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Community Spotlight – Jay Patel

By Wesley Emmott

Jay Patel is the founder of the Italian restaurant Legare. Near Tower Bridge in a converted Shad Thames warehouse, it boasts a seasonal menu using British produce.

Wesley: How did you get into hospitality?

Jay: I got into hospitality over a decade ago when I was having a wobble in what I was doing previously. I was a junior graphic designer at a bunch of fashion companies because I was working at retail quite a lot at university. I moved into recruitment, did it for a year and a half, didn’t enjoy it, then I moved into hospitality. I started from the bottom at a small Lebanese restaurant called Yalla Yalla in Soho as a runner and worked my way up.

W: What’s been the highlight of your culinary career?

J: Getting the Michelin Bib Gourmand because when Matt (the head chef) and I first started working on this restaurant, we did about ten months of RND where we’d just go and cook every day then test out dishes. I remember we said to each other “I think we’re good enough to get a Bib Gourmand” and then for that to HAPPEN was a nice visualisation.

W: In five year’s time how do you hope to have evolved yourself or your career?

J: I would like to have a number of restaurants under my belt, ideally five. Maybe not all Legares, it depends on the landscape of hospitality and what’s going on commercially with everything as well. It could be a number of different concepts. I would eventually like to open an Indian restaurant, raw bar, a small wine bar, I’ve got a number of things I’d like to do.

W: What do you enjoy most about hospitality?

J: I’d say the people. We’ve tried our absolute hardest at Legare to nurture a team that really cares about each other and gets on really well and it means that when you come to work it’s just so much more pleasant. We have a great team here; the kitchen, the front house, it’s just nice seeing everyone because we spend upwards of 50-60 hours a week here sometimes and that’s more than we spend with our actual partners, friends or family outside of the industry. We have some great customers and living locally you bump into these people all the time. One of the nicest feelings is when they appreciate what you do and what you’ve brought to the area. That’s what real community’s all about, that’s a really nice feeling.

W: We’ve talked about your personal career, what do you think the future of hospitality is in general?

J: I think hospitality’s had a bad era of press for many reasons. Lockdown, furlough, all of these things that we’ve had show hospitality to be a volatile industry. That hasn’t done us any favours in attracting talent from all backgrounds but I actually think hospitality will bounce back. Like anything the model may have to change a little bit, you have to adjust with the market conditions and create new avenues for revenue so that you have a healthy business and a good workforce. My real dream for hospitality is for people to start seeing it as a proper business. I think people look down on it and don’t really understand it. We don’t have proper unions, there aren’t things that really create a blanket of safety for the employees or employers actually and I’d like to see it in the same way as other industries. “I’m not the owner of a restaurant, I’m a businessman” is what I’d like people to start seeing or a businesswoman or whatever it is.

W: Last one: Biggest challenge in your career and how was it overcome?

J: I’d say opening a restaurant has definitely been the biggest challenge. It was a solid three months of six-day a week, 15-hour days every day and by the end of it we were all exhausted but it does come good if you back yourself and you stay true to your principles like quality and service and making sure customers leave happy. We’ve made mistakes, you make loads of mistakes along the way, it has not been smooth sailing but yeah you kind of learn from them and just move on, and just move forward.

To find out more, visit the Legare website here.