Stephen Tozer: “Kebabs transcend a lot of different environments”

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Stephen Tozer on his Le Bab kebab restaurant group in London

Related tags Le Bab Stephen Tozer Manu Canales Kebab Queen London Kebabs

London's Le Bab is gearing up for a major growth spurt, with two bricks and mortar sites and a further concession set to open over the next few months.

Why so much at once?
The pandemic allowed us a period to reflect and plan that you just don’t have when your sites are fully operational. It’s amazing how much headspace it takes to get the day-to-day stuff right. We were never able to zoom out and think about the bigger picture. I was also quite sceptical that Covid-19 would fundamentally change hospitality. We haven’t turned into a nation of takeaway-eating germaphobes that don’t want to socialise. While it has taken longer for us to come out of the pandemic than I thought it would, I think I have been proved right.

Tell us about what you have coming up…
We have bricks and mortar sites in Brixton and Battersea and a concession at the upcoming Market Halls site in Canary Wharf. Brixton would already be open were it for the nightmare we have had with the site. There were structural issues and the electricity metre was in the wrong place, which turned out to be even more complicated. With a bit of luck it will be open later this month. 

Will they all be Le Babs?
Yes. We recently unified the food at the group. Not so long ago we had three tiers: kebab tasting menu restaurant Kebab Queen, Le Bab and Maison Bab. Le Bab and Maison Bab have now sort of merged.

Why did you change things up?
People didn’t appreciate there was an intentional difference between Le Bab and Maison Bab. Le Bab was quite full-on in terms of cooking whereas Maison Bab was simpler is its approach. Perhaps confusingly, they weren’t that different in terms of price point. It was also unsustainable to try and preserve three levels of cooking within the business. Le Bab is now roughly where Maison Bab was pre-pandemic in terms of the process. And of course we still have Kebab Queen as an ultra-refined expression of what we do.

What about your tiny restaurant in Old Street?
That’s a Le Bab too. That site highlights our approach in offering different formats that have the same core menu. It’s a no reservations, just walk in type place and we do a lot a lot of takeaway (the site is open late into the night) but the price point and the menu are the same as the other Le Bab sites. Kebabs are a bit like burgers in that they can straddle. You can sit in swanky surroundings and eat a kebab, or you can pick it up and eat it while you walk or have it at your desk. Kebabs transcend a lot of different environments.

How are you planning to staff all these new restaurants? 
It is unbelievably challenging at the moment. We have some amazing people and a very stable team but we’re not trading at full capacity due to staffing issues. We don’t want to offer a substandard product because we’re shorthanded.

How are you squaring all this expansion with being chef-led?
This is a big question for us and one we never stop thinking about. We never want what we do to get stale or boring or turn into something that is mass produced. Something that really helps with that is Kebab Queen, which is led by [fellow co-founder] Manu Canales. The cutting edge stuff that happens there diffuses throughout the whole operation. There's still a lot of creative energy in the group, which keeps things fresh. 

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