About Time You Met: Dawn Sperring, Co-Founder of The Chilli PickleBy Alicia Grimshaw
Dawn and Alun Sperring are the husband and wife duo behind notable Brighton restaurant, The Chilli Pickle. Celebrating the treasures they’ve discovered on travels to the country, Dawn and Alun live and breathe all things India.
With a voracious appetite for its food and culture, they travel together with their children to a different region of the country every year and turned their passion into a business, opening The Chilli Pickle in 2008 in Brighton. Now celebrating 10 years, The Chilli Pickle in Guildford follows its award-winning sister on the High Street. We chatted to Dawn about the new second site, working with Alun and standing out from the crowd:
You’ve made it to ten years, what have been your highs and lows?
The last 10 years have certainly been a rollercoaster! You need the lows to appreciate the highs, but to be honest any lows we have always tried to learn from. The early days were really hard as we weren’t well known and casual Indian dining was still fairly new then compared to today, and we really had to prove ourselves, but word got around and feeling the shift was great. Of course, there are tough times but the highs definitely out way them. I still stand back in awe at how The Chilli Pickle has grown. The people I’ve met along the way have really made this job for me though.
Photo Credit: Julia Claxton
You originally trained as an ambulance technician – what made you switch lanes and change careers?
Meeting Alun! We met in a nightclub in South East London but Alun was due to start a job in Bermuda 5 days later. By the 3rd date I decided to live with him in Bermuda (he asked me of course!) and gave my notice in. Definitely whirlwind but we clicked, and 17 years later, 2 children and The Chilli Pickle, the instincts were right.
You work alongside your husband, run a successful business together and stay happily married – what’s your secret?
We are best friends. Sounds cheesy, I know, but we enjoy each other’s company and a mutual respect for each other. Don’t get me wrong we have our moments and having the restaurant whilst trying to juggle family life definitely tests us, but we never sleep on a disagreement and we both feel able to be open and honest so we always lay our cards on the table. No science to it, it just works.
What inspired you to open a restaurant?
Alun has always been a chef and I have always loved food and drink, and I had a history of waitressing when I was a student and when we lived in Bermuda. We were living in Dubai and I was pregnant with Stanley and we thought it’s now or never. We both loved the idea of having our own place but were also very realistic about the pressures that would out on our lives and how all absorbing it would be, and so both knew that it would have to be a joint venture to work. Without a doubt it was the right decision.
You’re about to open your second restaurant in Guildford after ten years – why did you wait so long?
Life! Time flies as well, but we were a small family start-up and didn’t have the funds to move quickly. We have always felt we were moving forward; whether it be us upsizing in Brighton, starting the takeaway side of the business, having another child and getting the business ready for expansion, we were also careful of who we wanted to work with in regards to gaining investment. Working with Imagine Capital has been a great move for us. It has felt slow but we also wanted to ensure we did it all properly as we love what we have built and in no way did we want to jeopardise that. It had to be right.
How will your second restaurant in Guildford differ from that in Brighton?
Not a huge amount. The menu is virtually the same and although the layout is different, you definitely feel like you are walking into The Chilli Pickle when you come to the Guildford restaurant. Alun and I will both have a heavy presence in both sites plus a core management team that are great. It’s early days but the feedback has been great and we are hoping that we build a reputation as strong as the one in Brighton.
Brighton has such a fantastic food scene – how have you continued to stand out from the crowd?
I think it is so exciting that there are so many great restaurants in Brighton. I truly believe that you could have a great foodie weekend there. I think the reasons we still stand out is that we still work our socks off, and never get complacent. We listen to everyone that surrounds us be it the team or the customers, and we constantly strive to keep moving forward and keep it interesting. Alun and I love The Chilli Pickle and I hope that shines through.
We’ve heard that you’ll be bringing some dishes back from the original menu, what can we expect?
Well the stand out one will be the beef short rib madras. Alun originally did this as the oxtail madras and has tweaked it slightly with the change in cut of meat, but it’s such a great dish and I’m over the moon it is back. I think in the next couple of menus he will bring a few more favourites back but you know as much as me! I love it when Alun starts working on a new menu as the excitement builds with the team before it comes out and, of course, I get to have first dibs and the trial dishes!
What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
I always struggle with this question as I honestly eat everything on the menu and it depends what mood I am in. Not a day goes past where Alun and I don’t eat Indian food, and I am at my happiest when we are in India eating Pooris and Sambhar for breakfast. Currently on the menu, I cant resist the beef madras and also the biryani, we went to Hyderabad just to eat biryani and the peanut salan that comes with it is addictive.
17 Jubilee St, Brighton BN1 1GE and 219 High St, Guildford GU1 3BJ
For more information on The Chilli Pickle, visit the website here.