May 07, 2015
I first met Romy on Twitter, and later when I went to the UK. Since then we became good friends. I found her story very interesting, that of a home chef, who had mustered the courage to open her restaurant. Apart from lacking any formal training as a chef, I realised there were very few women restaurateurs from India in the UK. To top it, Romy opened her restaurant in Bristol, far from London where the action in Indian food lies.
I caught up with Romy Gill to understand what gave her the courage to start her restaurant, what were the challenges she faced on the way and what the response to her venture has been.
How did you chance upon the idea of starting a restaurant?
I moved to the UK 20 years ago leaving behind friends and family to a different culture, food and weather. It was obvious that I missed eating the food I grew up with. I was so fed up of tasteless food and bright colours that I knew I would open my restaurant some day. In September 2013, I opened the doors of Romy’s Kitchen in Thornbury, Bristol. That’s how it all began.
Did you face any challenges to open Romy’s Kitchen?
Being a woman, self-taught and no prior experience of running a restaurant, all odds were against me. But, my determination and fight with the planners to convert the grade 2 listed building into a restaurant was the biggest challenge. It took me three years to plan and then fight to get a loan and eight months of hassle dealing with builders because I was a woman. I think it can make anyone give up chasing their dream.
How did you train yourself to open a restaurant?
Before opening the restaurant, I initiated my catering business from home and also started teaching people in their houses. I would also visit cookery schools and teach Indian spices on a voluntary basis. I have also worked at several restaurant kitchens to gain the experience.
What was the kind of support you received to back your business?
The only support I got was from my family and dear friends. Our counsellor and Member of Parliament were great too with advice.
Tell us about Romy’s Kitchen.
Romy’s Kitchen, (the idea behind the name was that I started cooking from home and wanted to have that touch) is a 45 to 50-seater restaurant. The food served here is very home-style with a modern twist. From the menu to the interiors, everything has been done by me.
I did not have investors to invest in my project as I wanted to open the place on a small budget. I wish my customers remember us for the quality of food that we serve. I am the head chef at my restaurant. I have an apprentice named Frankie, who goes to college. I also have Lisa, who I have been training since she has never worked in a kitchen before.
What has been the response from foreigners as well as Indians?
Amazing! People travel from very far to eat at our place. The crowd is mostly British with only 1% Indians.
Romy’s recipes can be seen on the BBC website here.