If you were able to make your way down to Gabriel’s Wharf last Summer, you may have been lucky enough to witness a new shot of Caribbean flavour in the area, courtesy of Limin’ Beach Club. Taking over the premises previously occupied by Studio 6, their combination of cuisine inspired by the flavours of Trinidad & Tobago, together with beach vibes, was an immediate hit with visitors looking for an escape.
First beginning as a pop-up named Limin’ in Spitalfields market, their Gabriel’s Wharf location marks the first restaurant in Central London dedicated to authentic Trinidad & Tobago cuisine. Having just launched a new delivery business, ‘Saga Boy Foods’, South Bank BID spoke to founder and owner, Sham Mahabir, to learn the challenges of opening a new business, and succeeding, mid-pandemic.
How did Limin’ Beach Club first come about?
My career was first in the Insurance market, for 7 or 8 years, before the crash happened – so I moved into recruitment. While I was in that role, the owner of a restaurant I used to visit asked me to help him in one of his restaurants. He asked me to keep an eye out and see what he could improve, as I was a customer. Very soon after I fell in love with it – I’m very driven by customer satisfaction, I love good food and drink, so it was ticking a lot of my boxes. He asked me to manage the restaurant, which I agreed – to cut a long story short, that role grew into opening different sites for him, managing customer relationships etc. While we were at Spitalfields Market, he was asked to run a bar and he nominated me to do it. I say yes to everything, so for me it was a 10-week project just to have fun, let’s create a bar – I mean, how cool is it to have a bar in London?
I went through many different ideas until finally someone suggested rum – I thought oh great, I’m Trinidadian and rum is in my blood. Let’s do Trinidadian food because there’s no Trinidadian restaurant in London that produces the food that I grew up with and love.
Where does the name Limin’ come from?
My partner James came up with the name – ‘Liming (pronounced limin’) is very much part of everyday language and culture in Trinidad. It means ‘the art of doing nothing, but something’. It’s very much hanging out, being with your friends, eating and drinking – but actually it’s more than that. There’s normally someone there who’s the life and soul of the party – it’s in our DNA. We say we basically grew up liming. Even on office buildings you’ll see signs saying, ‘No liming here’. That’s how ingrained in Trinidadian society it actually is.
What was the initial response like when you opened the pop-up?
We opened up, and three weeks later we weren’t getting much footfall; then London Eater decided to do a piece on us, because we were a new cuisine. All of a sudden, we had a lot of people coming down to try this new food – the Caribbean community also heard about it more, so we realised we had a business on our hands. We were meant to be there for 10 weeks – we stayed for 10 months! Partly because the Caribbean community were very proud and supported us. People who were my age with children were bringing their family to Limin’ and saying ‘This is what I grew up with; the food, the music, the flavours’. What I’m most fond of though is the older generation, who would come in and be amazed, as they’d never anticipated seeing a place like this in this part of London. Unintentionally we tapped into something that hadn’t been done before.
Sham on Limin’ Beach Club’s opening weekend in Gabriel’s Wharf.
Why did you choose Gabriel’s Wharf?
Well, like I said before, I say yes to anything, which is good in many ways! But while we were in Spitalfields, we were busy; we held a Caribbean food festival, called ‘Jerk and Beyond’ to showcase all the different types of Caribbean cuisine, the American Embassy asked us to cook for them, for the first time ever Ibiza Rocks invited a restaurant to take over their kitchen for the weekend etc. So overall we had a business, we had ideas and great PR – things were moving.
Then suddenly it was time to close in June – although we wanted to stay, the landlord wanted a retail outlet in there. We started looking for a new site and we saw many, but we knew what we wanted – we wanted outdoor space, and we wanted to be central. Many Caribbean restaurants tend to be in Zone 4 and 5 at the backend of London – I didn’t want that for us. We had already set the bar quite high with Spitalfields and we wanted to carry that on.
As it happened, we actually found the Green Room site first – we weren’t successful, partly because we didn’t have the experience in running a business that they were looking for at the time, as it’s a big site. Luckily the same agent a few weeks later found Studio 6 in Gabriel’s Wharf for us; we were very excited, and knew we wanted it. Strangely enough a small restaurant portfolio was trying to take us into their group at the time, and they didn’t like it, because it didn’t fit their image. But I wanted this – I had to have it. We were negotiating – and then the pandemic happened, and we hadn’t signed a lease yet. Everyone was talking about hospitality on its knees, there’s no footfall or traffic, so I was thinking, what do we do? Do we make an investment?
