Udon know how much we love CBRB!
Local duo, Ben Gretton and Tom De Santis, made their dream a reality by recently opening CBRB, the new late-night ramen and cocktail joint in the Northern Quarter.
They share their tips for opening a new restaurant, how to make sure it’s successful and why sometimes less is more when it comes to your favourite ingredient…
How did you become a restaurant owner?
We sat down over a pint and discussed the concept. At that stage it was just a crazy idea but as we started to look at the details and put together a basic business model, we realised it wasn’t as nuts as it seemed. We’re lucky enough to have some financial backers that really believe in what we’re doing so we were able to shoot pretty high. Once we found the site it all fell into place.
What has the journey been like?
At first it felt a bit too easy. We were lucky enough to have a contractor that was brilliant and got things done very quickly. But as launch day grew closer and closer, we realised the scale of what we were doing and for lack of a better term, started to shit ourselves a bit. The transition from managers to owners came quite naturally, but the temptation to be on the restaurant floor and behind the bar serving customers is always there, so we still rota ourselves on as staff. I think we’d go insane otherwise and it’s massively important that as new operators we’re still willing to be hands on.
Has it always been your aim?
We always knew we wanted to open our own place. We just wanted to make sure we’d learnt as much as possible before we took the plunge. Working for other people for so long taught us just as much about what not to do, as it did about what you should do. As soon as we felt we knew enough and we’d settled on our concept, we were ready to get it done.
What drew you to the hospitality industry?
To be honest it was an easy fix. It was the first job both of us had. We never thought we’d make a career of it, but as our mates all went off to get degrees and ‘normal’ jobs, we stuck with it. Working in such a social environment and learning more and more about the job every day was just appealing to us. Although the money was never great and the hours were often pretty brutal, it soon became all we knew and was something we realised we actually loved. A lot of people might look down on our industry and don’t regard it as a proper job, but I think that’s down to a lack of understanding and education around what it takes to work within it. I’ve worked with some of the most talented, ambitious and highly skilled individuals; living proof that it’s an industry not to be underestimated.
What does food mean to you?
It’s the focal point of some of the most important memories we have. It brings people together, it pushes boundaries, it comforts and it celebrates. It represents our cultures and showcases our creativity. It’s our life in every way.
What do you think is the key to running a successful restaurant?
Invest in your staff and be honest with your customers. With staffing, it’s much more expensive and a damn sight harder to be constantly training and recruiting new team members. Hire good people and pay them well, leave their tips alone and make their working environment as comfortable as possible. Until now we’d never been involved in a restaurant opening that hasn’t seen people leave in the first two weeks. Since opening our place, not a single person has left and that’s because they get looked after and they believe in what we’re doing.
With your customers, never lie to them. A lot of people think you can blag your way through. They underestimate the customer and they’re often too proud to admit when they’ve dropped the ball. Be transparent, wear your heart on your sleeve and the customer will understand.
What advice do you wish you had been given/ the best advice you were given for opening a restaurant?
‘Look after your staff and the staff will look after your business’ is probably the most important thing I’ve ever been told. Although the person that said it would steal their staff’s tips, so I guess another one is ‘Practise what you preach’ – haha.
On money, I guess the thing I wish I’d been told was that whatever you think it’s going to cost to open your restaurant, times it by three. There are one million things you won’t have factored in, regardless of how much you think you’ve covered all the bases.
Describe an average ‘day in your life’- both a work day and a day off.
I get one day off a week, so I make sure I spend it wisely and try not to get tempted to talk about work! It often involves a lot of telly, talks with the pooch and a meal out with my girlfriend, who’s incredibly patient and supportive.
Every work day is different. But I normally get to the restaurant a few hours before service starts. I’ll check in with my business partner, my managers and the kitchen team, deal with whatever issue has cropped up that day (there’s always something) and then get stuck in to the daily tasks. I try to avoid hiding away in the office dealing with admin while we’re in service, I think it’s important to be active in the restaurant and involved with your customers and team. I tend to work around 12-15 hours a day, which leaves very little time for enjoying myself but I’ll duck out occasionally for a quick Negroni in Science & Industry as a little treat!
