If you spend even a minimal amount of time on Instagram you will be very familiar with Farm Girl Café in Notting Hill. The health-conscious restaurant is a favourite amongst the London style set, and not a day goes by when their delicious Rose Lattes and Açai Bowls don’t make an appearance on Instagram.
Farm Girl is co-owned by Australian-born Rose Mann and her boyfriend, Anthony Hood. And in just two years the eatery has become a must-visit destination (on weekends the line for a table snakes all the way down Portobello Road). I caught up with Rose a few weeks ago to find out exactly what it’s like to own a bustling London restaurant, and she was kind enough to share her inspirational story…
Have you always worked in the food industry? And what inspired you to open your own restaurant?
I had the idea for Farm Girl just over two years ago, when I was working in fashion. I was running a shop in Connaught Street and doing all of their marketing, PR and communications. It was a really lovely brand, but sadly it shut down. And by that point I had grown tired of the fashion industry and wanted to try something new. I’d always had a fascination with food, coffee and healthy juices. And all of a sudden I started talking about opening up my own restaurant. I went to LA with my boyfriend and we got so much inspiration. And once we arrived back in London we started looking for restaurant sites. All of a sudden it just started happening, and we found the incredible space on Portobello Road and the concept for Farm Girl Café just grew from there.
How did you feel after Farm Girl Café first opened its doors?
It was a terrifying time. There were lots of sleepless nights, and I was worrying non-stop. I was constantly questioning myself and wondering how it was going to work. It was a very nerve-wracking period, and it wasn’t until earlier this year that we finally felt like we had a really good team in place. Obviously it’s a restaurant, so a smooth operation is very rare – you have problems every day. But in January this year we finally went, “Ah… We can breathe a little bit.”
Farm Girl Café is great because the food is absolutely delicious and the menu caters to a variety of food allergies. Was that a conscious decision?
I don’t have a gluten intolerance but I am lactose intolerant, which is a pain. And it’s funny, because my original concept was to cater to my best friends: one is a celiac, the other is vegan, and my boyfriend isn’t quite vegan but he sticks to a really healthy diet. So I wanted to open a restaurant that could meet all of our needs. And I’m from Australia, so I’m used to that healthy-from-the-paddock style of farm eating.
The menu was literally based on everything we liked. We didn’t look at market trends, it was more a case of, “Okay, what would we want to eat?”
Our head chef, Benoit, always finds amazing alternatives that you don’t see very often. For example, our crab cakes are rolled in millet flakes which makes them entirely gluten-free. And then we cook them in coconut oil, so they’re still crispy like fried crab cakes, but much healthier.
What does your typical workday look like? If such a thing even exists…
It looks like a total mess. I mean, we have no routine because we simply can’t. We also own another restaurant in Little Venice which we’re expanding at the moment. It’s a slightly different concept to Farm Girl, and the new space will be open in the New Year. So we’re splitting our time between the two at the moment. Farm Girl is our priority, because it’s a bigger operation and we have more staff to manage, more suppliers to keep up with and more customers to keep happy.
We get up pretty early every day and usually go straight to Farm Girl for our coffee. And then anything could happen… We have meetings left, right and centre. And things are constantly coming up, like a meeting with a builder or a staff member. The last couple of days have been pretty stressful because we’re changing our menu for the winter. So it’s always a lot of long days. And because I live with my business partner we never really switch off.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I have an amazing bathtub that is in my bedroom, and I’ll often run a relaxing bath when I get home in the evening. And we have a French Bulldog called Bronte, so walking her in the park is a way of unwinding every day. We also love to cook at home and take classes at Hot Pod yoga in Notting Hill. It’s vinyasa yoga, so it’s relaxing but you also feel like you’ve had a good workout.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your 9 to 5?
Definitely managing my time. I have a really great girl who looks after my schedule, but I’m still constantly trying to please everyone, which never works. I’m trying to keep both our customers and our staff happy at all times. That’s a big challenge! And it’s also hard to keep everything running whilst maintaining a work/life balance. We have such a good team in place now that we’re able to switch off on the weekends and go to the countryside. Or, if we do stay in London, we make sure we avoid Portobello Road completely.
And, on the flip side, what are the biggest perks of your job?
Well, the good thing about what we do is the fact you can see all of your hard work right there and then, every day. It’s like an instant reward. Sometimes I work on the floor at Farm Girl, and that’s the best thing for me to do because I get to meet all of our customers face-to-face and actually have a conversation with them. And, I have to say that most of the people that visit us are so nice. So it’s always really uplifting.
As your own boss, is it ever a struggle to stay motivated?
Well, we work in a team of three. It’s my head chef, Benoit, Anthony and me. We keep each other motivated, which is really important. We’re constantly having meetings and figuring out what we want to do next. And we’re pretty ruthless in terms of meeting our targets every week and keeping our costs down here and there. Anthony is really on the ball with that element of the business. But it’s easy to stay motivated once you’ve got something going that’s working well. If you had asked me that before the restaurant was doing so well I’m not sure how I would have answered. Every day we wake up with a list of ten things that need to get done, so I find it very easy to stay motivated.
Which other women working in the industry inspire you on a daily basis?
The Good Life Eatery girls, definitely! They’re doing incredible things and are such lovely people. And I would also say Venetia Archer, who runs Ruuby App. She built that herself, and is absolutely incredible.
And, finally, if you could go back in time and give yourself any advice, knowing what you know now, what would you say?
As a restaurant owner the advice that I would give myself back then is to buy all the kitchen equipment brand new. Because every piece of equipment we’ve inherited has had to be replaced, which ended up costing even more. And you have to grow a thick skin. I’ve always found it really difficult to yell at people and be that kind of boss. I’m very good friends with all of our staff, but that has had its downfalls in the past because then people can take advantage. You’ve got to find that balance where you’re their friend, but are also able to say to them, “You’re late to work, so hurry up.” It’s very hard to get that balance right.