Peter Sanchez-Iglesias: "It only hit home when I announced the closure to the team"

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Peter Sanchez-Iglesias on closing his flagship Bristol restaurant Casamia

Related tags: Casamia, Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, Bristol, Chefs, Fine dining, Zac Hitchman

The Bristol-based chef on closing his flagship, the new concept that will take its place and his plans for his Pacos Tapas and Decimo restaurants.

Why are you closing Casamia? 

Increasingly, the business is not financially viable. Some months we break even but other months we lose money. The family has been reviewing it for the last couple of months and have come to the difficult decision that it’s time to call it a day. The last service will be on 20 August and we’re going to have a big closing party on 23 August.

This must be an emotional time for you and your parents…

It is. It only hit home when I announced the closure to the team. It was very hard. The closure feels bittersweet. I know we’re making the right decision but at the same time it's sad to be losing something that was such a big part of our lives.

Tell us about the changes at Casamia over the last few years

I handed full creative control to Zac (Hitchman, formerly a chef at Gareth Ward’s Ynyshir in Wales)​ a couple of years ago. I felt the restaurant had become quite boring and was no longer a reflection of how I wanted to eat. He created something that was more theatrical, more fun and more challenging.

The changes were quite divisive…

Yes. Some people loved it, others didn't. Some of our older customers absolutely hated it, in fact. But as far as I’m concerned Casamia is the best it’s ever been. It’s super creative and free. Part of the reason we are closing is that we don’t want to compromise on anything or stop moving forward. I can’t ask the team to start ordering lower quality produce or reducing the number of courses.

Was a lack of bookings a factor in your decision to close Casamia? 

We were busy last year as we came out of lockdown but there has now been a drop off. We are by no means quiet, but with such tight margins every table counts. Losing just a few covers per service is often the difference between making a profit and making a loss.

Will you open something else in its place?

We're going to create a new restaurant but we haven't decided exactly what yet. One possibility is a more casual Italian restaurant that will have similarities to how Casamia used to be in the very early days (Casamia was once a simple, neighbourhood Italian).​ But it would not be called Casamia. We won’t ever use that name again. It's essential we get it right. The city is already full of incredible restaurants but I'm confident we can create something that works and put our own style on it. 

What level will it be pitched at?

I except it will be similar to Pacos Tapas (which holds a Michelin star). We need more volume but equally we won’t be rushing people out. And standards will still be high. At Decimo (the chef's restaurant atop The Standard, London) we have shown that we can do larger numbers and a fun environment without losing integrity.

Will you completely overhaul the site or will you look to retain some elements?

We have an amazing kitchen so we will keep as much of that as possible. We like the idea of having some counter seating around the kitchen but we will look to have lower seating elsewhere in the restaurant as having high seating only in Pacos Tapas has its challenges. The new look will most likely be white and bright, which will be a counterpoint to Casamia but also Pacos Tapas, which has a dark aesthetic. We will also do something on the terrace to the front of Casamia. We are hoping to open before Christmas. If we don't manage that it will likely be February or March. 

What will happen to the staff at Casamia? 

We're hoping to retain most of the staff. Team members will have the option to work for us in either Bristol or London and they will also have the option to take some time out and come back when the new site opens.

What about Zak Hitchman?

Zak is keen to open his own place. He loves Bristol so could well stay in the city but he’s keeping an open mind. He’s super talented so I’m excited to see what he does next. I’ll be the first customer there.

You've been focused on your London restaurant Decimo for the past few years. Will that continue?

Decimo is now finding its rhythm so I will hopefully be able to devote more time to the new project. Decimo opened not long before Covid so we never really found our feet and we lost a lot of the team due to people going home as a result of the pandemic. Luckily when we reopened at The Standard, London we were very busy, but that has meant I’ve needed to be here four to five days a week to help rebuild the team. But I want to keep pushing at Decimo. We’re hoping to redesign the kitchen soon to make it more efficient. We’re doing up to 350 covers on a Saturday night but I think we could get to 400. With a dining room like Decimo you want high volume because that’s where the atmosphere comes from. It’s a totally different scale to what we do in Bristol but the standards are still high.

What are your plans for Pacos Tapas?

That’s self-sustaining really as we have a very strong team. We’re in the process of expanding the restaurant by taking over more of the space that was once home to Pi Shop.​ It will take the restaurant from 40 to about 65 covers but it will also allowed us to make the kitchen and bar much bigger. The extra capacity is needed as we added a large terrace to the rear of the building earlier this year. Pacos Tapas is special. Maybe when I’m a little bit older I might bring it to London. It’s a brand that could scale, like a Spanish version of Zuma or Nobu.

Related topics: Restaurant

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