Last year (2020) I had a mental breakdown. At the beginning of the year, I was due to start back at work and begin the process of restarting the Camberwell Arms and preparing for Frank’s. I was physically anxious and at times it felt like an electric current was running through my jaw. I was suffering with anxiety induced hallucinations, waking nightmares, and I was depressed. Trapped by the apparent weight of the work that I had created for myself. Or so I felt.
I spent quite a lot of time thinking about whether I liked my job, and if I liked it, why? It occurred to me that making people happy with food and drink is a brilliant thing, and something that is at my core. But what also became apparent to me was that if I couldn’t look after myself, then I couldn’t look after others, and what is hospitality if not looking after others, welcoming them – and taking care of them.
Opening a new restaurant is very difficult. It’s also a questionable choice whilst recovering from a breakdown, but here we are. I’ve done it. We had an unusually challenging time frame to deliver the project, more or less 6 months from the initial conversations to the delivery, but Mike’s opened on April 13th 2021, one day after the easing of the second lock down.
Before you’ve done it, I think the idea of opening restaurants is great. You can immerse yourself in the development of ideas, design, menu planning and recipes – all of that brilliantly creative and fun stuff. You go through the build, you get to opening night… and instead of being a finale, it’s just the beginning of the pressure – that’s it, it’s got to work. Not just for that night, not just for the first week, but ideally for years to come.
Each week can come at you with a new challenge and a new problem to fix. It’s at those moments that we have to remind ourselves of the brilliance of the idea in the first place, and to bring it back to the reason we do what we do.
It is relentless, and it can leave very little time and space for taking care of yourself. From staff shortages and turnover, to blocked toilets and leaks, restaurants have it all. So it can be hard to focus on that when things are escalating, but you have to be disciplined, you have to have self-belief, and you have to have confidence that the idea you started with is going to come good.
I say this because I have struggled and continue to struggle at times with the pressures and realities of having opened a new restaurant. It hasn’t been easy, and there is a long way to go, but I’ve got to remind myself to take pride in how far we have come so far.