Temple Garner is one of the men responsible for putting brunch on the map in Dublin. His restaurant San Lorenzo’s on George’s Street is renowned for its #BrunchofChampions and long queues winding down the street are a regular occurence. Although San Lorenzo’s now do over 500 covers for brunch on any given weekend, the concept started a bit earlier.
Temple was the head chef in the Mermaid Café on Dame Street where he held a Michelin Bib Gourmand. His brunch offering there was hugely popular but after the Mermaid closed, the concept ‘faded away’. Temple credits the revival of brunch to Geoff Nordell from the Whitefriar Grill. “Geoff brought it back to the mainstream and then we tagged on to him.”
In the beginning, Temple didn’t even want to do a brunch offering, preferring instead to do a ‘chefy’ lunch. When he changed the menu some regular lunchers were put out but Temple had seen the light. “We were never that busy but we had our regulars so when we changed it all round they were like, you ruined it. So I was like, I’m really sorry but we were doing 45 covers on a Sunday, now we’re doing 280. We’re very proud of it now and we’re giving them something different. I really like the brunch food cause I’m a greedy fat bastard and brunch is for greedy fat bastards!”
The team in San Lorenzo’s have a lot of fun with their brunch dishes, inventing unique and unusual dishes to satisfy the oddest of cravings. One dish Temple is particularly proud of is the Coco Pops Crunchy French Toast. “French toast, dip it in Coco Pops and fry it til it’s crispy and serve it with salt caramelised bananas and peanut butter over the top. It’s really good. It’s so wrong but it’s so right! We have a lot of fun with it.”
It’s hard to believe that someone with so much enthusiasm for brunch didn’t want to serve it initially. After his successful launch of Dillinger’s in Ranelagh, Temple opened San Lorenzo’s in 2011 as a New York-Italian style eatery. He admits the restaurant has moved on from the original design. “When we opened first we didn’t have any money so the interior was very recession. It looked like a shoestring place. So then eventually we got enough to do a refurb, this is all new, and people really like it. Nobody has said I can’t believe you ruined your restaurant.”
It isn’t just the décor that has developed as Temple says he had to make changes to the wine list and the menus to give San Lorenzo’s a commercial focus.
On George’s Street, talking to real foodie types is great but it doesn’t do anything for you on a Monday or a Tuesday night, you don’t get busy by that. You need to appeal to a far broader spectrum. We haven’t moved that far away from where we started but we’ve just got more mass appeal, we’re just broader that’s all. And people can recognise that.
The original menu was admittedly narrow, so Temple and the team have broadened it to make it accessible to Dublin diners and the crowd of tourists that walk by every day. He hopes the menu bridges the gap between simple tastes and a more discerning customer. “There’s some very normal things here and not so normal things and that’s kind of what you want. When you actually drill into it, there’s good stuff like the tortellini with duck and black pudding, that’s homemade tortellini. No restaurants do that. Very few people do that, go to the effort of making their own tortellini in house.”
He doesn’t regard this commercial focus as a compromise on his vision for the restaurant as the simple sounding dishes contain some great quality, often complicated ingredients and processes. Focusing solely on real foodie customers just doesn’t work for this location so Temple has ‘taken the edges off’ his menu. “We’re just using our heads to reach out to more people.”
This commercial aspect is quite important for Temple as previous business endeavours have taken their toll on him financially. From 2004-2009 he was the chef/patron of the very successful Town Bar and Grill on Kildare Street which was one of the first casualties of the recession along with his other premises. As a result, Temple opened San Lorenzo’s on a shoestring budget. “I didn’t do anything wrong. They were fine businesses but if nobody’s going to spend any money then you’re screwed. I opened this place with €200 in the bank account. We opened on a Thursday and if we didn’t do a good weekend then I genuinely could not pay the wages the following week.”
That kind of pressure can create fears and doubts and hold people back but Temple maintained a positive yet realistic attitude throughout.
I’m kind of lucky, I don’t do fear. You can’t let yourself be undermined by fears and insecurities. You’d be foolish not to be afraid but basically don’t give in to fear. I think you just look at the variables. If I do this, then this this and this is going to happen. Have faith in your own abilities to analyse a situation.
One might wonder why, after all he went through, Temple would open another restaurant but he maintains it was the only way to get the family out of their financial situation. The business is now very successful and has alleviated the family’s debt. Temple says his kids are his constant motivation and the reason he works so hard. He wouldn’t like to see them follow in his footsteps though. “I’d hate to see them go into the business cause it’s a really tough business. It’s just very difficult, you have to really really want to do it. You have to really like it and if the kids wanted it and had that in them to do it then of course I’d be very happy for them to go and do it.”
For Temple, the main reason children aren’t following their parents into the industry is that we don’t have the food culture in Ireland that exists in other countries. “In France it’s a family thing, they have that culture in France. We don’t have it here because we don’t have a food culture in Ireland, we never have. And it’s born out of poverty. We’ve never had the luxury of being able to eat more than we could grow. Are we developing a foodie culture now? We’re on the way.”
The reluctance of young Irish people to get into the business according to Temple stems from antisocial hours and low rates of pay. He thinks that modern generations have become spoiled and won’t put in the hours required for such a low wage. “In a way, and it’s actually a Kevin Thornton theory, you do weed out all the people who shouldn’t be in the business. That’s one way of looking at it, you only get people that really want to be in it and maybe that’s a good thing. Are you better off with a labour shortage but they’re committed people? Or a full labour market but they’re crap?”
Temple says the problem is that overheads in the industry force wages down but that’s something he works against. He is investing in his team to keep them on board and it’s obviously working. Head chef Chris has been with him for years and Temple is grateful to have a great cook on board. “I wouldn’t describe myself as a chef, I’d describe myself more of a cook. Great chefs are like people like Thornton and all that crowd and good luck to them. The rest of us mere mortals try hard. But a good cook is very hard to find, somebody who makes food taste good. And Chris is just a great cook. He makes stuff taste good. It’s simple as that.”
When it comes to the front of house team, Temple strives to create a service that is authentic and genuine. He believes customers can tell when servers and an establishment have values and a strong customer service ethos. “We have a benchmark and we really try, and sometimes we fail, but everybody tries. Nobody can get it right all the time but we do try. We don’t take it for granted, we don’t take customers for granted at all. My job is to have the staff believe in what they’re doing.”
The passion that Temple has for great, genuine service needs to be evident in his team. He says it happens organically that you surround yourself with a team that share and reflect your values and priorities. Temple’s main objective is making people happy. “We work hard and we don’t take it for granted. One of my things is trying to exceed people’s expectations with food and service and if you can do that you’re doing well. Deliver more than they think they’re going to get in terms of flavour or value or service, everything. For what they pay to what they get, they feel that they got more than what they paid for.”
It all comes down to service, something Temple has always believed in.
I wanted to be a butler when I was growing up. It’s the same kind of thing. When you start out, everyone just uses the phrase very casually, it’s ‘service’ time. But it means at the service of the customer. We are in the service of people. Same with if you’re a butler, their needs come before yours.
Alison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is the latest features writer for TheTaste.
Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo