As part of this month’s sector focus on restaurant suppliers, we caught up with Jon Wise, owner of contemporary British restaurant The Laughing Gravy.
The Laughing Gravy in Waterloo is a characterful, relaxed restaurant specialising in contemporary British food.
It used to be Jon Wise’s favourite local restaurant, but unfortunately it fell into the wrong hands and began to go downhill – the new owners started cutting corners, and it lost a lot of its appeal. Wise, who had previously worked in the bar and restaurant industry and was keen to get back into it, saw an opportunity to step in and make it great again.
The business owner has now been running the Laughing Gravy since 2010, and more than anything he has been keen to return the atmosphere and community vibe the place once had.
“I was adamant that when I opened a restaurant I didn’t want to end up on a faceless high street somewhere. The Laughing Gravy is a great little bistro, slightly out of the way. It’s not a place you’d stumble across, it’s a destination restaurant. I’ve always loved the feel of the place,” he said.
“It had very sadly been left to go to wrack and ruin, and I wanted to take it over, breathe new life into it, and give back to the community area a bit more.”
The community feel
The sense of community is key for Wise. SE1, the area of London where the Laughing Gravy is situated, is very central – it’s right near the Southbank and Waterloo stations – but Wise believes it also has a strong community feel to it.
Having strong working relationships with his supply chain factors in to this. “Everywhere is getting squeezed and pinched and this trade is getting harder and harder. I think it’s really important to have good relationships with your suppliers and try and support local ones as much as possible,” he explained.
Recently, the restaurant took on a new lamb supplier. Wises’ assistant manager, who has been with him for four years, has a brother who works as a head shepherd on a farm in Leicestershire, so it felt like a natural fit.
“It’s really nice to be able to work with them. My head chef and manager have been up to the farm and spent time there, so we know where all of our lamb comes from and how the animals have been treated.”
“It’s really nice to be working with and supporting one of my long-term member of staff’s family.”
The industry feels the pinch
Another added benefit of taking on the new lamb supplier means that the restaurant can purchase whole lambs and butcher them in-house, which is more cost effective.
Looking for cost effective ways to run a business is a priority for many right now – as Wise said, everyone is feeling the pinch, and this certainly holds true for the restaurant industry.
Brexit and political turmoil in the UK has led to a weak pound that is struggling to recover, and this has in turn led to increased prices for imported good.
Luckily, The Laughing Gravy specialises in British food, so remained largely unaffected – but the wine list has required a re-think.
“Our wine suppliers have put the prices up because the pound is so weak. Whilst the wine producers in France and wherever else have tried to hold their prices for as long as they can, with sterling not really recovering they’ve had to start pushing prices up,” said Wise.
Rather than passing the prices on to the customer, which Wise feels is a lazy approach, he has sought out alternative wines for the menu.
A word to the wise
You must not underestimate the value your suppliers bring to your business – chances are, you’ll spend just as long speaking to them as you will with your staff, and you wouldn’t rush a recruitment process.
Wise strongly recommends spending time with potential suppliers and making sure you’re comfortable working with them – don’t rush into a business arrangement only to discover down the line you don’t quite gel, he warned.
“For me, I just like that personal touch,” he said. “They look after us when we need them to, because we have a good relationship.”