Hailed as one of Poland's top restaurateurs, Marcin Wachowicz has created a string of successful projects that are defined by their sense of energy and buzz. He talks about the trials and tribulations of this cut-throat industry...
WBJ: The capital has led the country in its 'food revolution'. What's needed to maintain success in such a competitive and fluctuating environment?
Marcin Wachowicz: Tricky question. The Polish market is quite dynamic at this moment meaning you can't afford to take your foot off the pedal. It's important to constantly be looking at new trends whilst also listening to your audience – I learn something new each day. By treating your competitors as an evolving benchmark then you allow yourself to continually improve your level of work, the overall quality, and how your team works on a daily basis. It's also important to invest in your team, to help them improve their skills and qualifications and broaden their horizons – this will always help them achieve more.
What's the most important lesson you've learned along the way?
I'm learning all the time – each and every day brings with it a new surprise. Because this industry is about the guests, then the team has to be right. I'm a member of that team, and I love working as part of it, helping inspire young people and teaching them how to feel fulfilled by their role even when the pressure is on.
It's becoming quite common to see people abandon the rat race in pursuit of their dream of owning a restaurant. What's your advice to those considering doing just that?
Each person has a unique, different story so it's tough to advise, but I'd just make them aware that passion alone isn't usually enough in this highly complex business.
How do you keep customers coming through the door. How do you create that 'buzz' that all successful restaurants have?
Getting guests through the door is the most important part of our business – you have to ensure they're not bored of your venues; it's important they feel they're getting something back from you rather than giving all the time. Regular promotions can help that as well as helping change the image and impression guests may have of your concept. We work constantly on communicating our message to them.
How would you describe your management style?
There is method to the everyday madness of this industry – each day I'll try and motivate and provide a structure and platform for others to enable others to work more freely. You need to react quickly and, most of all, listen to the ideas of your co-workers. Of course, mistakes will always be made, but these need to be treated as lessons to be learned rather than failures.
Trends change fast in this country, and that's especially true of culinary trends – how do you adjust to these?
Trends power change, and change frequently means higher standards and, hopefully, higher quality. Like many other European cities, Warsaw is a place where culture, people and the general environment are intertwined so you need to be vigilant to keep up with the changes in these: you need to be aware of what others are doing and then fill the missing gaps.
Warsaw has seen the emergence of a 'celebrity chef' culture – in particular, restaurants have been keen to recruit anyone who has appeared on TV for three minutes. What's your opinion of this new chef culture and how does it influence the success of a restaurant?
It's one thing being a celebrity, it's another thing being in the gastronomic trade. Often, owners think that a celebrity chef will raise the standards or bring something innovative to the table but that's not always the case. Further, the internal organization of a restaurant is composed of many elements so that person needs to be able to fit into that. In my opinion, they have to be ready to engage and cooperate with others – it's hard being a star when you're serving a 1,000 guests a day. That's not to say it's always a negative thing: there have been many successes and we've seen some great ideas and inspiration as a result that have added real color to the culinary world.
What challenges do you face?
The challenges are daily – they're about maintaining quality and standards, about keeping the team together, co-creating and mastering concepts. The basic challenge restaurants face is raising the standard of management. It's a difficult industry, sure it is, but the fundamental challenge lies in being professional.
The Polish restaurant industry is growing fast – can it sustain this growth and how do you foresee the market in the future?
The industry isn't getting narrower in its scope and dynamic, on the contrary it's expanding and becoming more elastic. We are also seeing increased interest in the restaurant market from abroad which shows the market is still wide open to new solutions. I see the industry developing in many new directions, though we will obviously see smaller, weaker and less experienced businesses disappear. But we can't give up on these, as many great things have evolved from these smaller projects and there should always be room for local projects.
Long communal tables thrive with life throughout the day in Aioli, a jaunty space with a varied international menu and diverse crowd.
A Balkan stalwart occupying an atmospheric, rustic-themed spot. Grilled meats feature prominently on the menu, and arrive served by staff in cheery, peasant garb.
The biggest talking point is a wooden smoker imported specially from the USA. The meaty menu has been adjusted to play to this strength and is popular with a young, trendy