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Interview: Madeleine, Co-Owner The Owl Camber Sands

Updated: Aug 18, 2022


A friendly environment in a beautiful setting just over the dunes of Camber, The Owl is a beacon of light in a reasonably quiet culinary area. With an emphasis on local produce and combining the best ingredients to create a menu with friendly familiar faces with a twist just around the corner of every dish.

We were lucky enough to sit down with Madeleine, Co-Owner of the The Owl with her Husband and Co-Owner Peter and talk about fine food, the industry and what looking after your staff means in todays industry. Madeleine has an eye for detail and that includes what a positive kitchen environment should look like. With care and support Madeleine and Peter have managed to make The Owl a go to destination for excellent food in an area mostly untouched by fine cuisine. We really enjoyed speaking with Madeleine, and know you will enjoy reading about it as well!

Hello Madeleine let’s get to know you a bit and tell us what made you want to open a restaurant in Camber?

Camber is such a beautiful place to live, visit and enjoy, the beach and skies are stunning and the surrounding fresh local produce is second to none. We are just 3 miles from the centre of the wonderful Medieval town of Rye. We, me with my husband Peter, fell in love with Camber we initially bought somewhere here to live part time, but shortly afterwards the pull of being here all the time meant that we relocated from London full time and then a few years later had an opportunity to buy a Pub directly opposite the sand dunes, a fantastic opportunity we could not resist. We wanted to bring the wonders of the produce of our surrounding sea directly opposite us and the marshland around us into a relaxed dining experience, within the Pub setting – serving the wonderful local food produce from around us and local wines, spirits and beers for our customers and friends - we want them to love Camber and all it can offer too!

Establishing a reputation for fine food is challenging anywhere - what are you doing differently?

We use the best of everything local, using the freshest and best our small local suppliers can offer us. Our menu is seasonally based and we change it through the year to reflect this. We hope to offer something a bit different and to cook and present our dishes in a way that the beautiful produce deserves to showcase the local produce and suppliers.

What drives your passion to bring great food to the area?

We know we can always do better, its exciting to strive to improve season on season, the area produces such great products from the sea, farms, marshland, we try to do justice to this. It drives us when we have lovely feedback from customers and we see them return and become regular to us.

So how are you ensuring your kitchen brigade is happy & successful?

Our kitchen team – are exactly that, a team, every single member of the kitchen team are incredibly important and they appreciate each other. It is rewarding work but can be hard work and we recognise this. Our business is driven by many factors –it can be challenging and sometimes difficult to navigate and get used to. We like to empower all of our team to bring their ideas to reality, we welcome personal development and working together, it's a complete joy to relay lovely comments from diners who have thoroughly enjoyed their time and meals with us, especially when its something new (the kitchen team can be unexpectedly bashful), but feed back on their creations and hard work are so important. They create the magic and ensure that a great lunch or evening time for our customers can be had, along with good front of house team service. We absolutely appreciate that effort and skill and hope they are proud of what they do.

You are already investing & developing the “soft skills” of your team, how important are skills like leadership & team working in your kitchen?

Critically important, to enable the whole team to function well and happily and to bring out all of the talents and skills of the whole team and make it work. The kitchen needs to be a team and the leadership of the kitchen clear but positive, encouraging and open to suggestion, allowing the team space for development. It is so good that having the opportunity of subscribing to The Chef Partnership model is enabling us to further offer support to our Chefs through offering EAP and soft skill development.

What else can restaurateurs do to attract & importantly retain chefs?

That is hard for everyone at the moment after the last few years for this industry. We of course like to retain our Chefs and make sure there is space for their development, passions and ambitions. We also recognise that Chefs and their talents move during their career, we would hope they always have enjoyed their time with us and that we may see them again. Its lovely that we have visits from Chefs who have worked with us previously and its always good to see them again.

In the wake of Covid - what are your main pressures now as a Restaurant Owner and how are you tackling the next 6 months?

Our main pressures: Finding and adjusting to the new normal is an immediate factor for us, after 2 years of “closed and released” in a pandemic background people’s patterns and focus have changed. We also importantly have the obvious huge challenges we are all facing through the immediate economic and political climate which is exasperating the Covid wake issues – these will impact on business especially people based industries as the impact and concern is felt by our customers. There will be on going challenges particularly of costs, supply, energy, recruitment and customer variations which we will need adapt to.

We hope to: retain, support and empower our people so they can continue to bring their ideas and passions and find their ultimate potential in our industry; continue supporting our local suppliers so we can continue to offer their great produce; aim to retain passion for local produce and be a place in Camber for our customers to relax and enjoy; and by continuing to reinvent and evolve our business through what ever is to come.

Do you cook at home?

I recognise that putting great food into practice is not my personal forte! Any time we have for cooking something lovely at home it is Peter’s passion and skill, I can though always be relied on to select a nice glass of something to accompany.

Thank you Madeleine

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