Keeping it local: George Street Canteen
Kevin and Julie Lee set up George Street Canteen, on St Albans’ George Street, three years ago. It is one of most authentically local businesses I know, and it is loved by all. Kevin is the chef, so you don’t often see him, while Julie is front of house. The café is open seven days a week, and it’s a wonderful place for breakfast, brunch and lunch; coffee, cakes and hot chocolate. It won Best Café in last year’s Muddy Awards. I talk to Kevin about their sustainable approach to keeping things local.
What did you want to create when you opened your café?
We wanted to create a family-friendly, local café, using locally sourced produce where possible. We wanted it to be a place where anyone could come and feel relaxed and enjoy some good healthy food, but also enjoy a treat as well.
Who do you work with and why?
We were both born and bred in St Albans and we’ve spent most of our working lives in different restaurants here so it’s important for us to support local and small business like ours. Our bread comes from Dolce Forno. I met Steve from the bakery when I was the head chef at Lussmanns. They bake amazing bread. Our meat comes from A & C Meats on Catherine Street. I have worked with Carl the butcher since I was 17 when I worked in my first job as a chef! Carl is retiring this month after working there for over 25 years. He has always given me great advice and the quality of the meat is excellent.
Our ice cream and halloumi come from Lewis of London, a family farm in Barnet.
Our eggs are from Murdoch’s free range farm in Bedfordshire. Our fruit and veg come from Sparshotts. I have worked with them for nearly 20 years and they’ve been a local fruit and veg supplier for over 80 years. One of our new suppliers is a local coffee company called Tiki Tonga. They’re based in Welwyn Garden City, and it’s a company that has been created by Brad Barritt, the Captain of the Saracens Rugby Club. The local suppliers we work with we have chosen because we honestly believe that their food tastes better. It’s also better for the environment to minimise the food miles.
Are you still looking for any other locally produced ingredients? Is there anything that you can’t find in Hertfordshire? And would you like to grow your own food?
We are always on the look out for local suppliers. Currently we are trying to find some local soft drinks and juices that are sugar free. And yes, we would love to grow our own food and that is something we are looking at for next year.
You seem to have very loyal customers – you must be doing something right?
I think this is down to the fact that Julie works on the floor and not me! Also, I think people like the fact that we are local. We have both always done this job so we know what people want. We are both here nearly every day so people see that we actually work in the business and care about our customers – we’re not just here to take the money at the end of the week.
What are your plans for this year?
We’re going to landscape one of our gardens and build an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven. We recently found out that the oven may have to go on hold for a couple of months due to something beyond our control, but we are still hoping for it to be in by the end of summer.
How did the gin festival come about and will you do another one this year?
I’m not entirely sure how the gin festival came about to be honest! Sean Hughes from Dylans had a lot to do with it. It was a great sucess for all and I hope there will be another one this year.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you started your own business?
Although we have both always worked in this industry and know how many hours were involved, I didn’t realise how much we would always think about the place. It’s completely different from working for someone else. When it’s your own business you never switch off. But I wouldn’t change anything, although I’m not sure if Julie and our children agree!
George Street Canteen 9A George St, St Albans AL3 4ER