Richard and Lindsey Johns set up Artisan restaurant on a budget of just £30,000, and after years of hard work and favourable reviews, it has become a successful, established business. Neil Gerrard reports
Need to know Artisan occupies the site of a former greasy spoon in an area not known for its gourmet restaurants, and is run by a self-taught chef and an ex-crime scene investigator. These ingredients may not immediately sound like a recipe for success. But somehow, Richard and Lindsey Johns have made it work.
Richard spent several years working as a private chef for aristocrats and celebrities. But like a lot of chefs, he says, he had a yearning to get to the point where he could do his own thing. So in December 2004, having persuaded wife Lindsey to give up her 17-year career as a scene-of-the-crime officer for Humberside Police and run front of house, the couple opened Artisan.
"We were loking for properties for a long time - about two to three years," Richard says. "Lindsey is from the East Riding of Yorkshire and at the time people were saying there were no decent restaurants there, so we thought we'd give it a try. One day we were just driving about and saw this place."
Setting up By their own admission the Johns risked a lot to make their dream of owning their own restaurant come true. But that doesn't mean they weren't cautious when it came to setting up the business.
"We set up on a shoestring, and renovated only where we needed to," Richard explains. "We did it all ourselves and set the whole thing up for just over £30,000 through judicial buying. So if anyone says you need a £1m investment to set up a restaurant, you don't."
After the first three or four years of working hard to get the business on its feet, the pair managed to get together enough money to invest in the business, do a refurbishment and invest in more equipment. "We are constantly reinvesting," Richard says.
Target market Initially some locals were unsure of Artisan. "There was a quite a bit of resistance initially because of where we are and our style," Richard says. "We we wanted to do a little quality-led menu which was completely alien to this area, which tends to have a lot of bastardised Italian restaurants. We have evolved from that to what we do now, which is a gourmet menu."
Fortunately, the formula worked and the restaurant has gone from catering mostly for the more enthusiastic locals to a much more diverse foodie crowd who come from much further afield.
How it markets itself The main reason Artisan has been such a success is word of mouth and very favourable reviews in the press. Richard admits that he and Lindsey did not do much to market themselves in the beginning.
"We were so involved in the business it sort of took care of itself," he explains. "We didn't go in for any elaborate advertising regimes, but we invested lots of passion in the business and people started to take note." In fact, he likens the progress in getting the restaurant's name out there to "stepping stones".
Being named Restaurant of the Year in local magazine Yorkshire Life helped, but it was when Observer food writer Jay Rayner reviewed the establishment that things really took off.
"Jay Rayner did a review about four years ago and that changed everything. We had people booked in a year in advance because of that; he really did us proud," says Richard.
Trading through the recession Artisan has noticed the effects of the recession, principally in the behaviour of customers when it comes to booking. "They are booking an awful lot later than they used to," says Richard. "At one point we were booked up two months in advance on a Saturday but now it is probably a month in advance.
"People also want value for money, which we always try and give." But there have been no knee-jerk reactions at the restaurant. "It has been a case of sticking to our guns. We have never done offers. If we ever started trying to go down the offer route then it would be time for us to stop," he says.
"Our ethos from day one is that we don't try and please everybody. We just do our own thing and hope there are enough people out there who enjoy that sort of thing, which there seem to be."
Spotlight on personal service
For most of the time, Richard and Lindsey Johns run the business on their own, with one part-timer in front of house and one in the kitchen to do the pot wash during busy periods. They have just made the investment required to take over the whole restaurant building, which means they can live on site rather than commuting.
Lindsey, who Richard describes as a "natural" in front of house despite her unusual route into hospitality, organises the small restaurant so that they can deliver the level of service required. On a normal night, the restaurant will be split in two, with half the guests coming in at 7.30pm, and the other half at 8.30pm - all guests then have a table all night. Lindsey organises things like the laundry and cutlery herself, as well as managing the restaurant.
"We keep things simple and we found it works for us," Richard says. "Working by ourselves is all about working on the right side of possible and this just gives us the chance to offer a service to people at the sort of standard we want to do it to."
Facts and stats
Owners Richard and Lindsey Johns
Capacity 14-16 covers
Covers per week 50-60
Average spend per head £70 (with drinks)