably music producer, that seemed to be the path for a while.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
I guess to those who are thinking about opening somewhere: You are accountable for EVERYTHING that goes wrong. No matter what it is, or who you would love to blame, it is definitely always your fault. So, prepare yourself for that daily reckoning.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
For everyone who works in hospitality to be able to just be themselves at work and for customers to understand and celebrate that. None of this robotic smile and scripted stuff, with floor managers breathing down their necks looking for perfection. We’ve spoken to a lot of our team about how damaging that can be for them and their mental health, and so we just stamped it out. It’s customer service yes, but not at the expense of identity or experience.

Bio

Born in Croydon in 1977, Edwards went to the University of Hertfordshire and subsequently pursued a career in telecoms. In 2009, while still working in telecoms, Edwards and his brother (Daniel) opened The Lido Café in the Brockwell Lido. Eventually, in 2015, the pair went on to establish Four Hundred Rabbits, and launched their first site under the brand in Crystal Palace. They've subsequently opened sites in Nunhead and West Norwood, with Edwards continuing to work in telecoms during the day and oversee the restaurants in the evenings. Last year Edwards was made redundant from his telecoms role and is now focused on growing Four Hundred Rabbits. A fourth restaurant opened in Brockwell Lido last year on the site of The Lido Café, and earlier this year launched a new flagship restaurant at Elephant Park in Southwark.

Related topics: People, Profiles, Casual Dining

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