In the end I had two thoughts – if I didn’t do this, what do I do? Secondly if I didn’t do this, the Caribbean community, especially the Trinidadian community, would never have a place like this in the South Bank, nor anywhere in Zone 1. So I was very proud to do it; I had to do it. In the end we signed the lease – from getting the keys, to demolishing what had been there before and transforming it into Limin’, we had 10 days to turn it around and make it into this.
Why did you change the name to Limin’ Beach Club?
We had 2 reasons: firstly, everyone was talking about Staycations. We couldn’t go to Ibiza or abroad, so we thought, let’s create a whole new concept. Let’s bring Ibiza cool and Caribbean warm together. And of course, there’s also Ernie’s Beach at the front of Gabriel’s Wharf, and every beach should have a beach club!
How did the initial launch go?
We put the sign up, and what it became was just amazing. We created the space for a barbecue, and a space outside where people could just come forget the world outside and live for the moment. It was incredible; I worked every single day of the week, but I didn’t care. Because I knew we were a small part of people managing to enjoy those 2, 3, or 4 (or sometimes even 7, as some people have spent!) hours.
Financially, we did really well – the takings in the summer were great. We had the sand and pina coladas, with the wonderful aroma of jerk spices and coconut – so it worked. At one point we were paying 30 members of staff, because we were so busy. Of course, it was short lived, but it was long enough for us to realise we’re doing the right thing.
How has it been working with the team at Coin Street?
Working with the team at Coin Street has been amazing, because the team obviously want us to do well. We were very grateful for the set-up with them, that allowed us to invest more money into the site.
How has your focus switched, during lockdown?
There’s lot’s happening – I’m never bored! We are a new cuisine, so people don’t know Trinidadian food. They know Caribbean food – that seems to come under the banner of jerk chicken, rice and peas. So we’ve actually had to educate people on the food – I was in Dubai, and when I was there I was making a dish called Doubles, which is one of our signature dishes. I was there, wishing I had a Doubles kit so I could make Doubles for my friends wherever I go, and that was a lightbulb moment. So, I came back to the UK and set out this Doubles kit; you now have everything you need so you can make it at home.
That grew from there, to offering a full menu online, from rotis to curries – even introducing chilli sauces, and now sets. All of this is under ‘Saga Boy Foods’. The demand has been incredible – we’ve done 260 boxes in 3 weeks. We started out doing everyday delivery, and now we’ve had to move to twice a week so we can catch up with all the work. We’ve introduced our International Doubles Campaign, where we can showcase and educate not only Londoners but people around the world about the dish, which is also naturally vegan and incredibly delicious. Our menu is 90% vegan – even the food that wasn’t traditionally vegan, like our rotis, I’ve made vegan. I did that because I want to showcase traditional Trinidadian food, or the flavours of Trinidad and Tobago, to all Londoners.
I’ve also launched my own rum – looking at the expenses at the old Limin’, we realised one of the elements that cost us a lot was rum. Rum also obviously features in all of our cocktails, so we wanted a better product but also a cheaper one. We spent 2 weeks in the Caribbean in 2019, to completely understand how rum is made. Now we have our own product, which is completely unique to the market as we’ve blended the three different ways of making rum: the English, the French and the Spanish. The rum is called Threeways, because of that. We’ve had great feedback and are very proud of it.
What does the future of Limin’ Beach Club look like, when it reopens?
We really want to keep it seasonal. We’re thinking of our winter set-up – we want to ensure that when people come back, they’re coming back to something different. Of course, sadly we couldn’t do that this year – but hopefully by the time we’re able to reopen, we’ll fully be able to embed Saga Boy Foods as a business for delivery across the country. We’re hoping to reopen this Summer with a Pagoda style outside, with a barbeque and a bar for takeaway drinks. We will also be looking at for next autumn and winter the possibility of putting in firepits outside – but for now we’re focusing on Summer and looking to make a big splash about that.
I think there’s lots to be done, and I think what we’ve done is unique. We’ve had talks with people about opening a Limin’ Beach Club in Australia, in Brisbane, because they’ve seen what we’ve done here. I’m a very positive person – if I have one good thing happen to me every day, then I’m happy. And if it doesn’t happen, I make it happen!