It ought to be the stuff of nightmares. You open a new venture, promote staff from the original operation to run it and then, just as everything is looking good, the head chefs of both leave to open a new restaurant.
This is just what has happened to Andrew Radford. Blue head chef John Rutter along with Atrium head chef Glyn Stevens and Atrium front of house manager Lara Kearney have left to set up on their own. But Radford is pragmatic about the loss.
After five years, he is sorry to lose these key members of his team but glad that, in an industry of constant staffing problems, he has had this length of loyal service from them. "You accept that people move on. By opening Blue we managed to keep them for longer than we might have otherwise done."
Radford has also found an instant solution. Blue's sous chef David Haetzman has been promoted into Rutter's post. At the Atrium Alan Mathieson, who was Radford's sous chef at Hansels 10 years ago, takes up the reins, and Kearney is replaced by Nick Tyrie.
For Radford, the changes demonstrate the need to be continually training the next layer of management. Fortunately, Haetzman is well tuned to the ethos of Blue, and Radford is confident that he will be able to lead the operation in the same way that Rutter did.
Training and development of current staff will also be critical for the next stage of Blue's development. Two years after its conception and one year of successful trading later, Blue is ready to expand.
Sights set on expansion
Radford is keen to find a second site, but with the Edinburgh restaurant scene at a frenzied peak, he is anxious not to rush into anything. Radford hints that he is well advanced in negotiations on one site but, naturally cautious, is reluctant to disclose details. Glasgow is also under consideration.
The new Blue will almost certainly be headed by the current management, who have the experience of the original, with a newly created post of operations manager overseeing both outlets. It may be considerably larger than the 3,500sq ft original and, depending on location, there may be more emphasis on an all-day food offering. Blue does serve food in the afternoon but covers are so minimal that Radford is considering whether it is worthwhile keeping the kitchen open all day. A solution might be coffee and pastries, all of which can be prepared well in advance.
Whatever happens, there'll be no rushing in. Aware of the recent demise of the Pierre Victoire chain, which began life in Edinburgh, Radford wants to make sure everything is in place before he puts his name to something else. "There are so many things that can go wrong, I'll believe it when I see it."
In the meantime it's all systems go for next month's Edinburgh Festival. Last year's event, for which Blue opened just in time, saw frenzied lunch and dinner periods. Suppliers were revisiting after lunch service to replenish stocks for the afternoon and dinner, giving the kitchen precious little time to recover. This year Radford may close the kitchen during the afternoon to give chefs a chance to do mise en place for the evening as well as deal with suppliers.
The future looks bright for Blue. Radford anticipates a turnover in year one of more than £900,000, against a prediction of £520,000. Next year's turnover could even reach £1m. With a 15% increase in tourism predicted as a result of the Royal Yacht Britannia being permanently moored in Edinburgh and a new all-singing, all-dancing leisure complex being built around it due to open in 2001, there's lots going on. And whereas other players may come and go, Radford hopes he will be around for some time.