Meet Laura Hall: From Banking to Brunch at The Truffled Hog
Escaping from a busy London life lived out of a suitcase, Teesside native Laura Hall left a career in finance to launch The Truffled Hog last February
Opening up a business in the hospitality industry is a bold move to make during a global pandemic, but an even bolder one if you have no previous hospitality experience. Whilst Laura’s 10 years of finance, tech and programme management experience has clearly equipped her with natural leadership skills, she’s not afraid to admit to me that she has no previous experience in the industry she’s diving headfirst into. Some would say it it’s never going to work – but her zeal for her new brand tells me it just might.
‘Right now, we’re doing a lot of planning and real brand development,’ Laura explains. Although the doors to The Truffled Hog remain closed, there’s been no let up in the work.
‘It’s been such a whirlwind,’ says Laura. ‘I’m using this time to cement the brand and develop my team and train them,’ she goes on. From working on new menus and developing new product lines and offerings, to creating a new kitchen space to accommodate house-baked sweet and savoury goods post-lockdown, they’re thinking well into the future here – working on what they can do, rather than being disheartened by what they can’t. It’s a refreshing attitude.
As Laura mentions that it’s a year to the day since she picked up the keys, I can’t help but think of what she ought to be planning (if the world was back to normal), to celebrate her first year in business. Instead, Laura (along with her team of hospitality experts and all-round creatives) are collaborating with other local businesses, developing their product offering (hello, Mother’s Day hampers), and building a community in their corner of Stokesley.
What were you doing pre-Truffled Hog?
I’m originally from Normanby, so I’m Teesside born and bred. I started my career in banking and financial services when I was 18. I was in the financial services, tech and insurance industry until last year, and I took the keys for what was Cobblestone’s building, on the first of February 2020.
Before that I did a lot of consultant programme management roles, I was also Change Director for a lot of infrastructure. I worked for a big global Indian tech giant for a long time. In the last few years I was working on a consultive basis. I started at Barclays originally, then travelled around on different short-term contracts doing more consultancy work. I’m naturally very organised, super diligent and an absolute perfectionist, but it’s all given me senior leadership experience.
What prompted the change?
I listen to lots of female-led podcasts, and I hear this same thing all the time, but it’s my story too. I was on the train from Darlington every Monday at 5.30am, getting up at 3.30am to get ready and go into London for the day. It was tiring. I started doing that in my early 20s and you get a bit sick of it. I spent four or five nights a week in hotels, and I needed a change.
My grandparents were getting into their 90s and everybody in our family lives locally. I wanted to spend more time with people I loved and have a balance. The real drive for The Truffled Hog was to create something that I didn’t think was around in this area. There’re a lot of traditional coffee shops, but they don’t have the energetic city vibe which I’d seen in London, Cardiff, Manchester and Liverpool – they’re all really vibrant, big cities with a lot of variety. I’m not in the bracket where (when I’m going out on a night), I want to go to a nightclub anymore – but I also don’t want to sit in a pub!
I want somewhere that’s slick and chic, but not pretentious. Somewhere for professionals, to go with your girlfriends, or even take your mum on Saturday morning for a coffee.
How would you describe what you do?
We’re trying to modernise and bring back the really great things about a traditional deli, and combine it with elements of Mediterranean and European dining. Almost to give people the chance to reminisce about when they had that ski trip, or when they took a holiday to Ibiza or the Amalfi Coast. In the evening it’s more brasserie-style food – we do lots of cheese plates and things as well – but during the day, we’re definitely an all-day brunch spot.
What’s on the menu?
With the menus we’re developing for spring/summer we’re scrapping eggs Benedict and the classic French bistro stuff. We’re moving into things like shakshuka, Turkish eggs, and brioche with interesting creams and fruit toppings. The kind of thing you’d get in Morocco.
And what’s on the deli counter?
One thing we’re really working on now is having an interesting and eclectic mix of cheese, charcuterie, chutney, jams, homemade sausage rolls, and modern takes on quiche and tarts.
We’ve made some quite big changes to our kitchen whilst we’ve been shut to give ourselves more of a bakery and prep area. Until now we’ve been buying in all of our patisserie and cakes (from really good local suppliers) but we’ve made a decision, based on where we’re heading, that when we reopen our counter will be filled with interesting goods all homemade by us.
What is your role in the business?
Because we’re a growing brand (and I’m really ambitious about our growth) I spend a lot of my time working on strategic direction, recruiting the right people, training and up-skilling the people I have on my team. I have two very experienced chefs; both have patisserie backgrounds and have worked in hotels in the area, including Rockliffe Hall and Bettys. I have a junior chef who is very young, but we’re training him up – he’s on a really great journey with us.
When it comes to the rest of the team, we have the former food and beverages director from Rockliffe Hall with us, then most, if not all, of the others either own other small businesses or are freelance musicians and creatives who have lost their work over the last year. I have one freelance drummer and a singer (they lost all of their gigs, band and cruise liner work over the last year) and I have a really great girl who was an occasion hair stylist – they’re a great bunch of people.
I take recruitment, up-skilling and mentoring very seriously, certainly for young females. I had great opportunities and worked really hard to be able to do what I’ve done, but I appreciate that if you’re not as confident, there are not always as many opportunities out there.
What are people loving about The Truffled Hog so far?
Service is so important, so definitely our team. We get a lot of feedback on the decor too – it’s fresh and more modern, and relaxed but good quality. In terms of food, we’re definitely proving to be a big brunch spot – which is not how it was always intended to be.
Have you taken a lead on interior design too?
I did all of the decor myself – with some help from my dad and a couple of joiners! I like my interiors, and while I wouldn’t describe myself as anywhere near interior designer level, I did see this as an opportunity to be brave. I love Farrow & Ball, but I was sick of seeing Railings and Hague Blue everywhere – it’s great for a bar, but it doesn’t have the daytime feel. I chose the colour palate as I wanted to completely freshen things up, to create that feeling of being somewhere else – like Marrakesh or Ibiza.
What can we expect from the Truffled Hog’s post-lockdown reopening?
An epic deli counter, with our own home-baked goods (both savoury and sweet), and well-curated and sourced products from the best small independents and suppliers. I think people can expect a completely different menu (we’re not a traditional, full English breakfast kind of place) so menus are going to be mezze led, with some Brazilian and Spanish dishes. Same with our drinks. We’re not a cocktail bar, but we will have a small (but perfectly-formed) list of cocktails made using really good quality botanicals and ingredients – and make use of having our own herb planters outside.