'I've nothing left to prove' - The Box Tree owner on why he decided to walk away

The owner of Yorkshire dining institution The Box Tree has said “the time is right” for he and his wife to walk away after 15 years in charge.

Friday, 13th September 2019, 2:07 pm
Simon and Rena Gueller

Simon and Rena Gueller announced earlier this week that they were to sell the famous Ilkley restaurant they have run since 2004, earning multiple awards in the process and working with some of the most celebrated chefs in the world.

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Yorkshire restaurant The Box Tree is up for sale

And, after a career spanning four decades, he said that he feels out of step with the current fine dining scene which he says is increasingly driven by personality and experience rather than just the quality of the food.

Simon and Rena Gueller

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Speaking to The Yorkshire Post he said: “The time is right.

““I feel really proud of what we have done. I just feel like I do not have anything further to prove.

“This business can take lumps out of you. To get out in good shape and feeling good about things, that in itself is probably a bigger achievement than a lot of other things.”

Glittering career

Simon and Rena Gueller in The Box Tree kitchens

Mr Gueller has spent nearly four decades working in a series of high end restaurants his first Michelin star in 1995 at Rascasse in Leeds.

The Box Tree has been home over the years to the likes of Michael Truelove and Marco Pierre White, with the latter calling the restaurant his “spiritual home” in his autobiography.

“The business has changed an awful lot now and it is very much driven by ego and the young chefs. It is just a different world.

Simon and Rena Gueller

“I suppose a lot of young people really have to come along now and make a name for themselves and do whatever it takes to do that. But I don’t know that I have to do that anymore.

“On the food side I think the new style of chef and the new style of cooking is really exciting and interesting.

“But if I am being honest if I had been 20 years old and was coming into this industry now, I don’t think I would have been inspired by it. I think it is very artistic and interesting but for me my inspiration coming into the industry was based on the old classics, the depths of flavours,chefs like Paul Bocuse and the Roux brothers.

“I will probably get slated for saying this but it was more real food.

Simon and Rena Gueller

“People came to restaurants and it was part of a social experience, but it wasn’t all about the food. The food had to be good, it had to be substantial and it was a whole thing. Whereas now I think a lot of restaurants it is all 100 per cent about the food. And it is a totally different experience. I am not knocking that at all, I think it is great. But it is not what I do and it is not what floats my boat.

“We have tried to stay true to our beliefs in what a restaurant should be. The track record reflects that. Our business is probably 70 per cent based on regular customers. I don’t think there is a lot of new restaurants can say that. It is an experience and once you have had that experience, it is like going to see a film, once you have seen it you have seen it.”

Chasing accolades

The Box Tree held a Michelin Star for all of Mr Gueller’s tenure up until last year.

And while he said that winning the accolade back was something he and his team wanted to do, Mr Gueller said it was not at the top of his to do list.

“We are pushing to get our star back. I don’t know that we will get it back, they do not usually give a star the year after it was taken away.

Simon and Rena Gueller

“But it is not a priority anymore. I have had 20. I am not arrogant about that at all but for me my priorities have changed.”

As for the future of The Box Tree, Mr Gueller said his only hope was that the restaurant continued to enjoy good fortune, no matter what approach it took.

“I would just love it to continue being really successful,” he said.

“Whether that is a new more modern chef who comes in and makes massive changes, I just want it to be really successful.

“We have tried to move with the times. Mike who is the head chef at the time has got some amazing ideas.

“It is not that I don’t believe in the modern style. It is that I have a very distinctive style with my own food and in order to change I would almost have to relearn. I don't want to do that. I love my style of food.

“It should change.

“I want to see it go and be great for another 50 years.”

And as a parting shot, Mr Gueller had warm words for those who had been along for the journey with him.

"A massive thank you to everybody that has worked for us and all the customers that have supported us. Whatever I say I can’t say enough. It will be a very emotional time for us."