Before getting the call from Richard Branson, his dedication, and slight CV exaggeration, took him from dish washer to assistant restaurant manager.
The Former Academy of Food and Wine Service Restaurant Manager of the Year first got a taste of the hospitality industry stateside and has worked at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, the Royal Garden Hotel in London and a private member's restaurant before becoming restaurant manager at Babylon in 2001.
How I got to where I am now:
I got into the industry washing dishes! I come from Liverpool and I was living on a council estate there when my sister got a modelling contract in Miami – she invited me over for three weeks when I was 17 and I stayed for four years!
My first job was as a dish washer at Nick’s Italian Fishery in Florida. There is a different mentality to front of house hospitality industry jobs in the States compared to in the UK so I took it really seriously and washed the dishes really well. I was quickly promoted to head waiter and then after two years I moved to Las Vegas and became a head waiter at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on Las Vegas Boulevard.
It was such a contrast from Liverpool to Vegas – it was fantastic! Front of house staff were very well respected and there was a big emphasis on training. You were allowed to be who you were as opposed to everyone having to say ‘hello sir, hello ma’am’. After four years in the USA, I found my personality.
When I was 21, I ended up back in Liverpool. There weren’t many opportunities in hospitality in 1996, and definitely not in Liverpool where there wasn’t many restaurants at that time, so I came to London.
I got a job as a waiter at the five-star Royal Garden Hotel on Kensington High Street where they expected you to have silver service experience and I exaggerated and said I had it when I didn’t, but I got the job! I get young kids coming to work for me now and you can see they have exaggerated what they have done but sometimes a little bit is not always a bad thing.
I couldn’t use the fork and the spoon together to serve the food and I was caught out serving the FA officials for the Euro ’96 football tournament. I was supposed to silver serve the melon but I couldn’t so I was just passing it onto the plate!
I was summoned to the office of Graham Bamford, the general manager, and he questioned my experience. I told him I hadn’t lied, just exaggerated, and he found that quite endearing and told me I was going to go far. He taught me to silver serve in his office carrying little tomatoes and he put me on his trainee management course.
He saw my passion, enthusiasm and ambition and it was a big step up for me - he believed in me and I am so thankful to him.
I then got head-hunted to open Equals, a small, exclusive member’s bar and restaurant on Brompton Road, as the assistant manager – it wasn’t very successful. I stayed there for about 18 months trying to turn it around and then I got a call one day to say Richard Branson was opening a new restaurant at The Roof Gardens and he was looking for someone with both European and American style and they thought I would be perfect!
I thought it was really posh for a boy from Liverpool but I went to the interview, got it thankfully and opened Babylon 11 years ago.
My greatest achievement:
We have had some incredible achievements at Babylon over the years – just recently we received three stars from the Sustainable Restaurant Association which is amazing. That is one of the biggest achievements because we scored really highly.
For me personally, winning Restaurant Manager of the Year in 2009 and being inducted into the Restaurant Manager’s Hall of Fame a year later stand out.
There have been a few accolades - it has been an amazing journey!
My biggest challenge:
People understanding my accent!
The biggest problem as a manager is the number of personalities we have to manage – that is a massive challenge because you can’t manage everyone the same. We forget what it is like to be an 18-year-old waiter, receptionist or bar tender. It is about getting to know your team member and managing them to get the best out of them.
My advice to someone entering the industry:
Go in with an open mind, be reliable and be consistent. Don’t think managers aren’t watching – when I was a dish washer my manager was watching me and I was on time every day, I was reliable and I went the extra mile.
Don’t underestimate where managers can take you – this industry can do wonders for any young person.
My biggest inspiration:
Richard Branson, who I got to spend some time with on Necker Island, inspires me every day. The way he eschews 'business as usual' is why I think that Babylon has been so successful because we are a restaurant with his ethos.