Missy Flynn, Restaurateur
Rita's was that place that everyone loved to go to for dinner. It was intimate, the team were amazing and the food was delicious and incredibly thoughtful, so it came as a surprise when they announced this summer that they were closing their doors. We met co-founder Missy at one of our events earlier this year and she candidly explained that running a restaurant is a tough, demanding undertaking and that they wanted to go out on top rather than compromise standards. It was a bold and brave move and has opened up opportunities for the team to embark on new ventures. The latest move is a super fun Italo-Argentinian restaurant in London called Quilombero. We caught up with Missy to find out how she went about launching the team's latest endeavour.
So you’ve opened a new restaurant, tell us about it.
Quilombero is a new and really exciting project. We have refit a space down at East India Dock to function as a café, coffee and juice bar by day, and restaurant by night with outdoor grill and wood fired oven. There’ll be Mexican and other Latin American elements as well as a nod to Italy. We’re going to be serving dinner three nights a week, Thurs-Sat.
What's on the menu?
During the day we’ll be offering three starters, three mains and three puddings –including dishes like Burrata with salsa negra (made with roasted aubergine on the outside grill, squid ink and black salt) and hand-rolled Trofie pasta with fresh pesto.
At night my partner Gabe will be roasting whole fish from Billingsgate and joints of meat from our favourite British suppliers on the outdoor grill. Game will feature strongly in the winter with rabbit cooked in the wood fired oven, as well as grouse and partridge.
We’re going to run an aperitivo hour between 5pm-6pm with Italian and South American small plates including farinata, empanada and tostada to accompany the spritz range on the drinks menu. The wine list will be predominantly natural Italian wines and there will be a short, juice heavy cocktail list. We're keen to reduce waste where possible so fruits and vegetables used in the morning juices will be blended into harder drinks by night.
Obviously your experience at Rita's was invaluable, what main lessons did you take from running Rita's?
Opening and running a restaurant is a very hard, very personally demanding job with a huge range of highs and lows. Rita's was a total rollercoaster but the main things I have taken from that experience are:
- You are only ever as good as your team and they are only ever as good as the support and information you give them.
- Promoting a restaurant in a city that is full of them is a full time job. We spent a lot of time building relationships with people at Rita's - our regulars, the community around us and the people that we worked with. These relationships were integral to our success.
- I eventually learnt to slow down, calm down and approach things in an ordered manner as opposed to trying to do a hundred things at once. When we started Rita's as a small team we had a lot of ground to cover and it was sometimes overwhelming. By opening up and delegating you can make life that tiny bit easier and alot more fun.
- Negotiating with suppliers and maximising the pre-opening time is something I think I've finally mastered. It can be so easy to get distracted when trying to build something new.
- Take each day as it comes and be consistent. Don’t let the ups and downs affect the team or the guests or how you approach your work and the end goal.
- The important practical things really need taken care of i.e. how to run a payroll, how to manage accounts, budgeting etc. All invaluable and have made opening Quilombero a lot more streamlined.
How did you approach starting up Quilombero differently compared to Rita’s?
We had a very short time frame on this project and a significantly smaller budget so we approached it in a very systematic way. We favoured the quality of our product and the order and functionality of our business over blowing budgets on the most expensive glassware or crockery that we could find.
We made sure we could work with the suppliers we know and trust then we made sure we could create a good environment for our team. This is a short-term project so marketing is very important and engaging the local community.
We're excited and want to make this an amazing place. We want to make the best use of the space we have and do something really unique and fun.
Your expertise is the drinks, what have you worked on for the menu?
We've kept this super simple with an emphasis on two of my favourite drinks categories - sours and spritz.
I always like work seasonally so in winter we’ll be going for warm, rich, dark, red fruit flavours – then really brightening it all up for spring.
We will have three house spritz options on the menu working along classic lines but incorporating some savoury flavours alongside the fruit. Then the sours menu will be equally as fun and bold both in taste and appearance. Twisted Pisco’s and NY sours will be the staple party drink at Quilombero I think!
We've got a nice wine list with some great suppliers from London that will feature natural wines at an accessible price point. We'll be working Magnums onto our menu, because they're fun and in the spirit of boozy wintery lunches and dinners. We'll open a magnum a day for lunch and pour that by the glass with a simple, affordable lunch plate for the people who work locally and currently have no where to go to get a good hearty lunch.
How important is travel to staying inspired?
It's integral. In this industry travel is the only way that you can build a mental bank of sights, sounds, tastes and design required to make great spaces that people want to spend time in. I love people watching when I’m away, observing how people eat, how they get drunk, how the staff serve and how they deal with drunk people.
Have you had any memorable trips this year?
Well I spent the first half of 2016 living in Hong Kong where I was working so that was a pretty big eye opener. I've never travelled to Asia before and this opportunity came about with a phone call at 8am on New Years Day.
I found it to be a blessed challenge to be so far out of my comfort zone. I guess we get spoilt in London as we often get to work with people who are our peers and view hospitality the way we do - because they go to the same places we do and socialise in the same way but when you open that up, it becomes a whole different thing. Teaching service to people who perhaps don't get the chance to go out and experience it themselves is tricky and very humbling.
Personally I learnt a lot too. I went alone. I undertook a lot of tasks that come with being somewhere new - discovering a new neighbourhood, getting to grips with the cuisines, making friends, living in a place with one hob and one saucepan. I didn’t think I'd be doing that when I went to bed on the 31st December 2015 but it was a hard year for me. I decided to say yes and it jumpstarted a whole new feeling in me. Although Rita's closed and it was a sad thing to have to do that, the opportunities now are endless. Change is revitalising.