Josh Eggleton has been building a dining empire in Bristol since opening his first pub – The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna – with his sister Holly in 2006. He founded his second business – fish cafe and tearoom Salt & Malt – on the banks of Chew Valley Lake – in 2014, opening a second site under the same name in Bristol in 2017. He also co-owns The Kensington ‘The Kenny’ with former Butcombe Brewery MD Guy Newell. As co-founder of the pop-up restaurant and food festival, Eat Drink Bristol Fashion, Josh founded Bristol cafe, bar and bistro Yurt Lush in 2012. Last year, under Eat Drink Bristol Fashion, he re-launched his restaurant Chicken Shed as vegetable-led restaurant Root.
You changed Chicken Shed to vegetable-led restaurant Root nine months ago. Are you happy with the decision?
We couldn’t be happier with it to be honest. It’s been really well received by Bristol, I think it’s on the money for what the Bristol public like. It’s not vegetarian, but we put vegetables at the forefront of what we do really. I came up with the concept, but leave Rob Howell (head chef) and Meg Oakley (general manager) to run it, as it’s their restaurant really.
What was the motivation behind launching a veg-led restaurant?
It’s not vegetarian, but the underlying message is to eat less meat. We are all eating less meat today. I do, especially at home. If I eat at home seven nights a week (which probably hasn’t happened in 15 years) I’d probably eat meat once, or just use small bits of protein to season, so I might use salty anchovies in pasta or a bit of pancetta in scrambled eggs. I’m becoming quite averse to huge chunks of protein.
I’m not saying I don’t like meat. I love quality, well-reared protein, which has been reared on farms or caught sustainably, but it’s good to look at a dish from a different perspective.
We have a lovely cabbage dish on at the Pony & Trap with pork and people say that pork dish was amazing, the cabbage was great. We take a big chunk of cabbage and we poach it in rendered pork fat and then put it on a barbecue until it’s nice and crispy and smoky and it’s great. I’m quite amazed with myself that I am cooking with and eating less meat. I think your palate changes as you get older too.
You’ve built up a successful food business in and around Bristol, would you ever consider opening sites elsewhere?
I would, but not that far away. Bath, Weston-Super-Mare and the North Somerset coast would potentially be looked at for one of our brands, so we’ll grow to the next region which is in striking distance and can be managed correctly. I wouldn’t want to do anything unless we’ve got the right people. We also wait for things to come our way. There’s no rush.
With six sites to run, how do you divide your time?
Well, I’ve just had a child too, so I’m having to get even more organised as I now commit two days a week to being a father (to son, Maximus, six months) and then I spend one day a week in Bristol at our sites there and the other four at the Pony & Trap. I might hop over to Salt & Malt one afternoon from there. The Pony has the most work to do and it has the biggest vision for the future. Generally, all the general managers and head chefs at the other sites come through the Pony & Trap, so we have that sort of DNA running through it all and I know they can look after them.
Awards and accolades, are you a fan?
Competition is always good. I’m not a big advocate of over-competition, but I think working with your peers, learning from them and aspiring to what they do is fantastic, and I’ve been able to look up to people over the years and have been inspired by them. We – along with the The Sportsman in Seasalter, which is very similar to the Pony & Trap – have been within the top three gastropubs in the country (in the Top 50 Gastropubs Awards) for a few years. Eight years or so ago I used to follow what the guys at The Sportsman did quite closely and now we’re all friends, which is lovely. That’s really healthy I think. I don’t think it’s healthy to isolate yourself. I like to go in and converse with others and you can do that through awards like The Top 50 Gastropubs and the Acorn Awards. It makes you realise you’re not in it alone.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?
There hasn’t been one big challenge, just lots of of small challenges. We work in a pressured industry and face multiple challenges every day. If you break it down to running a service, as soon as you get a check on there’s a deadline, then another one. We have to meet those deadlines. We can’t say, ‘oh, it’s five o’ clock, it’s time to go, so we’ll finish it tomorrow’, because the customer will say ‘you’re taking the piss’, but people sometimes don’t view it like that. Hospitality is a very high pressured environment for that very reason, but then I quite like a challenge, I’ve always said ‘why can’t we do that? we can do x,y and z’ I like to meet them head on. Also, if you break large challenges down to small ones, it’s not so overwhelming.
Who or what inspires you?
Everything. Everybody in the trade doing the job is an inspiration in itself.
What do you love most about working in hospitality?
We’re here to make people happy and give them an enjoyable experience. That’s what I want to do. For me, at the moment it’s not all about the food, it’s about the holistic experience and what the customer feels the moment they walk through the door. We’ve only really started to think like that. I want to do a big revamp of the Pony & Trap and build it into a really beautiful restaurant at the back and have been thinking about what guests will see when they pull up in the car, when they walk through the front door and come into the restaurant. I’ve got this big vision in my head and that’s what I like about it, being able to think about the whole experience.
What do you dislike most about the industry?
The negativity from the outside community about working in the industry, because they see it as a hard trade. I’m not saying it isn’t, but also it’s never been better. The hours, the pay and the environment has never been better. We’re in a golden age of amazing, beautiful restaurants popping up all over the place with amazing suppliers and a lot of customers are aware of that and love good food. They recognise good places and want the best, but can’t advocate young people working in hospitality. I don’t understand that. If we had more support from the government on this, maybe the industry would be getting better and we might see more people coming into it.
What are your plans for the near future?
As I mentioned before, I really want to focus on the Pony & Trap. I want to build a beautiful restaurant that overlooks the gardens. We’ve got a micro farm next to the pub where we’re putting an aquaponic system in and are learning about growing vegetables and looking at adding beehives and we’ve spent a lot of time improving the gardens – planting an orchard and creating a herb garden, so things are happening. I’m looking into lots of things and always talking about new ideas. We’re considering putting shepherds huts in the gardens for example, but we’ve got to go through planning and all that stuff so it can take time. We have made progress and it’s happening, but I’m just so impatient, I want it to happen quicker!