A quick little tour of 'Heritage'
Before we begin, a little message from one of the most influential people in my career .r
Mr Daniel Clifford from the 2 Michelin starred Midsummer House in Cambridge
Every once in a while, the opportunity to do something quite amazing comes up. In this case it's to take a countryside pub which, in it’s hayday was well-loved by many, and give it a brand new lease of life.
Most young chefs dream of having their own restaurant - I am one of those chefs (although not so young anymore). Over the years my vision has evolved, but my principles have remained the same. Somewhere where we can create a memorable experience, for each and every guest visiting. In my mind, there has always been a certain type of property that I believe is the perfect venue to realise my dream. Somewhere in the countryside, with bedrooms, a beautiful view and heaps of potential. These kinds of properties aren't readily available, they don't come cheap and they remain a fantasy.
Then I stumbled upon the Chequers in Slaugham, West Sussex. An Edwardian property that was a beacon of quality in it's day but has subsequently struggled in recent years and has been closed for the past two.
I immediately fell in love. It ticked all the boxes, so the first thought was, 'obviously this is out of reach!' After a few conversations, emails, spreadsheets (lots and lots of spreadsheets), screwed up bits of paper and ibuprofen, I'm, unbelievably, in a position to take on my dream restaurant.
So what's the plan?
The vision is to create a destination restaurant with the main focus on people and the comprehensive offer rather than just food. Sounds simple right? But in this day and age, I often feel this isn’t the case.
Of course there will be a major focus on the food and drink, but the idea is to create something more than just that. The Chequers lends itself to so much more.
Having been closed for 2 years, it is essentially a blank canvas. Not just from a decor point of view, but mostly a character view. It used to be a pub. Now it’s a shell needing soul.
There will be a shift from pub to a restaurant with rooms, but we want to retain the accessibility and informality of its former life, and make the space part of the community once again.
The rooms are really important. It allows the continuation of the experience and means guests can come from further afield and not have to even leave the building after dinner. Unless they want to go and sit in the garden and enjoy the tranquillity, and why would you not? (don’t worry, we’ll give the furniture a little spruce first).
What will we be doing?
The building is actually in very good shape. It just needs a few finishing touches to bring it back to life. Actually quite a few.
There are a few priorities, with the bedrooms sitting at the top of the list. There are five rooms (names to be decided – maybe even by you!) of varying sizes. These will remain under our operation and will be very much part of the journey.
The ground floor is a large open space. We want to develop this space and create a much more cosy and intimate area. This allows us to create different atmospheres across the venue, encouraging our guests to visit us for different reasons.
The food will be of the highest quality, working closely with local suppliers but keeping the dishes interesting and always delicious. In the restaurant we will offer a set lunch menu, a la carte and our signature tasting menu (we haven’t decided on number of courses yet as my imagination is running too wild…)
A small bar menu will be available in the more casual areas. We will also have space for private dining for up to 16 people.
We will have wines, beers, ciders from some of the best producers in Sussex and anything that we find interesting from elsewhere will bolster the offer. We are currently chatting to some producers to offer some bespoke 'only for us' items.
When finished, this will truly be a unique place in Sussex. An independent restaurant with rooms, with the amenities of a hotel and the warm greeting of a pub.
Why a Kickstarter project?
Getting any business off the ground is hard work and requires an amount of capital. With a restaurant, it's all guest facing and requires a considerable amount of cash upfront. With your support, it means we won't have to make the choice between finishing the bedrooms or finishing the restaurant. We will be able to get it completed at the same time and we can offer the full experience from the get-go, rather than having to close a bit further down the line to complete the set up.
There are also the costs behind the scenes which have to be ready to go. The operating systems, stock, equipment, uniforms, legal compliance. These all have an impact on the budget and this project will help to ensure we don't have to compromise on the vision.
Not only will you be helping us rejuvenate a beautiful site, but genuinely you’ll be making a dream come true. In return, we want you to feel part of something, that we think, is quite unique and special in the area.
It's not just about putting money in the pot. If it's not an option and you believe in the vision, please share and spread the word far and wide and of course, come visit us if we are successful – we’d love to see you.
There are a number of rewards available. The ambassador wall will be a real feature in the entrance hallway, so every single person that visits will see your name and hail you as the legends that helped us make this happen. Various vouchers are available to be used towards lunch, dinner or a stay with us in the (hopefully) near future. Or you could snatch a couple of tickets to our pre-launch party, name one of the bedrooms, or have me come cook dinner in your own home.
Lastly, one of my favourite things I've created, The Herder book from Great British Menu. Written by me and amazingly captured by the awesome Jo Parry after a phone conversation and some terrible sketches by me.
Sounds Great, but who are you??
I'm Matt Gillan. I've been a chef for the last 22 years, working in some of the best restaurants in the country including Midsummer House, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, TheVineyard Stockcross and further afield, Vue De Monde in Melbourne.
I took my first head chef position at South Lodge Hotel, in the Camellia Restaurant when I was 26 and retained 3 rosettes. Two years later, after a multi million pound extension to the hotel, I opened The Pass. During my tenure here, we achieved a Michelin Star, 4 Rosettes and 7/10 in the Good Food Guide. I represented London/South East twice on Great British Menu, making it through to the banquet and raised the profile of eating goat in the process.
In 2016 I left The Pass for Red Roaster in Brighton. We rebranded one of the oldest coffee roasters in the country, refurbished the premises and opened a new evening restaurant offer Pike & Pine at the same time. We achieved and maintained 2 rosette status, featured in the Michelin guide and the Good Food guide as one of the highest ranking restaurants in Brighton and who could forget – featured in Brighton Best Restaurant’s top 20.
In 2019, I left Red Roaster / Pike & Pine to focus on my own project: Random Precision Collective and to open my own restaurant, completely solo.
Thanks for taking the time to view my project. I hope it excites you as much as it does me and you help me to bring it to life.
Please share, spread the word, what ever you have to do to let people know.
Risks and challenges
In our crazy restaurant world, there are many risks.
Year on year costs move upwards. Whether that is food prices, costs of services, wages, business rates, they all have an impact on the business. We have taken in to account that these only ever go one way and have planned for all eventualities. Rooms and private dining opportunities give us an additional revenue stream to ensure the business will ride any rough times.
Finding great staff has become increasingly difficult over the last few years, but not impossible. The team will be made up of a small core of key members who have worked with me for years and are as dedicated to this project as I am. Progression and development opportunities alongside great salary packages should help to attract those dedicated to their craft.
Access to the Chequers from the nearby dual carriageway was changed a few years ago and had a detrimental affect on the operators at the time. It's a very rural location and doesn't have much passing trade. For me, this only add to the charm and the experience. I want it to be a quiet, tranquil destination venue. It's also a beautiful drive out to rural Slaugham.
This project in itself is risky. Whilst the property is in good shape, there remains a lot of work that needs doing. Trying to get the balance of having it finished in a cost effective way, but also trying to create a special place is tricky. Once it reopens, it will be very hard to close down to finish off any other works, this is why I want to raise a little extra capital – to ensure we can open completely, from the offset.
- (30 days)