Restaurateur reveals the secret to his success at the Edinburgh Restaurant Awards

Owner Daniel Shearon
Owner Daniel Shearon
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WHEN 21 year old lawyer Daniel Shearon found himself ordering a union official to stand in the corner while sending a council official to wait out in the hall, he knew he had to take stock of his life.

Now 34, the co-owner of Tapa in Leith - which earlier this week won the Hidden Gem Award at the Evening News’ inaugural Edinburgh Restaurant Awards - recalls.

Tapa - Restaurant Hidden Gem Award Winner.

Tapa - Restaurant Hidden Gem Award Winner.

“I had to mediate between these two 55-year-old men who just kept screaming at each other.

“I remember sitting there, having made one of them stand in the corner and the other go outside, just as your parents might have done when you were a kid, and thinking, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing this.

“So I went home to think about what I actually enjoyed doing and realised it was the thing I did to make money when I was at university, working in bars and restaurants.”

Born in the Perthshire village of Comrie, Daniel came to the Capital to open Tapa in 2009.

Presa Iberian Black pig meat dish

Presa Iberian Black pig meat dish

He explains, “Growing up in Comrie, there wasn’t much to do to make money as a kid, except for washing pots in the local restaurant. That’s how I started, but I was always passionate about food.

“I’d go out my way to make the chefs coffee in the morning, then they would show me how to do something I couldn’t do.

“At that age, however, I never really thought it was an option for a career so I went to university to study Law, which I loved, though subsequently I actually hated being a lawyer.”

Three years later, having taken a year out to visit Australia, Daniel settled in Edinburgh when then owner Robert Scobie unveiled Tapa.

Edinburgh Restaurant Awards 2018

Edinburgh Restaurant Awards 2018

“Robert had already opened a few tapas restaurants in Edinburgh, places like Tapas Olé and The Tapas Tree, so he kind of knew the market,” says Daniel, who started his career at the Shore Place venue as General Manager.

In 2012 when Robert decided to sell up, Daniel and business partner Greig Davidson took the plunge, acquiring the business.

Daniel recalls, “From the age of 14 I’d done everything there was to do in a restaurant so I can now do everything, although predominantly these days it’s hosting as opposed to being in the kitchen.

“However, when we took over the business I decided I needed a good idea of how the kitchen worked - having worked in kitchens all over the world, the one I’d never actually worked in was our own.

“So I’d do 40 hours on the floor, then 40 hours in the kitchen.

“I hope that knowledge is reflected in what we do because, usually, if you are the owner and chef, it’s difficult for you to understand what happens on the floor... and vice versa.”

Consequently, Tapa’s win at the Awards is very definitely a team effort he insists.

“When we saw that we had been nominated for the Hidden Gem Award we felt it was probably the most appropriate award we could ever get,” he laughs, referring to the fact that the restaurant is just off the beaten track, in an old warehouse up a side street off Leith’s Shore.

“When we first realised we were a wee bit off the beaten track we embraced it because, when you are actually on holiday in Spain, you can go down the main strip and they will give you the food that they want you to eat, but if you wander off the main street you’ll find these amazing tapas bars with people energetically talking over their food and drink.

“That’s what we wanted to be, so being off the beaten track became our USP; if you can find us, that’s your reward.”

The reward for those who found the restaurant one night in 2010 was an evening Daniel describes as the venue’s best ever - the night Spain won the World Cup.

“We didn’t quite appreciate how much Scottish football fans had got behind Spain.

“We had a little TV on the bar and for the final we were absolutely packed; people were standing on the window sills, you couldn’t move, we had to stop them coming in.

“When the game went to extra-time the guitarist we had jumped up on the bar and had everyone singing along...

“We became a little piece of Spain for the night and that was the moment I realised how important Tapa had become for people... they had chosen to watch the final there.”

With a plethora of reds and golds, a driftwood mirror over the fireplace and vintage movie and bull-fighting posters on the walls, not forgetting the iron bull’s head that gazes over the restaurant, Tapa certainly captures the essence of Spain, and there, taking pride of place too, is their framed award, which was voted for by readers of the Evening News.

“It’s a huge thing for us,” says Daniel, “We have some amazing customers and it’s a testament how loyal they are.

“Hospitality is a rewarding profession to be in because you are giving people enjoyment when they are off work... but you don’t have much time to go out yourself and it’s easy to forget why you do the job.

“So to have an evening where that is celebrated is amazing. It wasn’t until we got to the awards that we realised how seriously they were being taken. “They have the potential to become an institution and they are an fantastic way to celebrate a city in which so many restaurants are working really hard, all doing their own thing.”

One thing Tapa did last October, was host the UK’s first ever Spanish Gin Festival, they’re currently putting together another for later in the year.

“That was a huge, huge event for us, we had a queue down the street from 11am,” says Daniel, who relaxes by walking his faithful Rhodesian Ridgeback called Lady, who goes everywhere with him.

Explaining he says, “Lots of Spanish people came here for work during the recession then returned home when the market picked up taking with them a love of gin.

“So now there are lots of little craft distilleries in Spain using very different botanicals; they’re much more citrus led, there’s even a hazelnut gin and another flavoured with cardamom and mint that, when you put it with tonic, tastes almost like Champagne.”

Such events feeds into the ethos and success of Tapa believes Daniel.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” he says, “it’s that it is not enough just to give people food, you have to give them an experience.”

Tapa, Shore Place, www.tapaedinburgh.co.uk, 0131-476 6776