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Strolling past the coffee shops and boutiques of Wapping Wharf, you might be forgiven for assuming you were in Sydney – the light, airy spaces and spectacular coffee are very reminiscent of the Australian Capitol. The Harbour view is obviously completely different, but still beautiful in its own way. From the top tier of a set of converted shipping crates, you can see the great iron cranes lining the old tramway, and the wooden masts of the Matthew standing proud over the Bristolian Waterfront.

It is here we find Box-E. As its name suggests, it is a compact, two-crate, fourteen-seat gem of a restaurant. Critics have sung the praises of fare coming out of this tiny kitchen, and, straight off of the back of a stunning collaboration with the Harvey Nichols restaurant in Cabot Circus, they are definitely flying high. But where did it start?

 

 

 

Elliott always said he didn’t want to own a restaurant. He, Tess and their family lived in Hackney before Box-E, but – as we all know – London is expensive. If they were to move, it needed to be now, before their children started school. Both of them hailed from the south-west originally, and Bristol seemed to be the obvious choice.
Somewhere along the line, ‘not wanting to own a restaurant’ became ‘wouldn’t it be easy to live above our own restaurant?’ – although things didn’t quite work out that way.

 

One thing that occurred to them was a distinct lack of shipping-container business, despite Bristol’s otherwise very forward thinking attitude. London was rife with the conveniently-sized cubes, so they had a little google and almost immediately came across an advert for units to let in Wapping Wharf.

 

‘If you’re serious about it, don’t wait – do it now.’

True to her words, Tessa phoned the developer immediately to enquire about the only space left, and was relieved that the developer wanted to meet. ‘It was good to know that he cared about the area and who was occupying the unit. He’d even looked up Elliott’s career!’

Of course, no start-up is without its bumps in the road! While they were aiming for Summer opening, with all the organizing and moving involved, this got pushed back until October. October, however, worked better in the long run. Opening in a quieter period meant they weren’t absolutely packed from day dot – they also had no terrace furniture! Tess notes with annoyance that there were still boxes in the restaurant on opening day; not the ideal venue for the heaving summer hordes! The calmer opening period allowed the trade to build up as they went, learning the ins and outs of the venue, learning what worked and what didn’t. Having minimal staff costs in the beginning didn’t hurt.

 

 

 

Words cannot describe how good the community in the area is. All of the units in the buildings on Gaol Ferry Steps were all open already, and the units in Cargo 1 opened within a week of each other, so were all outfitting at the same time.

 

‘We pretty much shared everything we could: Risk Assessment sheets, tools, refreshments – in one case we couldn’t get a massive three door fridge up the stairs, so one of the rather more built guys from Pigsty across the road hauled it up for us.’

 

The businesses on the steps offered anything that was needed to help them get on their feet; kitchenware, cutlery, or even just a friendly ‘hello’ – the support was genuine. ‘They weren’t competitive – they genuinely wanted us to succeed!’

 

 

All food is as local as possible – some, such as produce from The Bristol Cheesemonger, is literally across the road! The Mighty Quinns Flower Emporium, directly below Box-E, provides friendly foliage to brighten up the restaurant. They can even trace all meat and fish back to the farms and fisheries from which they are sourced.

Tess is in the process of organizing a trip to a waste plant – and her passion for being eco-friendly is evident. As of last figures, 0% of waste from the Cargo 1 & 2 units went to landfill. Everything is either re-used or recycled, with everything leftover sent to a specialist plant in South Bristol.

As Tess mentioned, the landlords really care about the area, and by extension are very supportive of the eco-friendly initiative. They have funded a cardboard box baler, a glass crusher, and a compactor for the units.

If there’s anything to take away from Box-E, it’s to keep it small and keep it you.

‘Be involved with the business – people want to see you, they like to be known in places they go.’

Small companies are also easier to sustain than large, and they allow you to look after your staff. And happy staff make a happy company.

‘Focus on your own business; don’t pay too much attention to what other people are doing differently – focus on what works for you. Believe. If you know deep down that what you’re doing is right, keep going – if you’re unsure or have doubts, take a step back and re-assess the situation. Make sure you know what you want.’

Who wants the window seat?

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