June 2023 marks the 10-year anniversary of Oscar & Bentleys, an independent, 100% gluten free bistro in the heart of the city.
The business is run by sisters Sarah Wren and Katherine Durio, who came up with the idea at Katherine’s kitchen table in 2012.
Katherine recalls: “Sarah said ‘let’s open a restaurant’. I said ‘Ok, as long as it’s 100% gluten free’. Our mother is coeliac, and we were getting tired of her getting poisoned in restaurants!”
The pair got stuck into to learning everything they needed to know about the restaurant business, crafting the brand, researching venues and trying the all-important recipes for the menu.
Early on Sarah had her heart set on the site of the former Ben Johnson steakhouse and pub, a beautiful listed building in Guildhall Street. Or, as the sisters call it, ‘a cranky quirky old building without a single straight line!’.
On 3rd Jan 2013, they got they keys to their new property and after six months of hard graft to renovate, the restaurant opened. Sarah is Managing Director and Katherine is Creative Director, but they invariably do a bit of everything to ensure the business runs smoothly.
Katherine said: “In every way, this is a family business. The name is for our two dogs, our mum used to do laundry, our aunts have been involved at different times. It is a group effort.
“Our ethos is that our customers will be happy if our staff are happy. The people who work for us have to fit in with our quirky little team in our quirky building, and it’s imperative we look after each other. They are not just a payroll number, they are part of the business.”
If gluten free conjures up images of flimsy shop-bought bread, diners can rest assured that Oscar & Bentleys provides high-quality, freshly prepared, locally sourced dishes that will delight all tastebuds.
Katherine explained: “When opened we were the only 100% gluten free restaurant in country. Many chains offer gluten free options, but it’s rarely 100% and cross contamination is a huge issue. We’ve learnt a lot about the entire allergen world in the last decade.
“This is why we make everything in house from scratch; from the gravy to the salsa, nothing is pre-made. We also work with 3 different Kent vineyards, a local gluten-free beer supplier, local farmers to reduce food miles, and we get our spirits from The Foundry.
The team is also focused on reducing food miles and helping Canterbury towards the goal of net zero emissions.
Sarah said: “One of things that has been really important to our success is the business community. You can feel very alone running an independent business but if you are struggling, remember that the more we all talk and support each other, the better we’ll come through it.”
Katherine added: “The local business networking groups are wonderful, there are places you can volunteer, you can get involved with the BID, with Westgate Hall. Getting together to share experiences helps you remember that the current climate isn’t personal.”
Oscar & Bentleys will mark their 10th anniversary on 29th June with a whole week of celebrations and offers planned, and a refresh of the restaurant’s exterior is also on the way soon.
Katherine said: “To anyone living and working in Canterbury – we need you to come out and celebrate your local businesses.
“You have more power than you realise, and where you put your pound matters. We will give you a wonderful experience, hopefully for another 10 years at least!”
Oscar & Bentleys 10 Guildhall Street, Canterbury 01227 454544 ➜ www.oscar-bentleys.co.uk
Book early for tables for their 10th anniversary 29th June 2023.
Also celebrating big anniversaries in 2023
Madame Oiseau – 20 years
Refectory Kitchen – 20 years
Fenwick – 20 years
Café Des Amis – 35 years
Canterbury Pottery – 60 years
And happy first birthday to newbie business, herd.