We caught up with Luigi and Joanna, owners of The Station House, Garforth, to find out.
Back in 2016 husband and wife team, Luigi and Joanna, set about transforming the old Station House at Garforth train station, into one of the top Italian restaurants in Yorkshire and has been a popular hidden gem ever since.
The Bistro serves traditional Southern Italian cuisine based on family recipes with genuine Mediterranean warmth and hospitality. Made up of a main restaurant area, private dining rooms, a secret garden and not to forget the popular coffee hatch to serve the train commuters, the restaurant has a dining spot to suit everyone.
The business has been a success right from the get go with word of mouth quickly spreading around the local area. As reviews began to flood in on Trip Advisor, people started to travel further afield to find out more about the quirky restaurant in the unusual location.
We spoke to Luigi and Joanna to find out more.
Starting a Restaurant Business
Having worked in the catering industry for 40 years, in various roles in many restaurants, Luigi said, “We opened our own business as we wanted to follow our passion for cooking and entertaining for friends and family and we wanted to offer a different experience to most other restaurants. We wanted The Station House to be more personal ─ as if you were dining at a friend’s house and we also wanted to bring my family’s recipes to life in the UK and give Leeds a true taste of Southern Italian cuisine.”
Six years later, the couple still love the flexibility of owning their own business and the freedom it gives them to create something truly individual.
What Makes a Good Location for a Restaurant?
Finding the right location was one of the most important factors to Luigi and Joanna. They were always aware that being visible to passers-by was going to bring in more footfall and a train station on a busy line certainly has plenty of passing trade. However, when considering Garforth as a location for their new venture Joanna added, “It’s helpful for us to be in a smaller town, rather than a big city, so we can provide the personal service and atmosphere we wanted to create. This wouldn’t be feasible for us in a big city.”
The Impact of Covid-19 on the Hospitality Industry
Like most businesses, especially in the hospitality sector, the Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on The Station House. However, they have seen their customer base grow substantially following the lockdown. Luigi said, “I think this is partly because people are supporting smaller businesses more and more and also, people seem to be looking for something new and different to experience. Perhaps people are wary of travelling further now too and, as a result, are shopping and socialising more locally.
When looking back over the months when businesses were forced to make changes to operating models, Joanna commented, “The pandemic forced us to adapt the business multiple times over these last two years. It created a large demand for takeaway sales, which we were able to fulfil while the restaurant was closed but, due to the increase in diners at the restaurant now we are back fully open, we had to stop offering takeaway food even though the demand is still there. This does show us there is an opportunity to expand the business in this direction in the future.”
The Future: Starting a New Business
When looking to the future Luigi said, “Although the future of the high street may seem quite uncertain, considering the effect of the pandemic, online sales etc. as well as the closure of many independent businesses, we’ve also seen some large shops and restaurants close in recent years. Therefore we would like to see more independent businesses on the high street and in small towns, offering different services and options. We would definitely encourage people to be brave, take the leap and go for it!”
When asked for advice for anyone thinking of starting a new venture, he said, “I think now is the perfect time for independent businesses to start-up, as more and more customers are supporting independents. Have faith in your ideas but ensure you do thorough market research and create a strong, clear business plan. Make sure you shop around for insurance quotes too and get a tailor-made package that suits everything your business needs ─ even the unexpected things!”
When considering insurance and the risks the catering industry faces ─ for example, health and safety risks in the kitchen, catering for dietary requirements and allergies, ensuring staff and customers are safe in the restaurant ─ the list goes on, Joanna added, “Our insurance gives us the peace of mind that both staff and customers are protected – it helps me sleep at night knowing it’s all covered.”
To find out more about The Station House visit https://www.thestationhousecafe.co.uk/
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