He swoops to conquer… After the phenomenal success of the Green Owl Café in Buckhurst Hill, founder Marc Linch has just opened up in Debden to stunning and delicious effect
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am 47, married with four daughters and I grew up in Chigwell, and now live in Stanford Rivers, Ongar. I lived in Hong Kong for two years in my early 20’s working in property and am now involved in several businesses based in Essex.
What is your earliest food memory?
The thing that stands out most when I was a child, was the first time I was taken to a Chinese restaurant by some close family friends. The tastes, and the way the food was served was a whole new experience for me and made me realise how different food can be all round the world.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
With my father I set up a speciality food store based in Colchester in 2000. We decided to include a café and this was my first experience of being in the restaurant business.
Who’s inspired you along the way?
When I was in Hong Kong the owner of the business where I worked had a very good aura, he was well respected and he always seemed calm, collected and was very approachable. I would also say that the ethos that drove my father to set up the speciality food hall inspired me as it came from a belief in independent traders and doing things in a very personal way as opposed to how the big supermarkets and multiple chains operate.
How did the original Green Owl Café in Buckhurst Hill come about?
I decided I wanted to branch out and set something up on my own, and one day I saw an old café on Queens Road that I had frequented as a child had closed down. I tracked down the landlord and luckily the premises was still available so I decided, together with my wife Jane, to create the Green Owl Café. The name came from a busy café we stumbled upon while visiting Delray Beach in Florida and we really enjoyed going there, so we said if we ever create a café back home we would call it The Green Owl.
What was the concept behind it?
To simply offer quality homemade food, great coffee, freshly squeezed juices, with good service and in a nice pleasant environment.
Why do you think it’s been so successful?
I think that’s largely down to the huge effort everyone in our team has put in over the years, we really try to engage with our loyal customers and we are constantly looking for new ideas and ways to improve.
And now the Green Owl Canteen, why?
We wanted to build on the success we have enjoyed at the café and after a few years of trading we decided to look out for a place that we could expand into. We wanted premises that could accommodate more covers and also allow us to build a bigger kitchen to enable us to produce more variety, and make even more of our products from scratch.
How does it differ from the café?
The Green Owl Canteen is much bigger and due to the size of the kitchen we can produce greater variety. We even have a bakery oven allowing us to make our sourdough pizzas and all our bread is now homemade too.
We were looking for somewhere not too far from Buckhurst Hill. A close friend of mine told me the old post office in Debden was closing down so I made some enquires. We took a look and were amazed by the potential of the building. I also think that there is something special about the Broadway – it has a nice community feel and mix of people. It is also rare these days to find an independent green grocer and butcher still on the high street and it says a lot about the type of people that appreciate these precious traders. I know The Broadway is going through a tough time at the moment but hope that it comes through stronger as I would hate to see it go the way of other high streets with only charity shops and coffee shop chains.
Tell us about the building?
Being the old post office and occupying the corner position of The Broadway, the building has a wonderful imposing presence. As a post office it was once the central hub of the community and I hope it can be again but in a different way!
How would you describe the interior/design?
I would say Fresh, Clean, Bright, Airy and a little industrial.
How involved are you in the menu?
This is mainly down to my head chef and my wife who both follow food trends very carefully and have created a menu that we hope has a little something for everyone. We are still listening to customer feedback and will be looking to introduce more vegan and vegetarian options in due course.
Who’s the head chef?
Our executive head chef is Alessandro who is from Milan, Italy and is a trained patisserie chef and Vincenzo, our head chef, is from Sicily and ran his father-in-law’s restaurant in Chelsea for many years.
How would you describe the food at the canteen?
I would say it has a Shoreditch style menu, by combining some traditional food dishes from around the world and adding a modern twist.
How are ingredients sourced?
We try to source the best ingredients we can, and local where possible.
How important is organic and sustainability?
Sustainability is obviously very important for us all, not just for the food we serve but also with packaging etc. We have already switched to biodegradable packaging, we don’t use plastic straws and where we do use plastic it has to be from 100 per cent recycled plastic. Organic is a little bit more subjective and can in some instances even be misleading. I don’t think food has to be organic to be good.
Any dishes proving especially popular so far?
The Healthy Brekkie, which is our home made soughdough toast with wilted spinach, sliced avocado, tomatoes and two poached eggs decorated with spring onions and paprika is proving especially popular. Another big hit is the Lox and Latkes, which is two potato and onion röstis, smoked salmon with poached eggs on top, hollandaise sauce and a sprinkling of caviar.
What about the atmosphere and ambience?
The ambience is created by hearing the constant frothing and steaming noises from our traditional espresso coffee machine, the sound of the blender making one our fresh fruit smoothies, and the general buzz of our open plan restaurant and open kitchen.
The canteen is currently closed in the evening. Is that likely to change any time soon?
We are definitely looking to open in the evening in due course and are currently working on an evening menu.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I love the fact that we have a new venue for people to use, and when I see people enjoying our restaurants it is a very rewarding feeling.
It can be stressful dealing with the public and its not always possible to please everyone all the time, but we do try our best.
If you could offer one piece of advice to a budding restaurateur, what would that be?
I would say patience, perseverance and pay very close attention to detail at all times with every aspect of the business.
Any plans to further expand the Green Owl brand?
At the moment I am fully focussed on the Canteen as it is so new but I would never say never!