Regis Crépy and his wife, Martine, are celebrating 25 years at the Great House restaurant with rooms in Lavenham, Suffolk. Having left Lille in France in the early 1980s, the pair planned to spend only one year in the UK to learn English but ended up staying. A quarter of a century later they have built up a business which was named the Britain & Ireland Best Restaurant with Rooms in last year's Good Hotel Guide and East of England Restaurant of the Year 2009 in the Which? Good Food Guide. He spoke to Neil Gerrard
Caterer You were planning to spend a year in the UK before studying for an MBA in the USA. Why did you stay?
Regis Crépy We loved England, and it didn't work out that way because we realised that learning English would take more than a year. My wife and I both graduated from the hotel management school in Lausanne in Switzerland and we had to speak English to carry on our life in the hotel and catering industry. When we arrived in England we thought we would learn English very quickly, but it didn't happen and our daughter was then born. I put aside the dream of an MBA and I stayed here. After working in London and Hertfordshire, I started working at the Great House and bought it about eight years later.
Caterer How do you maintain standards over such a long period of time?
RC It is difficult to pinpoint just one thing. The main thing is quality. We have never cut any corners on quality. Quality and customers were always the most important considerations in running a business. And next to that you have got to have a proper pricing strategy, keeping costs at the right level and adapting to what the market is asking for. Over the last 25 years we have seen a huge shift between the quality we had in this country and what we've got today. The standard has increased tremendously. We are extremely impressed with the way food in England has improved, and I hope that we have contributed to that as well.
Caterer What are you plans for the future?
RC I have got plans to open other restaurants. We have got the right people to do it. But plans are one thing, realising them is another. I don't open restaurants for the sake of opening restaurants. If I do it, it is because I feel there is a need somewhere for something.
Caterer Do you have a tip for chefs who are just starting out?
RCKeep your ego as low as possible, which is not what you are often being shown on television today. I have a strong philosophy about the fact that the restaurant is not the chef. It is about a group of people working towards a success. It is a disgrace towards the rest of the team to believe that the chef is the most important person in a restaurant. He is a very important person, but you have got the front-of-house people, the kitchen porter, the whole team is very important. Building up a team which customers know is still there after 25 years was certainly a source of our success.