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Photograph: Sugarcane London
Photograph: Sugarcane London

How Sugarcane London became a beloved community restaurant

Founder Chef Tee built the joint with his own hands. The locals love it – and him

Written by
Marcus Barnes

Opening a restaurant five months into a global pandemic would give most business advisors a coronary, but Caribbean eatery Sugarcane London on Wandsworth Road has not only survived, but thrived. More impressive still is that the owner and head chef Tarell Mcintosh (known as Chef Tee) did most of the building work himself. ‘Sugarcane is my home,’ he explains. ‘So much of it was made by me.’ Even the signage was hand-painted by him. The pictures on the walls are in frames from his degree certificates.

Sugarcane London represents its community. Chef Tee grew up in care, and so do a lot of his staff. He discovered his love for the restaurant business when he worked at a café at 17. He was inspired and progressed to Michelin star restaurants. ‘At each place I was just taking a little bit of knowledge – reservations management, ordering and things like that,’ he says.

‘Eventually, I said: I want to do it myself.’ At the age of 20 he set up Sugarcane in his home.Though it didn’t last, it planted a seed. Six years later, he walked past what is now Sugarcane London and the story proper began.

It’s been a rocky 18 months since then, with a break-in that left Tee thousands of pounds out of pocket. A series of typically candid posts on Instagram sparked a wave of support, with a GoFundMe appeal that raised more than £10,000.

Sugarcane London is Tee’s home from home, and its unpretentious atmosphere is at its core. The restaurant is now visited by the likes of Jay Rayner and Tom Kerridge. ‘I know all the customers,’ Tee says. ‘On my vision board it says “growing my family” and my family is the wider community. Look what they’ve done for me. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here.’

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