Ed Thaw, Leroy4th June 2018
What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.
This week, we talked with Ed Thaw, Co-Founder of Leroy about Michelin Stars, Vermouth and the civilising force of hospitality.
Brief life history: You went to Cambridge, now you hawk wine and small plates for a living. Did you figure this is where you’d end up?
When I left Uni in 2001 there was a real pressure to get a proper job as that was what everyone seemed to be doing, except I didn’t want to be a lawyer, or an accountant, or a banker.
In the end, I got an amazing job for one of the biggest marketing companies in the world and ended up working in New York for a year and a half. By the time I got to 2008, with a detour through an Audio Engineering Diploma, I was fed up with the branding world and had followed a girl to Madrid.
So, I started working in a bar out of necessity and then worked in the Mercado de San Miguel on a Vermouth stall.
When the girl told me she didn’t want me to open a bar or restaurant a switch was flicked and I came back to the UK.
After six months working as a Chef I started to do my wine exams and work front of house and from then on things went pretty quick. I started to work for Michael Sager and within six months of opening Mission, I was running Sager + Wilde.
From there I met my now-business partner Jack Lewens and opened Ellory in November of 2015. I became an owner when Matthew Young left the business after 7 months. 4 months later we had a Star which we retained in October of last year. We closed Ellory in March of this year to take advantage of a better business opportunity in Shoreditch and here we are now. It’s been quite a ride.
Although I knew I wanted my own business this has surpassed all my expectations. It’s also fair to say that having applied myself with varying degrees of enthusiasm through plenty of corporate jobs I’ve never worked harder these last 4 or so years. This is not a job, it’s a lifestyle choice and I’m finally lucky to have found something I really love.
We interviewed Mike Sager a few weeks back, your former Sager + Wilde boss. He can’t hear you – what would you say to him about your time there, Sager + Wilde today and why everyone should be drinking at Leroy?
Mike is an amazing man. The first time I went to Sager + Wilde I had a realisation that he had the exact intensity and joy for what he did that I needed to have. It became essential to work for him and I can honestly say that he changed my life. There’s no way I’d be where I am now doing stuff at this level without him.
The best thing is now that I don’t have to work with him we can get on with being friends and having a load of fun together. Typically, he’s not resting on his laurels. He could just have rolled out the wine bar concept but instead, he’s looking to create a really interesting all day place in Clerkenwell called Fare. It’s bringing together affordable wines on tap, cocktails, pizza and a veggie-based menu. After that who knows. Nothing would surprise me.
As far as Leroy goes we do our best to avoid dogma. This zero-sulphur thing with wine is really boring. It’s far more interesting to drink wines with as few additions as possible and as well made as possible. I’m not into drinking only funky, cloudy badly stored grape juice.
I want something from someone who knows what they’re doing and does a little bit better than just dumping it in a tank or barrel and letting it do its thing. So that’s what we’re drinking at Leroy. Wines with identity from around the world from some of the best winemakers of today and yesterday.
"I think restaurants have always been a civilising force in our society. It’s where we break bread and it’s up to all of us diners and hospitality folk to keep it civil"
You mentioned that Ellory (RIP) held a Michelin star. Did that help or hinder the restaurant?
It was a complete surprise, to be honest and without it, I think we would probably have packed it all in. And, while it was a source of great satisfaction to retain it without changing our own style, I think you have to be really wary of doing anything for awards.
So many restaurants that are clearly out for a Star are either tedious or naff or both. If anything, the downside was that we were seen as more of an occasion restaurant which, given our location, was tricky.
There’s definitely a change going on in dining. Casual places, but focused on quality, and I think Michelin is beginning to reflect this change. It’s easy to give Michelin a kicking – and plenty seem to want to do that – but it’s still a big thing for chefs and restaurant people, whether they admit it or not.
Where do you go to eat and drink in the city? Where have we not been that we should?
I always check new places out to keep my eye in, but the real test is where I go back to. Predictably, it’s places like Brawn, The Marksman, Noble Rot, Westerns Laundry, Clipstone, The Laughing Heart and of course, Sager + Wilde. We’re spoiled in the East.
If you’ve never been to Xi’an Impression you should. Excellent food in an unprepossessing spot opposite the Arsenal stadium. That’s really what I love. Stuff that is well made and full of flavour and balance.
You’ve just listed some of our favourite restaurants of 2017 – and Xi’an Impressions is a real find. Who’s your pick for 2018 standout? We’re off to Brat next week…
Not seen it yet. I’ll let you know when I do. I’ve yet to check out Mãos from Nuno Mendes and James Brown of Blue Mountain School, but I think it’s going to be very interesting.
I’m interested to see what the P. Franco boys are doing in the spot where Ellory used to be, and I will probably get round to Hide just to see what having too much money feels like.
Let’s talk about a few things that have dominated industry press recently: No shows, tipping, delivery, over-saturation; as an owner & operator, which hill would you pick to die on?
One thing I think a lot about is manners.
The rise of social media and booking platforms mean that people behave in some pretty rude ways. No shows have always been a facet of our industry but leaving negative feedback online when you’ve spent the whole meal being served by humans is a dick move.
I think restaurants have always been a civilising force in our society. It’s where we break bread and it’s up to all of us diners and hospitality folk to keep it civil.
With regards to tipping, I think that lots of people forget that the discretionary service charge allows your restaurant to legally avoid paying tax so unless the service was really shocking, I wouldn’t begrudge it. No one in a restaurant is doing it to get rich. I’m all for hospitality included but unlike in the States, where it’s becoming a thing and Japan where it’s always been a thing. I’m also all for helping restaurant staff to make a decent living.
Long term, the future looks pretty bleak. Dark kitchens, food delivery, your food cooked by robots, being told what to eat and being fed it through a tube…so I’m all for celebrating all that’s independent, passionate and gloriously unhealthy about our industry, #welovebutter #welovemeat #welovebooze.
I'm still thinking about that Vermouth stall.
Well, we’re making our own wine and as part of that were actually making our own vermouth, which will properly happen after harvest this year. It seems like the next logical step after Jack and I having sold wine for a number of years.
It’s surprising that no restaurants have really done it before – apart from maybe St John – but Vigneti Tardis, our project with Bruno di Conciliis, Michael Sager, The Boxer Brothers and Stevie Parle is the start of a journey.
Who knows where it will lead but pretty soon we’ll have 20,000 bottles of wine to sell so you will be drinking it at some point.
What’s next for you and for Leroy?
We’ll bed down for a bit. I’ve no plan to do another Leroy but we are looking to re-scratch a pizza itch I had a long time ago, and tie that in with the wine thing.
I’d like to do a simpler wine bar if we find the right space. I think the time may also be right to recreate some of the raucous bars I remember from my time in Madrid. But, whatever we do, it will grow organically from what we’re doing at the minute.