One of Lee Herdman’s earliest experiences with food comes from a summer stay with his grandfather, who was a captain in the British army.
The family would stay over for weeks at a time, which meant that every Sunday the whole family would sit together for a traditional meal that included brussels sprouts.
Lee, then a child, hated brussels sprouts.
“We would have this battle of wills every Sunday and I would eat everything else and sit there,” he remembers. “I would literally fall asleep at the dining table like 8 or 9 o’clock that night and he’d carry me up to bed and we’d go Monday to Saturday, and the next Sunday it would start again.”
One Sunday, the family sat down for dinner—a dinner without brussels sprouts. Instead, there were fresh potato pancakes on everyone’s plate.
“I was like, ‘I’ve won,’ ” Lee tells me. As he “tucked in”, his grandfather looked on, smiling.
The next week his grandfather asked Lee to help him cook the Sunday dinner. Lee was elated. He walked into the kitchen ready to give a hand. On the counter were a bowl of mashed potatoes and a bowl of shredded brussels sprouts. His grandfather took the potatoes, stuck brussels sprouts inside and began to fry as Lee looked on.
Lee had been eating brussels sprouts.
Abbey Road Eatery and Ales now serves a bubble and squeak meal complete with brussels sprouts inside the potato cakes. It’s served with poached eggs, bacon and Hollandaise sauce, and it’s Lee’s favorite meal on the menu.
The walls of Abbey Road are painted the color of owner and general manager Lee’s favorite soccer team. Those walls surround deep wooden tables and chairs, and a fireplace with a sepia-toned photo of a smiling boy. A Union Jack in the shape of Texas rests on the wall next to signs depicting the day’s specials. It’s all meant to echo the look and vibe of a British pub. According to Lee, it takes the right combination of quality and heart to make a good restaurant.
“It’s science. It’s absolutely science,” he tells me at the restaurant in late May.
Lee, a former soccer player, traded his jersey for a finance degree at 22. Born and raised on Abbey Road in London, he now owns his own restaurant in west Plano.
Open since December, Abbey Road has evolved from a quiet opening to a month of reservation-only service in January to a line spilling out the door on St. Patrick’s Day. Lee has long awaited a spot in Plano because of the strong economy.
Working from the smallest kitchen he has ever seen, Lee and his staff produce appetizers, entrees and desserts from across the pond, including bangers and mash, Irish eggs benedict and award-winning fish and chips. Almost two-thirds of the menu is gluten free. A person with celiac disease himself, Lee smiles when he recounts stories of customers moved to tears when they realize they can eat his fried food.
But Lee isn’t the center of the Abbey Road universe. It’s not about him, he insists. Rather, it’s about employing the right people, mentoring them and empowering them to grow in the restaurant industry. It’s about remembering that “pub” stands for “public house,” a place where you can bring your children and grandparents. And it’s about how his business affects the community.
Hiring in Plano was more difficult than he expected, and finding a professional group to hire from was hit and miss. But he’s found good people.
“We’ve found absolutely amazing people and we’re building from that foundation upward,” he says. “But to get to our next stage as fast as I want to, we need to triple that. We need to quadruple that.”
Creating jobs remains a high point in Lee’s goals. Of the 48 people employed between his two restaurant locations, none are paid at or below minimum wage. Lee will talk with them about food costs, margin and overhead so that they truly get to learn about every aspect of the industry.
“This isn’t forever for anybody but me. For everyone else, hopefully it’s a stepping stone to something far greater,” he says.
The restaurant also stays conscious of how it handles liquor sales. It took Lee a long time before he was comfortable with selling liquor in his restaurants. His mother had been killed by a drunk driver, and he couldn’t stomach the idea of selling something that could cause others to do the same thing.
Have you subscribed to our free weekly newsletter?
But later he realized that it was more about how you sell something than what you sell. So the 30-tap bar has an air of fun as well as responsibility, and conscientious service.The main priority is keeping patrons and other members of the community safe.
“I’d rather lose income than be doing things the wrong way [for more money],” he says.
Lee and his family moved to the United States for his two children. He wanted them to have a lifestyle where they could “stay children a little longer.”
“We didn’t come here for the wealth or whatever. We came here for something different.”
The United States, specifically the DFW metroplex, would become the stage for Lee’s dining ventures as well, which include a Joe’s Pasta N Pizza and another British eatery in North Richland Hills, “From Across the Pond.”
The metroplex is one of the most popular dining hubs in the country, Lee says. For example, in 2019, Yelp listed Plano as the No. 4 foodie city in its top 10 list. The article on Yelp’s blog said the city is “way more than just barbecue.”
After growing a following at From Across the Pond, Lee’s investors suggested he establish a restaurant in the north part of the Metroplex.
Lee agreed. But when he started looking, there were no vacancies in Plano. After looking elsewhere in the metroplex and deciding to stick to the original business, a real-estate agent found a spot off the Preston and Park roads intersection in Plano. Lee’s first question was, “What’s wrong with it?”
But he ended up loving the space, which features large windows and a patio out front. After a multitude of renovations, including repairing 18 gas leaks and a flooding problem, the restaurant is now in full swing with weekly Sunday brunch and dinner, and British artists like Paul Weller, the Smiths, Squeeze and, of course, the Beatles playing over the sound system.
As for the food, Lee says the one thing that sets it apart from any chain pub food is the heart and character that goes into it.
“It’s one thing to build a British-looking pub,” he says. “It’s a totally different thing to cook everything from scratch in the kitchen. It’s a totally different thing to have an owner and a general manager who scrubs the toilets and mops the floors and peels potatoes, and that’s my job. My job is to do whatever needs to be done.”
Now, it’s all about attracting people from Preston Road and creating a lunch crowd to keep the rise going, Lee says. He’s confident that once customers come in, they are sure to come back.
In an area where the growth doesn’t show signs of stopping, Lee says everything is instinct.
“Complacency kills business,” he says.
It’s imperative to maintain a consistency of high quality in food and service, he says. Average food and average service will result in a dead restaurant.
“A lot of British food isn’t particularly pleasing on the eye,” he says. “So it’s really nice if you can get creative with something and keep true to its roots, but make it visually appealing as well.”
Building on a fried potato cake, the Irish eggs benedict includes the house-corned beef, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce to add color as well as compelling taste.
It also comes down to community support. Customers who keep money in the community can help support restaurants that may see a lot of traffic on weekends and then only a slow trickle of sales for the rest of the week, which isn’t sustainable.
Throughout the week, the pub hosts tournament watch parties, Geeks who Drink trivia nights and, on Sundays, a traditional pot roast dinner complete with Yorkshire pudding.
“So every Sunday I’m here at 5 a.m. making gravy from scratch and Yorkshire pudding batter from scratch. There’s no merit in it, financially. [But] there’s merit in it for me because I love it.”
Updated as of 6/28/2019. In a preview version of the article, we mistakenly referred to Lee Herdman’s grandfather as his uncle. This article has been updated with the correct information. We apologize for the error.