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Leading Michelin chef finds the right menu for success

IN this week's SME Focus we hear from a celebrated restauranteur who has built a million pound business in Scotland amid some of the toughest trading conditions seen in decades.

Name: Paul Kitching.

Age: 52.

What is your business called?

21212 - we are Edinburgh's only Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms. The name stems from our original menu concept, when we launched, which offered diners the choice of two starters followed by a soup course, two main courses, a cheese course and finally a choice of two desserts. The number of choices has expanded over time.

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What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Michelin-starred food is the main basis of what we offer at 21212, in our 38-seater restaurant and two private dining areas. We also have four five-star bedrooms for people to stay.

Who does it sell to?

Edinburgh is the dream city for our business with a great mixture of tourists throughout the whole year, residents and locals who enjoy the vibrant food scene that the capital can boast.

What is its turnover?

Our turnover has increased steadily since opening and for our last financial year, which has just ended, our turnover exceeded £1 million.

How many employees?

19 full-time staff members including my partner Katie and I. We also have two part-time staff.

When was it formed?

We took over the building in 2008 and spent almost a full year transforming the building into what it is today. We began trading in May 2009 and have just celebrated our 5th birthday - with a best ever year for sales. Of course, we opened just at the start of the recession!

Why did you take the plunge?

I decided to take the plunge with 21212 because I felt it was time to stretch my wings and move to a different platform where I was able to expand on my cooking. I wanted to stay true to my modern French style of cookery but also develop upon my adventurous flair.

I can wholeheartedly say it has been the best decision of my career.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Katie and I ran Juniper, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Altrincham, Cheshire, for its 12 years of life. We owned Juniper with a local investor. In 2008 we visited our friend up in Edinburgh and just fell in love with the city. It was at that moment that we decided to close up shop and move to Edinburgh. People say we were brave to do such a bold move but we really didn't stop to think. We persuaded Kate our head chef to come with us and we honestly haven't looked back since.

We have fantastic business partners who are knowledgeable with running a business so we can focus 100 per cent on cooking and make sure our guests have an exceptional time with us at 21212.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

With support from our excellent business partner Joan Revie who has been with us since day one of 21212. Joan is a west coast businesswoman who is involved in property and has been a tremendous support to us and the business. We also contributed financially ourselves by selling our small home in England.

Being in catering, our expertise is not in the financial side of the business, we stick to what we know best and that is cooking and entertaining. We leave the figures to Joan, who we are also lucky enough to count as our friend.

What was your biggest break?

Discovery of the Michelin guide in 1983, it made me. The guide celebrates a standard of cooking that I always dreamed of achieving and continue to strive to achieve at 21212. Before that point I enjoyed catering but didn't really know what I wanted to aspire to.

What was your worst moment?

Planning troubles at 21212 - a close call. We had made a life-changing decision to move to Edinburgh and had put in so much physical effort and financial commitment into creating our dream of 21212. We certainly didn't have an easy time getting the doors open but thankfully have achieved what we set out to do at the beginning.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

If you decide to pursue a career in catering, as I did, you are always aiming to please - every service, of every day of every week. I suppose the most enjoyable aspect of our business is when you achieve the Nirvana of a happy staff, happy residents and happy diners.

What do you least enjoy?

Being tired - our business is 24 hours a day with the restaurant and rooms needing our best efforts at all times. My mind doesn't think so but maybe we are getting too old! In all seriousness we are living our dream at 21212 and there isn't much to not enjoy about what we do.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Late cancellations and people who just don't turn up for reservations. We are a small business that cannot afford for people to simply not turn up - the number of no-shows on some nights would astound you. We understand if there is an issue and you have to cancel but we need to know - telephones exist…please!

What are your ambitions for the firm?

My ambition has been the same since I started cooking all those years ago. To improve daily, weekly, monthly and yearly - that applies to all areas of our business and not just in terms of the food that leaves my kitchen. If we keep improving we will continue to grow and be successful at 21212.

What are your top priorities?

Work, cook, clean, be true and honest.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Governments do that would help?

I'm not really sure we need them to do anything for us. I genuinely believe that if we produce a great product, consistently well, we will succeed. I don't ever remember thinking that if the government did this or that our business would do better or worse. I like to think we are in charge of our own destiny at 21212.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

To find a career that you love and give it 100 per cent commitment at all times.

I begun my working life at Barry's Bakery in Dunston in the early 1980s and then had a spell working as a pot washer in a kitchen at a Latin American restaurant. During this time I never had a real passion for my work and I couldn't see the importance behind starting a career.

Shortly after this when I was 20 I made my move into actually cooking and I haven't looked back since. Since that time I have known instinctively that being a chef was for me. More importantly, what I realised when I moved into catering was that if you have love for your work you can achieve more than you would ever have imagined when you start out. Drive and ambition has kept me going since day one in catering.

How do you relax?

I don't know if running your own business ever allows you to totally relax but when I am not in the kitchen I de-stress by watching cricket, following the results of Newcastle Utd football club and sleeping - doesn't everyone?

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Food and drink

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