What are your food predictions for next year?
I think we’ll see more and more small plate menus, with a greater focus on casual group dining. There’ll always be a market for fine dining, but I feel it’s becoming so far removed from what customers actually want that the trend of tiny food with big price tags will start to lessen. At the same time, people are becoming much more discerning and interested in what they eat. Restaurants will need to produce bold food that doesn’t alienate, whilst making sure they don’t just deliver a menu filled with burgers and burritos topped with deep fried chocolate or whatever.
What do you think we going to be see more of on menus?
Vegan food will start to take centre stage rather than being a few token dishes on a menu. The fruit and veg market traders will become the deciding factors in what chefs create, as they start to consider seasonality and quality in their every day practises. This is obviously happening already, but the big food producers and distributors are still ruling the industry with their very average produce. With the vegan movement, I think we’ll see this change.
Where are your favourite places to eat out?
We adore Hawksmoor (despite the whole Vegan thing I just said). Their product quality and customer service are exactly what every restaurant should aspire to attain. We know many of their team and they all speak very highly of their employers, which is rare in this industry.
Hispi in Didsbury is also a massive win. Their approach to seasonality and ability to produce high end food whilst keeping it from being up its own arse is very cool. Also, their founder Gary Usher is so no nonsense and has a great commitment to his staff that he’s a real breath of fresh air. Also, his twitter is pretty savage, you should check it out.
This & That is probably one of the most important parts of Manchester food culture and we go there far too much. But three curries, rice and a drink with change from a tenner is a dream. Portions are huge, service is non-existent (it’s basically a canteen) and the food is always outstanding.
What is your all-time favourite dish?
I’ve got a lot of family in Italy so I try to go over there at least once a year. There’s a little place in the Centro Storico in Naples that does an octopus salad. It’s so simple and practically everywhere serves versions of the same dish, but for some reason theirs is the best thing I’ve ever eaten… there’s always a place in my heart for my mum’s spaghetti and tomato sauce though. She’s the one responsible for my love of food in the first place and you’ve got to give your mum a shout out when you get the chance!
What ingredient could you not live without?
Garlic! I use loads of it. My mum used to come home and instantly kick off that I’d stank the house out. I used it in a cocktail once, very badly. Everyone hated it. I drank it out of sheer stubbornness and because I didn’t want to waste the booze.
The Food Porn Awards visits CBRB
We went to try the much-raved about ramen and while we foresee a huge chunk of our salary now being spent at CBRB, at least it’s saved us the airfare of a trip to Japan.
To begin our feast, we try the Karaage fried chicken with gochujang mayo. The mayonnaise is an umami explosion of miso and chili paste, a sauce that hails from Korea and is a delicious accompaniment for the fried chicken.
The signature Tonkotsu ramen totally wowed us with its rich and creamy flavour. It is comprised of a pork broth with xo sauce, double charsu pork belly, mayu sesame oil, spring onions and ajisuke tamago. Finished with crackling on top, it’s absolute perfection. We loved the consistency of the egg, boiled with a runny yolk on the inside.
For those who prefer a vegetarian option, The Tantanmen ramen offers a rich sesame miso broth, shitake mushrooms, roasted miso aubergine, bok choy, mayu sesame oil, spring onion and ajisuje tamego. Utterly delicious and packed full of mellow nutty flavours from the sesame paste that balanced with the spice.
The cocktail menu is intriguing with handmade elements incorporated into the drinks by top mixologists, Into The Gathering Dusk. Alluring ingredients include Crème de Poire, Cynar artichoke liqueur, spiked pineapple, nettle & white pepper syrup, cinnamon smoke and dark night bitters.
Warming bowls of ramen and enticing cocktails are the ideal combination to combat those January blues!