Passionate about Wedgwood
By Annabelle Love
ONE of the keys to success in any business – and perhaps none more so than the licensed trade – is to make yourself the customer, to think about what you like to eat and drink, and how and where you like to do it.
It might sound like a simple starting point but it is something that husband and wife team Lisa and Paul Wedgwood were determined to place at the heart of their enterprise when they opened the aptly-named Wedgwood the Restaurant on Edinburgh’s iconic Royal Mile nine years ago.
The couple wanted to create their perfect night out – somewhere that people could enjoy fine dining in a relaxed, unpretentious setting.
It is an ethos that has stood them in good stead and the venue, which offers a sophisticated Scottish fusion menu, already has a string of accolades to its name, including an appearance in The Sunday Times Top 100 Restaurants list and winning the Hospitality Hero regional award at last year’s Scottish Thistle Awards. Most recently Wedgwood has been shortlisted for the Food and Travel Reader Awards 2016 – the only Scottish restaurant to be recognised in the Outside London category.
Lisa (35) explains, “We were determined to create the sort of restaurant that we would like to come and dine in ourselves – somewhere that serves good, local food, nice wine, and has great, informal service from happy, friendly staff in a lovely environment.
“We were also very keen that diners should not be thrown out or given the bill after two hours just so that we could get another table in.
“I remember being in one restaurant in the city where we were actually presented with our coats after two hours. It was such a shame because up to that point we’d had a lovely meal, a lovely time, but it just meant that the evening ended on such a negative note. It became about making money, not about making an experience. We want to make the experience for each couple or group so good that they want to come back to us again.”
Lisa and Paul (42), who moved to the capital from the Lake District 11 years ago, are clearly passionate about what they do and both are eminently qualified for the different roles within their business.
Lisa’s background is event management – she started working for a small company called Contemporary Photographic Training after leaving college at 17 and literally learned on the job.
She says, “The firm was just starting out and it became very successful. It was run by two women who were very inspiring and gave me a brilliant insight into how to run a small business. They helped me learn every element from accounting, sales and front of house to customer service.”
Meanwhile Paul had started out as a kitchen porter at 14, working his way up to head chef and learning his craft at a range of venues from pubs, bars and country house hotels to Michelin-starred restaurants before reaching a point in his career when he decided he wanted to have his own place.The couple looked at various venues in the Lakes but couldn’t find anything that worked for them so they decided to spread their wings, sell up and move to Edinburgh where Paul’s parents are based.
But if it sounds so far as though they have led a charmed life, the next 18 months were to prove exactly the opposite – as well as eventually being the making of everything that they have today.
Lisa explains, “We had seen the venue that is now Wedgwood and were in the final stages of wrapping up the deal, having left our home and said goodbye to all our friends. We were literally on the motorway, driving up here, when our solicitor phoned to say that it wasn’t going to work out.
“It was awful, mortifying, but you have to shake yourselves up and start again and in hindsight it ended up being the best thing for us. We both got jobs in bars and we met some wonderful people who are our closest friends now.
“Our focus was still very much to get a restaurant and we looked at lots of different ventures across the city but nowhere had the pull for us that this one did. Two of our new friends lived on the top floor of the building on the Canongate and we were on holiday when they phoned to say a board had gone up outside and the space was up for lease again. We called our solicitor straight away and set the wheels in motion and 18 months after losing the place we got it back again.”
Paul’s parents helped them secure the capital investment – using their own home as security – and the couple’s new-found friends helped them launch the business, mucking in with everything from painting, cleaning prior to opening, to waitressing when they finally opened.
It hasn’t been easy though – for the first 18 months after they opened in August 2007, Lisa and Paul worked up to 20 hours a day, arriving home at 4am, sleeping for a few hours then getting up to start all over again at 7am.
Lisa says, “When you start a business there are so many peaks and troughs and there are times when you question whether you have done the right thing. It would be easy to get de-motivated and depressed when things aren’t as rosy as you think they’re going to be but that’s the motivation in itself to just keep going and stick to your ethos. “When you speak to other people you realize the reality is that we all struggle at times and if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth doing. It’s a big learning curve when it’s your own business and I’m still learning every day.” The restaurant, which has 48 covers, is a little way down the Royal Mile and Lisa reckons that around 60 % of their customers are local, and around 40 % are tourists.
Many of the regulars have become good friends – people she and Paul socialise with away from work – and she prides herself on knowing just how they like their cocktails made, or which wines they will really enjoy. Her passion for the industry shines through and it is clear that, despite the long hours and hard work, she genuinely enjoys it.
Lisa says, “I’m really proud to be in hospitality. It’s a career that people in the UK don’t tend to take seriously and that’s a real shame because everybody likes to go out at the weekend for dinner, or for a special occasion, and it’s the people who work in bars and restaurants who make it happen.”
She is equally passionate about Paul and the work that he does, creating a modern Scottish menu designed to compliment what is on offer at different times of the year. Dishes currently include rabbit wrapped in pancetta with chestnuts, barley, chanterelles and carrot puree and sesame and soy glazed sea trout. All the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible and Paul also enjoys foraging for wild herbs and salad leaves in the woods and river banks around Edinburgh.
Lisa explains, “Paul is a very creative chef and he’s not afraid to use spices in his cooking. He is not classically French trained, which allows him to have a lot more freedom when he’s creating dishes. He has such a fantastic palate that he knows how a dish will taste before he puts it together. I am so proud of him and my belief in him knows no bounds.”
The couple, who employ 22 staff, split evenly between the kitchen and front of house, work well together but also make an effort to leave work at work.
Lisa says, “We promised ourselves at the start that we would remain husband and wife first and be business partners second. There’s nothing quite like having two people driving a business forward. We want to be successful and to have the best reputation possible, but when we cross the threshold of our home at night we try as hard as we can to go back to being husband and wife, and not to discuss work.”
Another possible key to their success is the fact that they take a three-week holiday every January, closing the restaurant straight after Hogmanay and heading off to explore somewhere new.
This year they visited Los Angeles, San Diego, Lima in Peru, Santiago in Chile and Buenos Aires in Argentina – while Wedgwood underwent a £70,000 refurbishment.
They worked with Pride Shopfitting, based in Cumbernauld, to create a light, airy, natural feel and even fitted a special vinyl acoustic floor so that noises like cutlery being dropped don’t detract from the ambience.
Lisa says, “Paul’s cooking is all about natural organic elements and we wanted the restaurant to reflect that. We exposed the original stonework on one wall to bring some of the old building back, and used natural wallpaper, made from bamboo and raffia, on another wall. We are thrilled with it.”
If the volume of repeat bookings and recent awards are anything to go by, their customers are equally happy.