A silver lining
When the Tanner brothers’ dreams were set on fire, they found in themselves the inner strength to come out of the ordeal fighting
When two of the city’s most prominent brands, the Tanner Brothers and Plymouth Gin, collaborated in April 2006, it resulted in the formation of the Barbican Kitchen. Located in another of Plymouth’s oldest landmark buildings, Black Friars Distillery, the home of Plymouth Gin, this venture was a perfect complement to its flagship brand, Tanners Restaurant.
So when there was a fire that claimed the roof and kitchen of Barbican Kitchen on the 27 February 2008, the Tanner brothers were more than devastated: “Imagine what we felt when we looked up and the stars were starring back at us,” states Chris Tanner, the joint managing director. “It was a very traumatic time for the entire team and us. We had to close the restaurant for three months and finally re-opened it on 6 June.
“There is some truth in the saying that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ because in investing £250,000 in rebuilding the kitchen, we have not only installed a new state-of-the-art kitchen but also managed to re-configure it and gain some space. It was complicated because the building is listed and so Plymouth Gin had to go through the planning consent in order to re-configure the building, giving both of us more space. At the moment, there is a discreet temporary wall that will be taken down in September when the restaurant will be closed for five days. In this period we will not only be extending the kitchen, but we will also be installing more prep sinks, SUV machines and a couple of water baths as well as a few extra combi-ovens to make life a little easier in the kitchen.”
He continues: “The pressure we were under was immense but fortunately we have each other. Three months on and we have all come out of this experience a lot stronger. However, through the threemonth period, we used the opportunity to get our staff through more intense training and developed new ideas and dishes.”
Despite the misfortune in February, the Tanner brothers still have a lot to celebrate and be proud of, as September 2007 marked a significant milestone in its history when Tanners Restaurant received nationwide recognition when it was named the AA Restaurant of the Year for England. “Winning this award is an unbelievable achievement and has given the company and the staff a massive boost,” comments Chris. “From humble beginnings almost ten years ago, our dedicated staff has helped us attain this great British accolade. We are only as successful as the people around us, and fortunately we are lucky enough to work with serious career-minded people who are as passionate about the industry as we are.”
The Tanner brothers’ background in the food world is synonymous with great restaurants in glamorous locations, including London, France and New York. Chris, a protégé of the Roux Brothers, began at Le Gavroche as Commis Chef in 1989 and then spent five years working for them throughout the world before opening Tanners with his brother James. Both brothers have a flourishing TV career and are known around the world after starring in the hit television series ‘The Tanner Brothers’. Chris and James are no strangers to television and have appeared on a number of popular food programmes. James in particular is becoming quite a regular on Ready, Steady, Cook and Saturday Kitchen, as well as the specialist channel UKTV Food.
Away from the camera, both Chris and James, who are extremely passionate about food, are very excited about the Tanners Restaurant and Barbican Kitchen brasserie, and the success they have enjoyed. Chris tells Food Chain about the brothers’ vision: “After what we have experienced and with the onset of the credit crunch, we are erring on the edge of caution and the plan for now is toconcentrate on the two sites we currently have. However, next year we’re looking to possibly expand the brasserie concept because we strongly believe that it is a fantastic business model. This idea has been on the back burner for the last six years but what differs us from the rest is that we are not driven to expand our brands without considering the impact it could have on our current restaurants. We believe very much in a hands-on approach and the restaurants are very personal to James and I.”
Chris concludes: “We’re not going to make claims that we’ll open six restaurants in the next two years because we will work at our own pace and when it suits the both of us. The reason we believe that by next year it will be a good time to take our concept further is because we have a very good infrastructure in place, and with more intense training, we will be ready to move on to the next level. But I dare say that the next two years will see a lot of development for the company.”
It has taken the Tanner brothers, who herald from Kent, many years of hard work to establish two very distinct, yet successful ventures. Nobody knows what the future holds, but if the next ten years are half as successful as the ten that have already passed, then the Tanner brothers, who started with nothing, will be delighted.