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Guy Kellner: Pearls of Wisdom

By Emma Eversham , 24-Oct-2013
Last updated on 25-Oct-2013 at 09:50 GMT2013-10-25T09:50:57Z

Guy Kellner started out in hotels, but his passion has always been food and drink

Guy Kellner started out in hotels, but his passion has always been food and drink

As managing director of Benugo, Guy Kellner has helped almost triple the size of the business since joining four years ago. His career began with Hilton where he rose up the ranks to be food and beverage director at New York's Waldforf Astoria, before leaving to join Restaurant Associates.

I love New York, it was a great city to live in. It's London on steroids. It has more energy, but London has better food and better coffee these days. 

Londoners are extremely well educated on coffee. Twenty per cent of everything we sell at Benugo is coffee which is enormous. We buy it from a guy in Nicaragua called Henry. It's not Fairtrade, but it's extremely good coffee and consistently good.  

I worked for Hilton at the start of my career. I'm not a Hilton guy, but it just happened that I worked for a sharp guy - Eric Long - who I admired.

I interview people I go to work for and if I don't like them I don't take the job. I have worked with some great people - Eric Long at the Waldorf Hilton, Nick Valenti at Restaurant Associates and Alistair Storey at BaxterStorey. The brands are all good, but it is the people you work with that makes it. I need people who will let me fly and they let me fly. 

Alistair Storey is one of the most amazing people I've worked for. I work at Benugo because of him and Ben (Warner). I like him, firstly because he is funny and I think that if you don't have fun in life, then get it over with. We have a great banter. Secondly he leaves me alone, he doesn't micro-manage and I like that. 

When I came to Benugo turnover was £27m, this year we'll do £70m and next year it will be £85m. It's organic growth. We win business and we grow organically. We took over British Museum and the Science Museum and we recently won Regents Park. That is great growth. 

I say to my managers don't worry about the expenses, worry about your growth, because if you grow the sales everything else falls in line, but if you focus on expenses it won't. 

We manage this business ethically and we do it through our core values. I meet with every new employee and spend 45 minutes talking about our vision. I hire all our managers. This business is founded on humans and if I don't control the tomatoes coming in the back door I will not be able to ensure that the salad is tasty. 

Over 10 years ago museum food sucked. It's better now, but that's because you have to compete with the phenomenal restaurants on the street. You can't assume as you used to that it's a captured market in a museum. Visitors can walk down the street and have great tapas, great Lebanese and great sandwiches, so you 'e got to be a good independent operator in a museum. 

Clients are attracted to us because we have a successful presence on the high street. When you look at some of our competitors in the museum sector, they don't have the same exposure on the high street, not in restaurants or coffee shops. If you understand the customers on the street, you'll understand them in a museum. 

When I was growing up in Israel my father, who ran companies there, would send me during every summer for a month on the beach and a month in the factories learning trades. After three years working with electricians, plumbers and carpenters he said to me 'where would you like to work in your fourth year?' and I said 'in the kitchen', so he set me up in the Bankers Basement in Tel Aviv and I loved it. 

I went to hotel school in America and ended up in the hotel business, but my passion has always been food and wine, which is how I ended up in this business. 

I love eating out. My wife watches my calories, but London is an amazing restaurant city. I have got to give Mark Hix very high remarks. I like his restaurant in Soho. I think he gets it, he's an all-round chef. I don't know him personally, but I really respect the work he does. 

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