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The Most Popular Brunch Spot In St Albans

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Food on the go

HATCH is arguably the most popular brunch spot in St Albans, known for its iconic but small Holywell Hill location. We talk to owner Chris Evans about the restaurant’s bold move to a new large space in Christopher Place

Tell us about the HATCH story…

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HATCH first opened 10 years ago in 2013, in the corner of the Maltings Shopping Centre; we were serving coffees and takeaway sandwiches from behind a shutter, hence the name HATCH. After two years in that initial site, we moved into a space on George Street for a while, but ended up in Holywell Hill. Our food offering went from being quite coffee-oriented into a full brunch service, and we now run burger nights too. 

Why have you decided to move location? 

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Over the past two or three years, we have been turning away more people than we were able to seat, so we knew we needed more space. We kept our eye on options for a couple of years, but nothing felt quite right. I always liked this spot (in Christopher Place) and thought if I was patient, maybe one day it might come up. 

How many people can you seat now?

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Seventy at the back, 15 at the front. In our Holywell Hill location, we had just 28 seats! 

Describe HATCH to someone who’s never been before…

A lot of restaurants throw around the term “casual dining”, but they’re still quite formal. We want to be the benchmark for what casual dining really is; we don’t want to feel like a restaurant, but we also don’t want to feel like a café, we sit somewhere in-between. You could come here on your own for a toastie, or with a group of friends for a celebratory meal – there’s never any pressure to order a lot of food. Service is casual, and we want people to feel relaxed. 

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Was it emotional leaving the old site after being there so long? 

I’m not very sentimental as a person, I have been pretty focused on opening up here. But it was a great spot and I’m sure the emotions will follow. We do still have that spot and ideally we can do something else there in the future.

Have you always wanted to go into the restaurant business?

Before HATCH, I had worked in restaurants since school, and have managed various places. It was a hard lifestyle with long hours and I decided if I was going to do it as a career, I should do it for myself. 

Have you got a good team here? 

Yes, we’ve got a great team here. All of our core team are paid salaries (we don’t operate with zero contract hours) as it’s not fair on anyone to have a pay that fluctuates. We try to encourage staff members to really lean into their strengths and work in an area they feel great about – I truly believe these guys are hospitality industry professionals.

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How’s it all going with the new space? 

There’s been a few teething problems, the space is a little noisier than planned, but we’re working on it! It’s certainly been busier than we thought it would be, which has been tough on our staff – but I suppose being busy is a good problem to have. 

Why do you think HATCH is standing the test of time in a really difficult period of time for hospitality? What gives it the edge? 

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It’s a bit early to speak for this place, as we’re so new. I think our advantage is we’re not part of a huge chain that has to answer to shareholders. Instead of profits going back to them, they can go straight back into the restaurant; into the food and into the staff. Doing that means you end up with better quality food and service. 

What have you learned along the way? 

Hard work as a small business is what can keep you alive.

What’s been your proudest achievement to date? 

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It’s more about the small moments for me. It’s so nice to come in on my day off, see that the place is full and everything’s working perfectly. My favourite thing to do is wash up dishes in the kitchen – because if I can do that, it means everything else is running perfectly. 

Is there anyone else on the Hertfordshire food scene that you have a lot of respect for?

Honestly one of my favourite restaurants is Tabure for a special occasion. They offer really exciting food, it’s not too formal but not too casual. To me, it’s perfect.

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What do you like to do to relax? 

My fiancé and I like to take our baby to Willow’s Farm on my days off. At the moment, that’s my hobby! I have plenty of other hobbies like playing golf that have sadly taken a backseat for the time being. 

Do you bring your friends and family here?

Honestly… no, there’s so much pressure! My friends and family are way too honest. I strictly told my family not to come here for the first couple of weeks of opening. I don’t want to be rude to them, but normally I’m too busy to talk! 

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Is there anything you want to say to loyal HATCH customers? 

The support for our new restaurant has been overwhelming and we just want to thank all of our customers, new and old. Please bear with us if things are a little crazy! One thing that’s so important to me is that I don’t want people to think we’ve come in here to sell out and for standards to drop, we simply came to make more space for everyone. But we are doing what we’ve always done!

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