Three of the most well-known restaurants in Brighton & Hove (and one down the road in Hassocks), and a brand that is respected, enjoyed and loved: The Gingerman Restaurant Group. Starting off with The Gingerman, the group has grown in popularity, ambition and food. The three restaurants are co-owned by couple Ben and Pamela McKellar, after their love of food stemmed from a trip to New York, branching out into their career. It’s refreshing to see how much they adore Brighton, and continue to work passionately to make sure their restaurants are of the best standard they can be.
We had a chat with Pamela to talk about food, careers and rather excitingly, the future plans of The Gingerman Restaurant Group.
“Growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Pamela. “I quite fancied travelling but I didn’t really have a career in mind. I was one of those, I didn’t go to uni because of that, and wanted to travel.”
Pamela and Ben, her husband and co-owner, went to New York when she turned 18 and ended up working in restaurants: “This ended up being my career, I guess it was meeting a man which helped develop it! Ben got me a job in New York – he always wanted to work with food from a young age.
“We were both young, in New York with little money, and would save up what we could to go out to restaurants and treat ourselves. We always spent money on food… even when we didn’t have any! I would be saving up to go to a posh restaurant, rather than buying a new pair of shoes.”
Pamela found it exciting to visit new restaurants that Ben would hear of whilst working, and it became a hobby to go out and try these new places. “We went to Gavosh on my 18th birthday, and it was the first really nice restaurant I had been to…”
THE BEGINNING OF THE GINGERMAN
Now married with two children, Pamela describes the beginning of the Ginger business as a bit of a whirlwind: “We were both really young, and we didn’t have long to think about the business. Ben was set to go into business with a friend who dropped out, so I stepped in and we opened the restaurant when we came back from New York. I was only 20 at the time.
“I was very young, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for and I think I blocked the first six months out. When you begin a business you either sink or swim… and we swam. We had lovely customers who still come in and see us, from day one.”
Opening a restaurant at a young age meant learning on the job was how they coped. “We worked loads and loads of hours with each other – it was great, I think you have someone you can work with or not, but we had very few arguments and were compatible to work together.”
Pamela and Ben both opened The Gingerman as a warming neighbourhood restaurant, where all stock was homemade, “New York was full of restaurants like that, so we were keen on The Gingerman being similar. It did what it set out to be and now it’s grown… we’ve had great chefs who have gone through the doors.”
There was never an option of The Gingerman not being based in Brighton, Pamela explained. “We’re both from Brighton, and we have travelled, but always come back here. We love supporting the local suppliers and artisan producers.”
Setting up the business from scratch meant that the location was only one things needed to initially open The Gingerman: “We had to be shown how to make a business plan, and once you know how to do one, you can do others. The same plan we did for the first restaurant in terms of cost and turnover, we did for our next site.
“We’ve always written it down, worked it out, and if it’s a goer we go, if not – we don’t go. We have walked away from some if something didn’t seem right.”
Seven years after opening The Gingerman, Pamela and Ben were approached by Drakes Hotel, to run the restaurant there. “It was a way of us branching out with someone else’s help,” said Pamela. “They were keen to get us to go there, but do the set-up costs themselves.
“We learnt a lot on that project. The jump from first to second restaurant is very difficult. You’re used to not delegating and not having to explaining simple jobs. You have to trust other people, hand over, but still not expect them to do too much. That’s the hard thing. We couldn’t be in two sites at the same time.”
With two successful restaurants, beginning a family and with a new baby on the horizon, next came The Ginger Pig, The Ginger Dog, and The Ginger Fox just four years ago. “The next opening of restaurants haven’t been as hard, you know that you’re going to have six months of blurred hard work, and then it gets steady.
“The Gingerman however will always have a soft spot in our heart, it was the first one and, because of the size, makes a more intimate occasion such as an anniversary or treat.”
FOOD SCENE AND FUTURE PLANS
With the backing of four great restaurants behind her, we were intrigued as to where Pamela goes to dine out, “Chilli pickle is great, we go to Moshimo, our daughter loves sushi – thats her favourite thing in the whole word! We love the Little Fish Market, and 64 Degrees.”
“The Ginger Fish is in our plans for next year – a seafood restaurant opposite the pier. Hopefully, we’ll see what happens!” she told us.
And last but not least, what makes Brighton so great? “The people, they’re the best quirky fun different people in the such a great vibe in Brighton. On sunny day, with music and the beach, what’s not to love? We grew up in Brighton. We’ve always loved it, with all sorts of artistic and crazy characters.”