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James Gummer is the owner of 7 Saints - a modern, elegant neighbourhood restaurant in the heart of Notting Hill. It’s the sort of place the locals don’t want you to know about - the menu changes weekly, the wine list is interesting but accessible, the dining room hums with the gentle buzz of people enjoying themselves.
Gummer opened the restaurant in August 2018 following a front of house career which included stints at The Wolseley and Isabelle and it quickly became a firm favourite on the West London scene. We sat down with him to discuss all things ownership and opening.
5 things you should know before opening a restaurant
1. Sweat the boring stuff
“Starting any business, particularly a restaurant, is an incredibly exciting experience. But it’s so important to really nail the financial fundamentals - rent, licensing, fit-out, staff costs, wine and so on. For example, with margins being what they are, you can’t afford for rent to be more than 10% of your revenue. So before opening, it’s crucial to work backwards from that and ask ‘if my rent is X, can I generate ten times that in revenue per week?’ If the answer is anything other than ‘a firm yes’, you’re toast.
2. Know your customers
“Again this sounds simple, but understanding your customer is essential to the long term success of your business. Spend time to really work out who will come to your restaurant, what their jobs are, what their schedules and lifestyles are like. For example, being in quite an affluent part of London, our customers want to eat out regularly but not too unhealthily. They want the flexibility to choose how many courses they eat. They want a style of service that is unfussy and personal. And a dining room which feels like an extension of their own homes. If we were located in, say, Soho, the food and feel of our restaurant would have to be completely different.”
3. Open somewhere you'd want to go to
“The idea for 7 Saints came from a spell working in New York. In my opinion, London wipes the floor with NYC when it comes to ‘fine dining’; but their neighbourhood restaurant scene is unlike anything we have here. Seemingly every block has its own relaxed, informal and atmospheric place with a changing menu and an interesting drinks list. And I found myself wishing that we had more of those places back home. Which feels like a solid foundation to launch a business from. After all, if you’re not in love with the food, drinks or area; why should anyone else be?
4. Customers will surprise you
Mostly in a good way it must be said! I’ve been amazed, for example, at the support we received from our regulars during the lockdown. But there are definitely moments when you think “huh, I didn’t see that coming”. Just last week, for instance, a very ‘merry’ customer somehow found her way into the kitchen where I found her confiding with our sous chef about her recent break-up!
5. It’s harder than you think
Given how difficult the past few months have been for so many people, it seems churlish to moan about opening a restaurant. But it is harder than you think. When it’s your restaurant, everything is your responsibility - if the KP doesn’t turn up, you’re the one washing the dishes; if the toilets are flooded, you’re the one reaching for the plunger. Which is to say nothing of the mental side of things. I remember lying in bed the night before we opened thinking “what if no one shows up?”.
That said, now that we’ve been open a couple of years, I can honestly say that opening 7 Saints is the best thing I’ve ever done. So if you think you’ve got a great idea, my advice would be to go for it.