We chatted with our clients Adam Symonds and Rob Tecwyn, owners of The Baring.
They met a decade ago, working at Highgate's beloved gastropub, The Bull and Last. Their paths then diverged - Adam going to work with Jackson Boxer at Orasay, and Rob with Oli Dabbous, Sam and Sam Clark and Tom Kerridge - before they teamed up again last year to open The Baring, in Islington. The duo's food-led pub was met with critical acclaim and bums-on-seats from the get-go.
1. What drew you to careers in hospitality?
Adam - It was unintentional, to be honest. Despite growing up with parents involved in catering, albeit the contract catering side of things, I didn't have much desire to join the industry. This changed when I took a job in a pub the day after my 18th birthday. From there, I played music for much of my twenties and supported my lack of income as an unsuccessful musician by working in pubs and restaurants. As music sidelined I found myself taking on managerial roles and here we are.
Rob – I worked in a kitchen washing up when I was doing my A-levels and there was certainly an instant draw for me. The misfits, the organised chaos, the work hard, play hard thing.
After my A-levels I was meant to go to university to study philosophy; I went to do a ski season in the French Alps on my gap year; ended up doing 3 and never making it to that uni course. I wanted to travel more and have a vocation I could apply to anywhere that transcended the need to speak the language; maybe that’s my lazy side creeping in! I worked in Spain and Italy after France for a while, then made it back to London about 12 years ago and have been lucky enough to work for some amazing people ever since.
2. You opened the Baring in summer last year, after the chaos of the pandemic and in the midst of a ramping up cost-of-living crisis. What was that like?
Adam - Edgy for sure. Though, you get so far into something that there is little choice but to carry on regardless. Leases are signed, staff are employed, its game on. That said, I don't think we sat around worrying about it too much. We had belief in what we doing which carried us beyond the nagging doubts in the back of our minds.
Rob – A few sleepless nights having the worst case scenario in the back of your mind, but ultimately the pandemic allowed us to prepare the details and having intentionally done a couple of big openings back to back over the last few years, it was definitely time. There weren't as many options out there as you’d think though in terms of getting our hands on the right site – it seemed any of the small independents that went under through the pandemic were gobbled up by the big corporations; that’s probably more specific to pubs to be fair.
3. What business lessons did you take from your previous positions at The Bull and Last, Dabbous and Henrietta Hotel (or others)?
Adam - Good question. Business lessons not that many, if honest. But working alongside Joe Swiers at the Bull and Last really showed me that a good chunk of success is down to hard work and never resting on your laurels. Joe still tackles a shift with the same energy and standards as he did when they opened 15 years ago and that is a rare thing.
Rob – Nowhere near as many as I’ve had in the last year! I’ve always taken different jobs for different reasons, and every job I’ve had has taught me something different. The owners at Henrietta were really on top of me on margin which in hindsight was extremely useful!
Working for Tom Kerridge after that was really insightful – to see how he was across all his different operations and really knew the detail of everything and also how he treats his people. The latter probably being one of the most valuable lessons any operator can learn; without a solid team behind you, you’re nothing.
4. How are you managing rising costs?
Adam - We've been relatively well placed so far. As a new site with press interest, it hasn't been tricky to stay busy. Not to say margins aren't shrinking but we can charge what we need to and afford to pay people a good wage. Rob has to keep an eye on produce costs daily, the fluctuation in prices is crazy and I suspect catching a lot of less diligent operators unawares.
Our main issues were trying to sign a contract for gas and electricity back in March 2022. No one wanted to take us on as hospitality venues were very much on the back list. Fortunately, Rob managed to sign it off just before prices went even crazier.
Rob - Margins are certainly getting squeezed. It’s a difficult one because we want to be as accessible as possible and provide good value, but at the same time, my core belief in food is to source great ingredients and cook them simply. This comes at a high cost, and when the food is simple the ingredients have nowhere to hide.
We’ve run at a lesser food margin than conventional since we opened, which does always happen with a new opening in my experience, but normally it’s because of the chaos, which hasn’t been the case this time. We take a hit on a £12 lunch dish that we’ve done since we opened to get people in mid-week.
Since the new year I’ve been focused on getting the margin to where it should be without raising prices – using a mix of prime cuts and lesser cuts is one thing we’re doing, for example on a venison dish we serve some haunch or saddle cooked lovely and rare and then have some braised shoulder on there as well. It’s nothing revolutionary and it means more work prep wise but it seems to be contributing to a better margin.
5. What advice would you give someone opening their first restaurant?
Adam - Don't. No, but in honesty you have to love it and be prepared to spend a lot of time in the business. If you are looking for a quick buck and an easy life then walk away. If you're serious about doing it then don't get impatient.
It took us a long time to find our first site and then once you do it is a very competitive market. Someone will have more money than you or a more secure track record and as a first timer it is difficult to compete. But keep going, in the end you'll look back on the sites that didn't work out and be thankful. But get out there and view as much as you can. Talk to agents, almost bother them too much, and know that they don't give a shit about you, despite what they say, you're one of many and persistence is key.
Rob – make sure you open a restaurant with someone else’s money first! I opened Henrietta for Ollie Dabous as Head Chef then Kerridge’s Bar and Grill for Tom as senior sous within a few years of each other. But the experience is invaluable. Doing 3 openings in a row definitely takes its toll but as long as you know your shit, approach everything with energy and enthusiasm & look after your team then you’ll be fine!
Roll with the punches as well; you’ll never have thought of everything. I felt I couldn’t have been better prepared to open The Baring, then on the first table on the first night of the soft opening, I picked up the finished plates, took them over to the dumb waiter and realised I didn't have a surface anywhere near to put them down so I had no hands to open the lift! What a mug. But it was fine, I had some shelves arrive the next day and away we went!
6. What business achievement are you most proud of?
Adam - We've had some good press the last 6 months and being highly ranked in the top 50 Gastropubs is very flattering, but honestly, I'm proud of what we have created more than anything. Having great food and drink in a room where the ambience is right and the service is on point is all I wanted.
Rob – Being busy! Whatever it is we have created here, people seem to like it. Most new openings in London do a bit of damage, but we’re here in January and we’ve just had our record Saturday followed by our record Sunday, in terms of covers and takings. All the press reviews were nice to see, and it creates a buzz, but you need people still to be coming in a cold, wet January in the midst of a cost of living crisis to be able to stand the test of time, and touch wood, they are.
7. What are your financial goals for the year ahead?
Adam - Just to do what we do but keep growing.
Rob – Pay off the debts & keep on rolling.
8. In terms of personal spending, how do you treat yourself?
Adam - No idea, can't say we get the opportunity to spend much. That said it would be on outrageously expensive clothes and shoes.
Rob – Food, booze, and hopefully travel again sometime soon.
9. Which restaurants are on your 2023 hit list?
Adam - French House, Caravel, Tamil Prince, Planque, Quality Wines. Would say Bouchon Racine but we just went and it was ace.
Rob – Adam got most of them in first! I didn’t eat out anywhere near as much as I would have liked last year so I still really need to hit Mangal II and Manteca.
You can follow Adam and Rob on Instagram.
Find out more about how we work with restaurant owners like Adam and Rob.