Taking time out of her busy schedule, owner of 34 Windsor St, Zeffy Thompson talks about working in Dubai, her recipe to success and the inspiration behind 34 Windsor St – the Burbage-based, two-time Michelin Recommended restaurant.
Where was your first job in the hospitality industry?
My first job was for a trendy wine bar in Manchester City Centre where I lied about my age to get the job; the rate of pay was £2.75
When did you realise that you wanted to make a career out of it and work for yourself?
I knew from the very beginning I enjoyed and loved this industry, I opened my 1st restaurant in Liverpool in 1999 where I unfortunately chose the wrong business partner. I then took some time out in my 30s and moved to Dubai where I had an events business, but I always knew I wanted to come back to the UK and open another restaurant – this time on my own.
Tell us about your time in Dubai.
Dubai is an amazing city, very fast paced, extremely social and very open to new ideas, the crazier the better, so working in events and putting together ideas for top retail brands such as Coke, LG and Adidas was brilliant. I once created an event where we built giant remote control football boots and had teams compete with the winners flying to LA to meet David Beckham.
What did you learn from your time there?
That family and friends are everything and everything is possible if you work hard.
Upon your return, you carved a successful career for yourself in the restaurant trade in Manchester. Tell us about this.
I was very fortunate to have the late Tim Bacon, founder of Living Ventures, as my business hero and mentor through my earlier years. He founded some of the best concepts that are still going strong – Gusto, The Alchemist being just two. Manchester is the coolest City I know and I get loads of inspiration from it even now. To this day I still use Tim Bacon’s teaching and training methods with my own team.
You work with your son, Nathan, don’t you? How do you find that? Do you think he would say the same…?
As we work together, it’s not as difficult anymore. I think most of the time Nathan might wish he saw less of meJ. I love working with Nathan, I get a real sense of pride when I see how far he has come and how far I know he will be able to go in this industry. I always make sure that we get to spend at least a day of quality family time together, where we catch up with each other outside of life in 34.
Where did the inspiration come from for 34 Windsor St?
The inspiration came from a various collection of thoughts and ideas from over the years and from my travels, which have continued to evolve 34 from when we first opened in 2013. When 34 started out, it was literally one main menu with a small cocktail menu. Now, we have several offerings, from tasting menus to wine evenings to cocktail master classes to catering for weddings.
Why Burbage – it’s not the first place you’d expect a Michelin recommended restaurant?
It’s where I moved to coming back from Dubai and on looking around Leicester I kept coming back to this restaurant, which previously was called something else and was in desperate need of TLC. I just thought this could make a great little restaurant.
What does the Michelin recommendation for the second year running mean to you, the team and the business?
It is really great to get recognised by established institutions like Michelin. I am very proud of my team and the hard work we put in, we just aim to please our guests first and foremost and if that includes Michelin inspectors, well, that’s an added bonus.
What do you see as the 34 Windsor St ‘recipe’ to success?
I like to think that we create an experience and attention to detail is key. Our aim is to always try and give the best experience we possibly can to all our diners.
Which venues do you rate most in the world and why?
Oh, my gosh where do I start? Again, there are so many places I have been fortunate to visit. My two stand-outs are a street food café in Vietnam called Ho Chi Minh City and Midsummer House in Cambridge. Both are run by chefs who have a passion for food and want to give their guests an unforgettable experience, which they achieved with me.
What is your favourite dish on the menu at the restaurant and why?
My favourite dish currently is the Monk fish dish which Chef has added some Pan Asian influences to.
If you’re cooking at home – assuming you do – how would you rate your own cooking skills?
Fairly good, I would say. I love cooking and own a million cookbooks.
What is your go-to dish of your own making?
Thai food. I do a mean Thai Curry from scratch.
What was the best bit of advice you were given when you were growing up and/or in your professional life?
Do not take things personally when it comes to business.
What would you say to a ten year old version of yourself, if you could go back in time?
Don’t run away to the end and hide in the shed at the end of the garden because you can’t go to your best friend’s party. It doesn’t make your parents feel sorry for you it will just make them really, really angry and you will be grounded for two weeks.
What are you most proud of and why?
What is coming up in the next year for 34 Windsor St?
I would be building up the event wedding side of the business. We have a paddock at the rear of the restaurant and it’s crying out to be used for special events and weddings.
34 Windsor St is in Burbage, Hinckley, LE10 2EF. To view their latest menu or to make a booking visit the 34 Windsor Street website: www.34windsorst.com
Image courtesy of Leicester Mercury