Before entering My Old Dutch, the décor from the outside makes it clear the venue is going to leave a lasting impression.
With three branches to choose from, we visited the Kensington restaurant, just a stone’s throw from High Street Kensington station – easily spotted thanks to its bright orange colour scheme.
Aaron Singh is the current owner of the 1958-launched My Old Dutch, which has been under his command for the past seven years. Aside from that that, he also keeps himself busy with ownership of the 1757 Simpson’s Tavern in Bank and Italian restaurant Vicino in Parson’s Green.
For the past 13 years, he’s operated bars and restaurants, splitting his time cross low and high end spots, while cuisine is generally European or Mediterranean.
But describing My Old Dutch in his own words, Singh said: “It is the original pancake house of London, serving both savoury and sweet pancakes.
“Though set up by a Dutch couple starting in Holborn and in Ealing, the business has expanded to Chelsea and Kensington, with Holborn maintaining consistency with quality and value for money for our customers.”
His personal inspiration for the business came after tasting his first pancake at My Old Dutch and seeing the enthusiasm of customers. From that point, he was convinced he could develop the restaurant into a unique brand.
Singh explained: “I wanted to create a brand that could be synonymous in the restaurant industry that could be comforting and make the soul feel happy and fulfilled, I mean who says no to a stack of maple syrup and butter pancakes, or a classic My Old Dutch savoury?”
We tried a My Old Dutch savoury while there and can safely say, in answer to Singh’s question – “not us”. To give you an idea of what’s on offer at My Old Dutch, its flagship My Old Dutch pancake comes with smoked bacon, chicken, ham, sweet pepper, mushrooms, sweetcorn and cheese.
The rest of the menu is equally as creative, with everything from seafood and chilli con carne to Nutella and apple and cinnamon – we should add, they’re separate options; the seafood and chilli isn’t thrown together.
“I come from a very foodie family background and the moment I had my first savoury pancake I knew this concept had a niche for the UK restaurant sector.
“It’s like having pizza but with 1,000 more choices if you include sweet options. When you think of the concept of My Old Dutch, you think of words like wow, homely, fun and, most importantly, a product that gives value for money.”
Meanwhile, the name My Old Dutch itself is derived from Cockney slang; Dutch plate meaning mate or Duchess of Fife for wife – so chosen by the married couple that started the business.
Singh said the company plays on that, embracing the Dutch theme: “It’s a bit of a play-on that we utilise – the whole tulip in our brand logo and interior, but other than that we don’t try to be Dutch, or claim to be a Dutch pancake house.”
Among the customers feasting themselves on My Old Dutch sweet and savoury delights, middle Eastern and Asian customers are drawn to the pancake eateries, as well as students and families. And although the branches are based in London, Brits from other cities are making a beeline for them.
“We also see a growing trend of our customer base travelling from other towns in the UK, such as Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Essex, who see My Old Dutch as a unique dining destination point as part of their ‘day out in London’ weekend,” Singh revealed.
With that in mind, My Old Dutch may well be heading to cities much closer to those not from London, with a franchising scheme in place.
“We are looking for suitable locations. We do have a franchise model and have accepted an offer on the pilot franchise launch, and have plans to partner in the UAE,” said Singh.
He is by no means in a rush to get the expansion underway, however. He continued: “I would not put a label on it and say now is the right time or else – our model has longevity. We have undertaken a pilot for the UK and have also had a commitment from an overseas company to open within the UAE, so we want to take that to the next step first.
“We want to partner with the right companies or individuals who have experience in the market and this industry. We prefer to tread carefully than to rush into expansion.”
Singh’s slow and steady strategy appears to be working. His first objective when he entered the business was to give it a direction and personality, which are now clear as day when arriving at one of the My Old Dutch venues.
Developing that brand personality and long-term plan means that the business thrives always, with Pancake Day just a bonus.
During our visit on a Sunday morning, it was clear that the restaurant was in high demand, with an eagerly awaiting crowd assembled at the door waiting to take their seats.
That said, there are spikes on particular events, which is when the business capitalises on the opportunity before it. Singh described World Nutella Day, Valentine’s Day and Pancake Day as the company’s Holy Trinity.
“Pancake Day, of course, is a showcase for the brand, and for us it is not Pancake Day, but Pancake Week – literally. We get a phenomenal amount of exposure through Instagram and Twitter, so it’s great for us,” he said.
Reflecting on the company’s evolution, he revealed: “My first impression in 2010 was the brand lacked character, colour and life. There was no confident direction the business was heading, so naturally there was a decline in sales. The economy being in a recession made it harder.
“The menu concept and offering did not sit as well as it should have in our market position, and of course it was necessary to build consistency and maintain standards when you go through peak periods.
“Ultimately everyone wants to have the best and deliver the best, but one has to be a realist in the industry, and ask oneself can you increase volume of sales and be consistent? Do you have longevity with your managers and chefs to drive service and maintain quality?
“My objective was to realise my weaknesses before my strengths and I then set a long-term plan to remedy those weaknesses – it was that simple.
“We created life and colour for the brand to stand out and started to tap into the mental emotions of our customers. And as I said with pancakes, you realise the choices can be endless if you have the skill and energy to deliver.
“We created a great social media platform and a stronger website, which were long overdue, and we believe this has contributed to an uplift in sales and profits. Watching the business grow over the last seven years has been an absolute joy.”