“There's something beautiful about seeing something that you've built do well in whatever way that may be.”
Our conversation with Woody, chef and co-founder of LEVELSIX Studios.
What is LEVELSIX?
It's an amalgamation of three or four people's ideas about what 'wellness' is and taking a holistic view. Asking what can we do to make us feel better but also how do our choices affect us? Whether that's about what you're eating, drinking, what kind of yoga and activities you're doing or treatments like Reiki or a massage. We run lots of talks in the cafe to pass on education in a down-to-earth way. Yoga has the potential to be seen as cliquey so we've tried to create a place where everybody is welcome. Part of that is through our community investment scheme, running Blind Aid classes and lots of community based events.
What brought you to this place and what were you doing before?
I was working as a chef in different kitchens, then I set up a pop up food place with friends called Strictly Bangers which was pretty different to what we're doing here. Then I sat down and had a conversation with my dad about what we were trying to create, a yoga and food-centric business. I already had ideas about the food I wanted to make, that was actually a problem I had in kitchens where I previously worked. I had a completely different understanding of what constituted good food.
For me it's about simple food, good ingredients, respecting the seasons and respecting locality. Not adding sugar and salt to everything because that's the obvious way to make things taste good. But just letting ingredients be themselves and knowing that that's good enough. I started practicing yoga around the same time I started working in the kitchens because I was getting chronic back pain and without wanting to sound lame it was like a miracle cure. I'd get back pain, go to practice and by the time I finished it was gone. I want to make food that makes people feel good. Food that after you've eaten it, you feel full, satisfied and ready to go.
What's your favourite thing about what you do?
In terms of the food, I can be having the worst time ever in my private life but there's nothing I find stressful about creating nice food. Maybe you put yourself under pressure to make things taste a certain way and sometimes you're not happy with the things that you produce but I find the essence of cooking and the idea of designing a menu, really, really enjoyable. My approach is wherever possible - make it yourself. That's the best way to be unique because no one else is going to make it in the same way.
Are there benefits to being in Peckham Levels?
Some elements are fantastic, the community that works here, the security guards who work here, everyone who contributes in this building. Maybe it's not the vision that was projected at the beginning, but you find your way and I really like working in a place where there's 20, 30, 40 different people I know and get along with and see on a regular basis. Whether that's because of solidarity when you're in tough times or whether it's just catching up with people. I was born in Peckham, I've lived here most of my life and I'm happy to be doing something in a place that feels like home.
Do you have tips for someone starting their own business or brand?
Live it, breathe it, suffer with it but also reap the benefits from it and I don't necessarily mean financially. There's something beautiful about seeing something that you've built do well in whatever way that may be. The first ever Blind Aid class we ran was amazing. Seeing different people with different stories practice yoga in a safe space and then stay for drinks and snacks, for me that was a beautiful moment and a goal of ours. You choose to run your own business because there's extreme highs and pretty big lows but I think that roller coaster is fun. Be ready to learn from your mistakes because you're definitely going to make a lot, but you can't let them beat you. It's a lifestyle, it's not a job.