Catherine Roe is managing director of concessions at contract caterer Elior, whose Digby Trout Restaurants division is running the café, bar, event catering and public restaurant at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. The 18th-century building had its official launch last week after a £22m refurbishment. She spoke to Chris Druce
Caterer Elior had a presence at the institution while the refurbishment was taking place. Was that tough?
Catherine Roe Yes it was quite tough. Christian Kaberg, the general manager, and his team wanted to get going and get stuck in, but it was hard because we were working initially without lifts and with the builders still on site. There were various access issues, making the initial months a real juggling act.
Caterer The institution has been home to 14 Nobel Prize winners and English chemist Michael Faraday and witnessed the discovery of 10 chemical compounds. Is it hard offering something contemporary in a historic venue?
Catherine Roe It can be hard, but it's what Digby Trout is all about - providing services in harmony with the venue. It's the reason you won't see the brand name over the door here, which is often the last thing you'd want at a heritage site. We've been lucky to have a strong steer from the director of the institution, Baroness Greenfield, who came up with the name of the public restaurant, Time & Space.
CatererTell us more about Time & Space.
Catherine Roe The name reflects the fact that we all need time and space and, of course, ties in with the scientific reputation of the institution [which continues to hold weekly lecturers in its Faraday Theatre]. There's no music in the 60-seat restaurant, which has a modern English menu created by our consultant chef Anton Edelmann together with head chef Julian Ward. Julian has worked with Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Anton at the Savoy. It's important that we get it right, as the restaurant will provide the majority of our business.
CatererIs it a tough time to be establishing a new restaurant in the current economic climate?
Catherine Roe We've had the restaurant running since September and ultimately aim to open it six to seven days a week. We're lucky in that the institution attracts a range of people, from the public walking in off the street to use the restaurant and bar, to school trips, corporate events and events for the members.
CatererAnd how is the slowdown affecting the concession business as a whole?
Catherine Roe It gives me the occasional sleepless night but the diversity of the business has helped and, while some contracts are down, others are up. The poor weather this summer didn't help. At our retail contracts, such as House of Fraser, there are fewer people spending money, but it varies enormously. When the kids are on half-term we notice a change and, when it's sunny, tourist locations like Hampton Court do well.