There's a distinct Hotel du Vin vibe in Dominic Wood's semi-eponymous restaurant and bar, WildWood, in Bristol. Wood says he drew inspiration from his time at the hotel group, although the concept has been in his head for as long as he can remember. He says: "I've collected ideas from places I've worked and experiences watching people I've worked for - both the clever ideas and what I'd do differently."
He chose Bristol because it's near Cornwall but without such seasonal trade. WildWood was originally due to open in September, but this was postponed until the beginning of December, by which time the stock market had crashed and the recession was hitting home.
However, the restaurant and bar - which sells locally sourced popular food such as sausage and mash and lamb shank - did well, despite gloomy world economics, beating its projected turnover of £12,000 for the first month by £4,000. The wet-dry split is 40% to 60% and costs are currently kept low by Wood's seemingly permanent presence at the site: he employs only one full-time and two part-time front of house and three full-time in the kitchen.
His chef is, in fact, his girlfriend's sister, who he recruited to avoid any potential clash of ego with a new employee. "We have no limitations on our kitchen," says Wood. "We serve breakfast all day and if someone, for instance, wants beans on toast, we'll cook it for them."
The business is situated in a working area of Bristol, meaning that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday lunches are the busiest times, with Thursday and Friday evenings also popular. However, weekends have less footfall, so WildWood needs to establish a reputation before customers will make their way to it on Saturdays and Sundays. There should also be a steady stream of custom due to its fortuitous positioning beside the Bristol Royal Infirmary hospital, which employs 7,000 staff.
Wood adds: "We are surrounded by quirky independent businesses, and the WildWood concept will reflect this and have a positive impact on the area. I do have some good contacts and am pleased I've been able to use a number of local suppliers. I am very aware of the mountain of current, new and constantly changing legislation, and I am going to need a huge amount of advice to steer me through this area of my business."
Despite this, Wood most fears Joe Public's fickle nature. "With human beings you never know what they're going to think next," he says. "I worry that people will publish bad reviews. I'm hypersensitive, and I worry people will be put off by them."
WildWood's opening was delayed to early December, so the business missed out on Christmas bookings for its bar annexe, which doubles as a private area for parties. Dominic Wood admits the delay cost him a profit on the first month. The business did, however, manage to break even, and the next goal is to raise monthly turnover to £20,000.
However, Wood is spending a lot of time on the floor rather than on the books. "There have been a few surprise expenditures - massive council tax and electricity bills - that kick you in the guts just when you think you're on top of it all, but it's generally going as well as I would have hoped."
And there's also been some good news, as a notoriously fussy critic for the local Evening Post gave a favourable review early in the new year, and more and more people are coming in on the back of recommendations. But, he now says, the pressure is to make sure the product meets expectations. "We've got the kind of clientele I wanted now, which is basically everyone bar the troublemakers," he says. "The challenge is to make each visit bespoke to the customer."