Watch: Interview with restauranteur daniel grech
During a recent interview with Oh My Malta, chef turned restaurateur Daniel Grech, talked about his inspirations and influences throughout his careers, as well as the impact of the Corona Virus on the catering industry
Can you give us a little background about yourself? How did you end up working in this industry?
I ended up working in this industry by mistake. I had some problems growing up… the common stuff; no job, no parents. I went to work as a dishwasher. The first three months felt like hell and I slowly slowly became a pro dishwasher. Everyday, I used to watch the chefs cook and found the job really interesting. I thought it was cool. The action inside the kitchen was fun and the adrenaline amazed me. After a couple of months observing, I decided to help out. My first plate was a spaghetti Bolognese. I built a good reputation among the other chefs who worked at the same restaurant. If my shift began at 6, I used to get there at 3 to practise and experiment. Most of the times I used to screw up, but slowly found my way with the help of the head chef, who used to believe in me so much. Even thought the chef was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer, he was still the one to guide me and tell me how to cook each recipe step by step. This is how I learnt the basics of cooking.
Once you mastered the basics, what was your first business venture?
My first business venture was ‘Shoreditch’. I had a good reputation of the guy who is always working, the guy with no girls and no friends… ‘ Daniel loser’. This kind of helped me in the future.
What inspired the concept behind Shoreditch?
I had received a phone call from someone who had heard I was very hard working. He told me he had wanted to open a restaurant and asked me for some ideas. He made me a partner and this is how I started my first business.
When we opened, we had started something different… something Malta had never seen before. I used to be obsessed with the British style of cooking. I love burgers, and at that time, there weren’t any burger eateries apart from New York Best. I infused my cooking recipes from the kitchen into my burger creations. For example if I would have been into a pasta with truffle sauce, I would then create a burger with truffle. If it was pasta carbonara, then I’d create a burger carbonara. People went crazy over our food. Slowly slowly I built my career from there, I started investing and learning more about business.
How did you move on from the burger trend?
First I stuck to the burger trend. I felt that it was my thing, and after I left from Shoreditch, I wanted to create something bigger with the possibility of opening ore outlets. I partnered up with Frankie and Joseph, who thankfully really believed in me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, because when I left from Shoreditch I was completely broke, with not even one euro in my bank account. We helped each other. I brought my ideas to the table and they invested. When I started growing, we began investing together. We had started with Burgers Ink, which thankfully is doing very well.
But I wanted to do more. I’m that type of person. Even if I become the richest guy in the world or I grow really old, if I have strength and time, I will keep creating new stuff.
What about the Asian-inspired eatery Wagyu?
I’ve always been into the Asian culture. My favourite film is the Last Samurai. I’m obsessed with everything Samurai, as can been seen in the restaurant. I love these things. I wanted to do something different and take another risk. Everyone thought I’m crazy since I opened Wagyu during the pandemic. I had a vision and was offered a good opportunity so I decided to go for it. I like challenges. In fact, I’ve failed quite a lot of times.
Before I come up with a concept, I always look around me. I knew that in Valletta there weren’t many Asian eateries. You have to always follow the trend. At the moment, Asian food, and Japanese in particular, is a trend all over the world. So I went from burgers to Asian food. I put together a team from Asia , from whom I’ve learnt a lot, and together we built a good thing.
Do you have some business tip for those in catering?
If you’re well behaved, you will make it. I believe that the owner of a restaurant must be a chef for the place to be successful. Why? I can cook, help out and do the work myself, especially if times a slow and we do not afford to hire more staff. I can involve myself as much as possible. I am included in the roster. That is what I found helps a lot.
How do you think the pandemic has affected the industry?
The industry was hit hard by Covid-19. I have a bar that I’m currently changing into a cafeteria because it has been shut for 4 months. It was Loop Bar before. You have to take risks. I’m very humble. I’ve started from nothing, and if I end up with nothing again it doesn’t matter to me. At least I try. When all the restaurants were closed, I opened a food truck in Bahar ic-Chaghaq, which was packed everyday day, all the time.
I believe that when Covid is over, everything will go back to normal. The problem is bigger for those who were already suffering before.
Do you have some advice for those who are struggling right now?
If you are well-behaved, you will manage. Be creative and work hard. If you do not work hard and are not well-behaved, you can forget it… you won’t manage.
I’ve been there. I’ve closed restaurants. I think restaurants will close, not cause they fail financially, but mentally. In my opinion, this is definitely a mental battle. People are less motivated to come up with creative ideas and think outside he box. Some people consider it to be a waste of time, since less people are going out. It is true. It is very easy to fall into a mental depression mode. Restaurants don’t only close cause the owner can’t afford it. Catering and restaurants aren’t all about making money. The industry is mostly are all about the passion. We do not make a lot of money. It is more about the passion, the adrenaline and seeing the restaurant packed with people. I love to work a lot because I get to socialise and meet new people. For me it is equivalent to going out.
What differences have you noticed since March 2020?
I noticed a massive difference when people go out to eat. I can see it in myself, also. I’m now more cautious. If before I’d order two bottles of wine, now I’ll order one. You have to be careful. Delivery is what saved this industry. If it wasn’t for delivery, we would have barely made any money. People are barely going out. People went out in December, but now things are quiet again. It’s a problem, but deliveries are saving the industry. I realise this cause even the best restaurants are opting for delivery service.
Any final comments?
Be good, focus, come up with new ideas, and don’t let it get to you mentally. If you don’t give up mentally you will manage. We can help each other. I just hope that we all make it. There is no competition in my eyes. If we all help each other, the business in general will do much better. Just, you know… chill, and stay positive. That’s my message.