Mitch fondly remembers going down to the fish mongers with his Grandma as a starting point in his passion for Hospitality. He is now the proud owner of Seahorse family restaurant, and 100% gluten-free Rockfish in Weymouth. It hasn’t been an easy journey, however… Learn this week how Mitch was faced MULTIPLE times with the fear of not being able to pay wages, thrown into the unforgiving nature of the city… And how he overcame it with pure dedication and love for hospitality. You’re in for a real journey.
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:01:58 Meeting Mitch, setting the scene in Rockfish Restaurant, Weymouth
00:03:57 What got Mitch Tonks into cooking & loving fish?
- 00:04:32 “My nan used to send me down there, and we’d buy some brown shrimps, some crab, some fish – you know, I always remember sitting around the table peeling these brown shrimps to make sandwiches…”
00:04:50 Going off to do a career in building, and realising at 27 he wanted to be involved in food
- 00:05:13 “It was at a time when farmer’s markets didn’t exist. I remember opening the first farmers market with Henrietta Green on Radio 4 food programme in Bath. And it was really great.”
00:06:02 Opening a restaurant above his fish shop
- 00:06:18 “It was a struggle. I got divorced at the time, I was living there, sleeping on a sofa – worrying… ‘Can I get through to the end of the week, pay wages?’, you know that kind of stuff that happens.”
00:07:20 Opening a restaurant in Chiswick… Or ‘London’ as Mitch originally thought!
- 00:08:00 “Short of money to pay builders, we bunged £20,000 on a horse called earth mover in ’94, and the horse lost. And we were like… Completely and utterly skint.”
- 00:08:25 Getting a 9/10 review from Matthew Norman, and suddenly celebrities were coming in the door
- 00:09:39 “This is where there’s a big lesson learnt, because the city is unforgiving.”
00:10:34 Opening The ‘Seahorse’ as a family restaurant
- 00:14:02 “It’s hospitality at its absolute best. When guests are there at four oclock drinking, you’re still serving them knowing that you’re not gonna get a break because they want another brandy or another bit of cheese out the kitchen…”
- 00:15:40 “I feel like I want to be that 70-year-old guy, carving the steak at the table for people and still able to tell people ‘yeah, we’ve been open here for 40 years and it’s a nice family business.’”
00:15:55 The process of stepping away from your restaurant and letting it run
- 00:17:03 “One of the things I really love about restaurants these days and building them is the sense of watching other people succeed in doing things – even here, young Katie joined us as a manageress. What she’s achieved with her team under Dave – he’s another great hospitality giant.”
00:17:56 Chatting about Rockfish, and how Mitch wants it to be an amazing place to work for
- 00:19:35 “I think that people will value eating out a lot more – because it is quite a privilege to be served by somebody. Everyone’s just got used to the fact you go to a restaurant and somebody brings you some food, right? Somebody’s serving you. It’s a proper art.”
00:20:48 Going back in time a bit, chatting about when Mitch delved into accountancy
- 00:21:45 “And I decided, at that moment, I am not going back to work. I had a mortgage, two kids, no money… And I was going to get into the food business. I still look back at that moment and think it was the most empowering moment of my life.”
00:24:30 Testing out home delivery services, being ahead of the curve
00:26:00 Chatting about Mitch’s TV Career & why he decided not to do it anymore
00:28:59 Getting back to Rockfish – and the aims to stop people being ‘afraid’ of eating fish
- 00:29:38 “All my best seafood meals in the whole wide world have been sat at a table either in the Mediterranean, or on my travels where I’ve had a plate of fried anchovies, I’ve had a grilled sol, I’ve had crab I’ve had a lobster, I’ve had a plate of pasta with some seafood, I’ve had some cured fish. None of it has ever been complicated to do.”
00:31:04 What was the trigger to open Rockfish?
- 00:32:41 “It was at that moment I just decided right: you know what we are going to do? We are going to rip out every range we’ve got, we’re going to put separate pans in, and we’re going to make our WHOLE menu gluten free.”
00:39:00 The hospitality industry looking more like property businesses
- 00:40:11 “In every restaurant there are the performers: you’re never going to replicate it, it’s impossible. When you’re opening restaurants like that with ‘a look’, what you’re really doing is creating a stage set. So you create a stage set, you put a load of people on it to pretend to be waiters and chefs and everyone else…It’s not real.”
00:41:53 Mitch sees the restaurant world evolving
- 00:42:33 “Places won’t survive on offers. Offers are heroine – how can you run a business by discounting? That’s not a hospitality business.”
- 00:43:31 “We’ve examined it, how many restaurants can we run before we have to start making compromise? And the number is like, 20, we think…”
- 00:44:55 Shout out to James Golding of the Pig…
00:46:11 Supplying fish sustainably… This wasn’t important when Mitch first started
- 00:46:36 “In the 30 years I’ve been involved with seafood, I’ve definitely seen the landscape change immensely. We can’t get away from that. It’s a sad thing – and I’ve also seen attitudes change… Fisherman are leading the way in sustainability.”
00:47:08 What’s been the trigger for sustainability’s growth?
- 00:47:38 “10 years ago it was a buzz word. Everyone put it on their menus: ‘I use sustainable fish’. Just to satisfy – and now that isn’t the case. People wake up to the fact this is real.”
- 00:50:25 “We’ve gotta support the British Fleet. My argument is: if I’m by the sea, where all of our restaurants are, I want to eat the fish on the day it’s landed. If I live somewhere that 24/36 hours away by transport: what’s the point? Freeze it.”
00:51:25 Can you buy sustainable fish in the supermarkets, or only in the fishmongers?
- 00:52:34 Where should we be buying our prawns from?
00:54:29 Which part of Mitch’s working life does he enjoy the most?
00:56:23 Good and bad advice from Mitch to anyone who’s thinking of jumping into the Hospitality Industry
- 00:57:00 “I think opening restaurants is a phenomenal thing. I think it’s just a case of: don’t open restaurant expecting to become rich and come up with the latest idea and concept.”
00:59:00 Marks final thoughts and signoff
If you’d like to learn more about Mitch, his awesome journey full of learning & love and his restaurants, visit their websites and social medias below or listen to the full episode here.
Rockfish website: https://www.therockfish.co.uk/
The Seahorse website: https://www.seahorserestaurant.co.uk/
Rockfish Instagram: @therockfishuk
Seahorse Instagram: @seahorse.restaurant
Rockfish Facebook: @therockfishuk
Seahorse Facebook: @seahorsedartmouth
Rockfish Twitter: @therockfishuk
Seahorse Twitter: @Seahorsedevon