Temperatures are rising and with the relaxation of Covid Measures all over Europe, there is a sense of a new beginning, a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.
Throughout the last months, we have reached out to some of you and were continuously impressed by the positive energy, the comradery, the resilience, and the unity throughout the business. The people in the kitchens and bars, the ones who prepare and serve our daily meals (and drinks), showed immense creativity and innovativeness to overcome the difficulties of the last year.
Let's visit Verdigris
Location: Tonbridge, Kent in Southeast England
Concept: Fine Dining, Cocktail & Wine Bar
Staff: Kitchen 6, Bar 4, Front of House 4, Reservation/PR 1, Admin/Accounting/Maintenance/Cleaning 2
*Fun Fact: The person overseeing accounting is also responsible for Verdigris patisserie. This confirms the fluid and the dynamic structure of tasks and responsibilities at Verdigris.
“Overcoming this crisis was a team effort”
Isaac Eaglestone, Co-Owner, and Head of Bar of Verdigris in Tonbridge, stresses, that overcoming this crisis was a team effort. Being embedded in the local community and having put together a group of extremely motivated staff, Verdigris looked for ways to somehow keep the business going. Usually known for fine dining and mixology, Verdigris amped up its coffee brewing operations and focused on offering heavenly pieces of patisserie.
Isaac, great to speak to you. Tell us about Verdigris!
Verdigris is located in Tonbridge, Kent in Southeast England.
I am a mixologist, specialized in classic mixology and I am one of the founding members of Verdigris. Verdigris is a combination of things. At the moment it is a coffee shop, but it is actually a wine and cocktail bar as well as a fine dining restaurant.
In 2017 I was approached by my partner’s mother, who always dreamed about opening a restaurant. She knew I have the skill set to run the bar side of the business, and I said “Let’s do it!” I actually wanted to take a break from hospitality. It was worn out and was looking into a career in fitness.
What made you change your opinion?
It was the concept for me. It inspired me to reconsider and go back into hospitality, and this is where I am since 2017 when Verdigris opened its doors.
As a potential team member, I was instantly intrigued when I heard about the business concept of Verdigris, completely revolutionary in hospitality in the UK. This new business concept was based on equal responsibilities and an equal share of business for all staff members. In my eyes, this was mind-blowing. After all, they are putting in a significant amount of money to build Verdigris and then give it away. So, we are now established as the place where the head of kitchen makes the same amount as the kitchen porter and owns the same amount of the business.
This is quite revolutionary, especially in food service. What are the effects of this new concept? How do you experience the difference from traditional business concepts in hospitality, with steep hierarchies?
Not only do you have a chance to empower people. You are basically saying “we are all on one level”. That means everyone works as hard as each other. There is no room for excuses. This motivates people to do as much as their colleagues, but it also motivates them to make the business grow as well. Some people obviously don’t click with it and prefer the old-school style of working your way up and eventually receiving more money. Of course, this can also be frustrating, when you see people do less and receive the same. But that is when communication comes in. This is the time to approach the person and remind them that the business is a team effort and that more is needed from them and usually this is met with understanding. So, basically creating an environment with open communication allows us to address someone’s work ethic, by asking if everything is ok, and what they need to be inspired and motivated again. It is definitely a long-term approach and we had our difficulties at the beginning. Keeping in mind that we are a “smart” restaurant, with ethical sourcing and a sustainable approach initial investments were high. This concept is sustainable in itself. Starting small, and with high investments, we saw some growth every month. It was a small, but sustainable growth, which eventually carried us through hardships, like the past year. And now, we actually hold a very strong position, and I assign this to our concept based on ownership and empowerment and the highly skilled and motivated people who work with us.
How do you keep your people motivated?
For me, it is extremely important to have a healthy work environment. The mental side of it is as important as the physical side of it. We see this now after this long lockdown. Many people in the UK have not treated themselves right. Bad food, no movement, no social interaction…all factors for a bad mental state. It is quite easy to get sucked into the spiral of negativity. We wanted to counter that by creating, and channeling this energy into something positive. So, I asked my guys recently: “What needs to be in place for them to have a good day and to be happy?” For the business to do well, the people need to do well. What really motivates me is to help people reach their potential. But sometimes they are stuck in their routine and just need a push in the right direction. So, I ask them: “Why don’t you design this cocktail? “or “Take the day off and go to London, go to bars and get inspired?”
With this, I can ignite that passion, and this will spark motivation. The result is simple but impactful. Most of the time, our staff is happy to be there, happy to work, and happy to serve people. It is a challenge, but it is quite fulfilling, as you make people happy. And most of us in the team work more than is asked from us. Because we enjoy it, and we all want to grow the business.
How did you get through the lockdowns?
Consistency. We couldn’t open for regular operations, so we switched and started brewing coffee. The best coffee in town, if I may say. This helped us to keep up our daily routines throughout this time. Even if there was not much to do, we were there making sure the equipment is being used, cleaned, and maintained. With this we made sure, we don’t fall out of routine, stay agile, and are ready, when it is time to re-open. So we kept using our coffee machines as well as our ice machines. It is so easy to let it slip, especially when you are tired.
In the middle of lock-down, Verdigris became the To-Go place for Coffee-To-Go. And with people starting to queue for their afternoon treats, it also became a place where people had a decent but distanced chance of contact. And we changed things around a bit. Tracy, who does our accounting is also our pastry chef.