Michael Daniels, founder of London’s plant-based pioneers, The Gate, talks about his 30-year career in the restaurant business.
We grew up in an Indo-Iraqi Jewish household in north London, and vegetarian and vegan cuisine was all we ate.
The Gate came about as we were having a really hard time finding something decent to eat outside the house. London was obviously a very different landscape then. So we decided to do it ourselves with zero experience, zero knowhow and zero cash. And here we are, 33 years, four restaurants and one global pandemic later.
When I look back at the launch of the Hammersmith venue, it was a very steep learning curve, as we had absolutely no experience or formal training. But we were really passionate about serving freshly prepared, delicious and beautifully presented vegetarian and vegan food.
On a shoestring budget, we opened in Hammersmith. We made loads of mistakes and sometimes questioned what we were doing, but soon we started seeing the same faces and our reputation grew by word of mouth. Following the success of the original site, we expanded and opened sites across the city in Marylebone, St John’s Wood and Islington.
Since we opened, London has seen vegan and vegetarian restaurants come and go, but our popularity has endured. I think this is due to the quality of the cuisine. We have no production kitchens, nothing bought in. Each one of the sites, to the annoyance of my accountant, is a destination venue, completely off the beaten track. Also, perhaps more importantly, my wife is an architect and has designed each restaurant individually.
I think the price point also resonates with customers: definitely not cheap, because of the nature of the food and ingredients, but nor are we as expensive as some other players within the space.
Given that we have survived into our fourth decade and — I can’t believe I’m even saying this — a global pandemic, I could say that’s enough, but I won’t. To be honest, the short-term future is all about survival, consolidation and giving my wonderful team continued employment.
I received a letter this week from a customer who has been dining with us for over 30 years and has introduced three generations of her family, including her now 96-year-old father, and simply couldn’t praise us enough. The letter was amazing.
Looking forward, I see myself and my brand evolving on a mutually beneficial course. As much as I take on and learn as an individual, I try and reflect that in both the food and the atmosphere. But who would have predicted Covid-19? So, I’m not making too many plans that are immutable.