An ambitious, socially-conscious restaurant headed-up by one of the North East’s top chefs is to open its doors at a new multi-million-pound waterside development taking shape on the banks of the River Tyne.
The £650,000 venture blending food and ethics, will create up to 15 jobs and open in mid-June.
Former North East Chef of the Year Andrew Wilkinson is to take the reins at 31 The Quay, the first business to move into the eye-catching new Smith’s Dock housing and leisure regeneration-led development underway in North Shields.
The 80-cover restaurant for which dining and event enquiries are already being taken aims to break the old-school hospitality industry mould epitomised by long hours and low pay.
Staff will be paid above the living wage, work a shorter week, and be offered fixed rather than zero-hour contracts. There will be an emphasis on training, career development and ensuring employees can maintain a healthy work-life balance.
The restaurant is the brainchild of long-time friends turned business partners Di Veitch, Gareth Cruci and Gordon Foster, who want to prove that embracing better ethics and values combined with a first-class chef and wonderful location can be a recipe for dining success.
Having Andrew on board as executive chef and securing a riverside location were prerequisites for the trio – who already run their own successful non-food businesses – deciding to pool their knowledge and resources to go full steam ahead and open the restaurant.
Di, who lives in Tynemouth, said: “The restaurant industry has sadly, in my own experience, been exemplified by long hours, low wages, a lack of training, disrespect towards creditors and customers, and a shortage of imagination in terms of food. We want 31 The Quay to be the complete opposite of that.
“We believe that having a social conscience can be applied to running a restaurant. We want to improve conditions, develop skills and training, take on apprentices who are paid a decent wage, and to focus on employment for locals.
“This is only one small step in one small place, but it has to start somewhere.”
Andrew will be a key player in 31 The Quay’s success.
The North East Chef of the Year winner 2009, he has for the past 12 years been based at The Biscuit Factory in Shieldfield, Newcastle, first working alongside another top regional kitchen talent, David Kennedy, and latterly heading up the team at the critically acclaimed Artisan.
Andrew is looking forward to spreading his wings and being involved in the opening of the new restaurant.
“It’s a fantastic chance for me to be in at the beginning and to be effectively opening my own place,” he said. “It’s something all chefs dream of, but not many get the chance to actually achieve. This is my chance to do my own thing and to continue building my reputation.”
Di added: “We only ever had two people in mind, of whom Andrew was one, and we have been fortunate enough to get him. He’s local, he lives and breathes food, he’s talented, he’s full of ideas, he’s down to earth, and importantly, given our values, he has great integrity.
“This is very much a heart driven project, and Andrew sits very comfortably within that.”
Andrew is being given free rein to develop 31 The Quay in his image.
The father of four said: “I want to create somewhere that couples will feel comfortable going, but where families will feel equally at home taking their kids; the sort of place I would feel happy going to on my day off.
“Food-wise, it is going to be all about the ingredients, what’s in season, simplicity and locality. Chefs often over-complicate things, but I want to let the ingredients do the talking. And being just a stone’s throw from North Shields Fish Quay, seafood is going to play a part in the menu.
“I’m already a great fan of the fish quay, but to now have it on my doorstep is going to be fantastic. What’s landed is going to feature in the daily specials. I can’t think of anything better than sitting down to eat lovingly and expertly cooked food looking out on to the river.
“The location of 31 The Quay right on the Tyne has played a big part in my coming on board. There is something about being by the water that has always inspired me, and on a day off I like nothing better than to head to the coast.”
The restaurant – currently an empty commercial space that has been bought outright by Di, Gareth, and Gordon – is based on the ground floor of two apartment blocks known as The Smokehouses at Smith’s Dock, which opened in 1851 and was a major part of Tyneside’s shipbuilding history until it closed in the 1990s.
From a distance, the buildings mirror the bow of a ship.
Work has just started on transforming the 3713sq ft space in time for the expected mid-June opening date.
Di said: “It’s a very special location right on the river’s edge with sweeping views along the Tyne to Wallsend, down to the sea and across to South Shields. You’ve got big boats, liners and fishing vessels sailing past just 30m away. How incredible is that going to be while you’re dining?”