March 15, 2021 5 min read
The Roxburgh is a firm favourite amongst Whitley Bay’s locals and is famed for using unfashionable and unique cuts of meat to produce meals that are equally aesthetic and delicious. I had the pleasure of speaking with Gary, the owner of The Roxburgh to hear his success story and get some insights into one of Whitley’s best spots.
Firstly, hello and thank you for joining me today, Gary, it’s a pleasure to be able to hear your story. I, like many others, know you from the local treasure that is The Roxburgh, but what did you do prior to that?
Before The Roxburgh I was practically living out of a suitcase for 15 years, I was travelling and living in various places, working in professional kitchens or on tour. I spent some time living and working down south, I was seeing a woman whose son could apparently see dead people and working for a Black Sabbath Roadie who lived in a castle and was wanted by the FBI- I think that says it all really. One day I think I had a bit of an epiphany and I thought to myself you know what maybe it’s time to go home, Gaz. So, on the way back to the North East, I stopped off at the Michelin starred Red Lion for the summer to brush up on my skills before opening The Roxburgh in the Autumn of 2014.
What was it that first inspired you to become a chef- do you have any advice for any other aspiring chefs?
I was about 18 and at a house party in Manchester, it was just gone 6 am and someone stood up and said they were going to make some ice cream for us, and he made us the most amazing Vanilla ice cream. I remember thinking that’s pretty cool and realising how great it would be to do that, so that definitely sowed a seed at the time. Plus, Ready Steady Cook was in its pomp!
My advice to any chefs would be, work in the best restaurants you can. You’ve sold your soul to the industry; you’ve signed away your weekends and your social life- why work somewhere just skipping and hopping along? Go and learn your trade from the best and work somewhere where you can be educated, somewhere that you are proud of.
Also, travel and see the world. The beauty of the food industry is that every country has restaurants you can find a job in, when you work in hospitality the world is your oyster.
What was it that attracted you to Whitley Bay for the home of your restaurant? Did you start the process with a particular concept or idea?
Geordies are like homing pigeons, we love to travel but always come home to roost eventually- why wouldn’t we? North Tyneside has it all, the beaches, the river, plenty green space, great locals, and the last few years we’ve even had pretty decent weather.
I understood the risks of opening a restaurant in a growing concern property in a somewhat down on its luck town, so I played the long game. Firstly, we opened up as a cafe to get to know the locals, thinking more people will take a chance on a cafe as opposed to an evening restaurant serving offcuts. We gained the neighbourhood's trust with our daytime food knowing we’d risk being shut in a few months by opening as a straight-up restaurant with no real budget or reputation that was serving unfashionable cuts. Luckily the patience paid off and the food was well-received.
We gradually introduced the style of cooking that would later become our evening fare amongst the daytime specials and by luck, the paleo diet was the Cosmo diet of the month back then and there was a natural curiosity for bone marrow. Then when the time was right, we evolved into The Roxburgh restaurant where we developed our sustainable approach to cooking the less glamorous cuts. Obviously it’s not a mainstream concept for a lot of people, but once people got past the idea it wasn’t tripe and liver but instead the untrendy cuts from the animal like the feather, shins, and cheeks (the best bits), we gained a really loyal customer base. Ask any butcher or chef their favourite bits and it’s always the shank or cheek etc so why don’t more places serve them?
With regard to the initial concept, I wanted to create a local institution, somewhere that stands the test of time beyond the fads and trends, like The Eagle or Sportsman. Somewhere which will hopefully see future chefs take on the place after my time and keep the name and create their part of the story and history for the place.
By having the patience with the business and letting it grow organically, whilst also sticking to the old school pen and paper approach to bookings we got to know our customers verbally instead of just a name on a booking system and I think that’s paid off in dividends helping create the neighbourhood feel to the place. In regard to the concept, it was always aimed at being that little local place you heard about from a friend.
How have you been passing your time during the various lockdowns and tier restrictions which have kept the doors of The Roxburgh shut?
I slept for the first 3 weeks of Lockdown 1. It’s been the first time I’ve been able to fully unplug for six years so it was nice to catch up on some sleep. Then, once May hit us, we decided to use a ‘burger pop up’ idea I’d had for a while and we launched The Roxburger with a charity night for the local food bank. With that being a roaring success, we carried on with weekend collections with different menus including our Death by Fried Chicken range and our ice cream desserts which kept us going during the summer (luckily).
The support from our customers week in week out has been great. It’s been nice to see them all again over the counter as well as when it’s the restaurant I’m tied to the stoves and don’t get to press the flesh as often as I did in the early days.
We’re trying to keep going amongst the never-ending waves of restrictions and lockdowns, but it can be disheartening. We are focusing on the things we can do like prepare for the future and brainstorming some fun ideas for re-opening.
What is your favourite thing on The Roxburgh’s menu?
My favourite thing on the menu? That’s a tricky one. I’ve been loving doing The Roxburger and DFC nights. One has always found its way home with me for supper.
Thanks so much for talking with us today, Gary. Let’s finish on your plans for the future- any chance of another restaurant?
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