The Elephant restaurant, Torquay is a seaside restaurant that is situated overlooking Torquay harbour. The Elephant was the first restaurant in Torquay to be awarded a Michelin star and that award has been maintained for 15 years. The restaurant is owned and run by Simon Hulstone and his wife Katy, so we arranged to have Five minutes with them both to learn more about their 15 years at The Elephant.
What led you both to opening a restaurant?
Katy: “Simon and I were both working in Cotswolds and we learned that The Elephant was looking for a restaurant manager and a head chef, we both interviewed for the positions and we both got the respective jobs.
“We ran it as if it were our own from day one with the full support of the owners who stayed very much in the background, empowered us to be who we wanted to be and to create our own restaurant.”
Simon: “It was truly amazing to receive a call one morning from a fellow chef and hear that we had been awarded a Michelin star, especially as we just did our own thing. It was a huge accolade, but it also threw us into the limelight, and we weren’t quite ready for that. We adapted.
“I also think at the time I was a bit naïve about the star and even started to question our food, was it Michelin star? We had always done our own thing up until getting the star and have continued to do so to this day.”
You have just celebrated 15 years of The Elephant being open, what have the challenges been?
Katy: “Where has the time gone, I often ask myself. It has been very rewarding and at the same time very hard in lots of ways. Behind the scenes, work can be never ending, balancing and juggling lots and lots of roles. As a mum adjusting life to bringing up children alongside running a business has been a challenge. I found that people are the heart and soul of our business, we have over the years worked with many great people who have all contributed.”
Simon: “The impact from the recession in 2008/9 hit us like everyone else, and numbers fell off. The first thing we looked at was food costs. We started farming our own produce from 96 acres of farmland our previous business owners had available. We grew vegetables and herbs, reared chickens, turkeys and ducks and used their eggs. For a while we also kept pigs and lambs, but we stopped that after a while as we couldn’t use all the cuts and waste was costly. We know what Farm to Fork is literally as we were taking every step of the journey personally. First and foremost, we run a business, we have an obligation to staff, to our bank and we need to pay our bills, this is and always has been our focus, that focus has kept us where we are for 15 years.”
Did getting a Michelin star make a big difference?
Simon: “It made a huge difference, it took a while to calm my ego down, but I did. Business became better almost immediately as more people sought us out to dine and we saw higher spending customers. At the same time, we retained our business minds and focused on the business with people and the restaurant team being central to our business philosophy.
“We wanted to develop and build our reputation in general and in part to minimise the seasonality effect of being a seaside restaurant. We have over the years built up a fantastic loyalty from regulars, especially local regulars, some have been coming for the whole 15 years we have been open.
“We try to ensure that diners always feel welcome, all diners of all ages, we have a children’s menu and family groups are particularly welcomed. We have no fuss, no dress code and encourage diners to simply enjoy their food with us.
“There have been awards and accolades through the past 15 years, a restaurant regularly full of diners enjoying themselves is the best litmus test for me, checking that we continue to make customers happy.”
What have been the most memorable occasions during the past fifteen years?
Katy: “Seeing Simon’s reaction to the star was priceless to a very proud wife. The whole journey is in many ways my most treasured memory and I am even more proud now as our daughter is a temporary KP at the restaurant. She loves the banter in the kitchen and is part of the family team.
“We recently had a party to celebrate 15 years of The Elephant and some of the guests have been loyal regular customers throughout that time. Some also made suggestions for the party menu and we adopted those ideas.
“We bought the restaurant three years ago and that was another great moment.”
Simon: “That we can stand in our restaurant today having stayed in business for 15 years is my immediate reaction to that question. The Elephant has always been about the food, and that has been a joy to develop and have the freedom to experiment with.
“I also hugely enjoy working with people, chefs in particular. It has been very rewarding to see many chefs that have worked with me at The Elephant go on to grow their career and earn Michelin stars themselves.
“We are very much looking forward to many more years at The Elephant.”
H&C News would like to thank Katy and Simon for their time and for the insights to their 15 years at The Elephant. We would also like to congratulate you both on running such a successful business.