Simon and Katy Hulstone have purchased the Elephant restaurant in Torquay from their fellow shareholders, along with the leasehold of the building in which it sits.
The Hulstones are due to complete the deal with former shareholders Peter Morgan and Friederike Etessami today (Monday, 2 October). The agreement also gives the Hulstones the option to buy the freehold of the building within three years.
The Georgian terraced building, which overlooks the harbour at Torquay, houses the Michelin-starred restaurant the Elephant on the ground floor, and has three further floors for residential use.
Simon has been at the Elephant since 2005, originally joining as an employee. He and wife Katy became partners in the business 18 months after Simon’s arrival and they have lived above the restaurant since.
The chef, who has held three AA rosettes at the property since 2005 and a Michelin since 2006, said he was delighted to finally put down lasting roots in his home town of Torquay.
“The move cements our position in Torquay more than anything,” he told The Caterer exclusively. “We have never looked to move away from The Elephant – we enjoy it down here, the quality of life and the kids love it – but now we can implement more of our own touches. It will have more of a family feeling, a sense of independence.”
While Simon added that he and Katy had always “run it as their own”, they said that joint ownership meant they couldn’t always make the final decision on matters. “However, that’s not to say that we have ever been held back – we’ve always had Peter and Friederike’s full support. It’s just that our names are on lease now.”
“Peter and Friederike have been a rock to us. Thirteen years is such a long time to have a partnership that has worked on both trust and loyalty. We have been blessed to be able to achieve what we have with the full support and no-questions-asked approach they have bestowed upon us. The takeover will be a formality but we will see them both each week when visiting the farm which is also their home.”
Although the purchase of the Elephant comes at a difficult time for operators in the industry, Simon said that when Morgan and Etessami expressed a desire to retire from the restaurant and put the business up for sale, the Hulstones felt that they did not want to “see their hard work go to someone else”.
“We raised the capital through our own savings and a mortgage – no one else is coming to buy us out. It’s our home, it’s our destiny. The Elephant is Simon Hulstone and it’s always going to be known as that.”
The Elephant hit the headlines recently when Simon leant his support to a young chef and colleague from South Bristol Skills Academy who is currently facing deportation. Such concerns regarding staffing, along with the rise in the cost of ingredients and the weak pound, meant the Hulstones had to think hard about their decision to buy the business.
“Obviously, it’s in our minds all the time, but we have the bricks and mortar now and it makes us more determined to succeed. We have always treated this place as our business, and we will continue to push for bums on seats to provide a place in which our employees can work.”
In the meantime, Simon’s young Albanian chef, Ali, is due in court on Friday. “We’re hopeful, but if he isn’t allowed to stay then we will appeal.”
The Elephant’s strong links with Southdown farm in Brixham, Devon, which is owned by Morgan and Etessami, will remain. Simon will continue to employ the farmer and gardener there, and the produce grown and reared will be served in the 60-cover restaurant.
Simon’s other local business, Burridge’s Café Tearooms, which he owns with his father Roger, continues unchanged. “It runs itself. We don’t associate it as such with the Elephant – it’s what tourists want so we had to create something just for them without making things too hard for ourselves. And while it’s relatively quiet in the winter, throughout summer it’s absolutely rammed.”
The former National Chef of the Year and Roux Scholar has also just completed a successful two-month pop on the rooftop of John Lewis in Oxford Street.
The Elephant was refurbished 18 months ago, and while the Hulstones may make some small tweaks regarding soft furnishings, they have no plans for “massive changes”. “We don’t have the ego to do that. I don’t have the desire to keep changing things around. We’re in a good place with what we’ve got.”