Rebecca Mascarenhas: Career Profile

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas entered the hospitality industry when she founded Sonny's Kitchen in 1986
Restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas entered the hospitality industry when she founded Sonny's Kitchen in 1986
Rebecca Mascarenhas is best known as a restaurateur who, behind the scenes, has been an instrumental partner in some of London's leading neighbourhood restaurants - Sonny's Kitchen, Kitchen W8 and Sam's Brasserie - but the entrepreneur was originally training to become an actress.

How I got to where I am now:

I went to drama school, worked as an actress and when I was about 24 I thought 'I just don't want to do this anymore'. I was completely disenchanted and needed a job.

I worked for Bob Payton at Chicago Pizza Pie Factory as a waitress and was always convinced that this was a temporary thing while I looked around for my true passion. I was very well educated but because I hadn't gone to university, I had gone to drama school; there were lots of careers that weren't open to me.

Drama is not so dissimilar to restaurants - when you open it is like being on the stage, it is different performances at different tables. I am also phenomenally good at figures and restaurants are about figures, crunching them and making them tell you an interesting story about what is happening. 

I got on incredibly well with Bob and he thought I was terrific - I have been very fortunate in my life, I always seemed to have worked with people who have believed in me, given me fantastic opportunities and promoted me.

Bob was very keen that I become a manager and after about a year I thought 'I really like this' so I did become a manager and I opened Rib Shack for him as a restaurant manager.

I then decided that fast food wasn't my métier, I was more interested in food as a subject. I was fortunate enough to go and work for Victor Lownes when he set up his own business after he left Playboy.

Given opportunities, you fulfil them. I graduated to managing director and ran his company for him, changing it from being a huge loss-making business to eventually become profitable. I changed the entire staff - for me company ethos is really, really important and how we get everybody in the organisation to believe that. Success is team work in restaurants - no one person can do everything.

I didn't want to go it on my own initially - I asked Victor for a profit share and he said no. He didn't want to give me a share. He now says he has only made two business mistakes in his life, one was not backing Peter Morton and the other was not giving me shares in his business. 

I thought 'I am a woman, I am the major breadwinner in our family and at such a point when I want to have children and can't do these incredibly long hours, I can't not earn the money - I have to have my own business'. I am not a very corporate person so I knew I couldn't make it up the ladder at a more conventional company.

My greatest achievement:

Investing with Sam (Harrison on Sam’s Brasserie in Chiswick) and realising that I loved working in a business partnership or relationship and then obviously working with Phil (Howard on Sonny's Kitchen and Kitchen W8).

Sam I offered a job too and he turned me down saying he was going to open his own restaurant which I eventually helped finance. Phil is my neighbour and we are both long-term Barnes restaurants, I rang him up one day and asked if he was interested in doing a neighbourhood restaurant in Kensington and he jumped at it.

I have very little to do with the food content or direction or the kitchen and he has very little to do with the business.

Sometimes I have talked to people whose businesses have gone wrong, I have spoken to one or both of them and both of them have had different expectations of what they should be doing and it has led to tears. 

My biggest challenge:

Before I opened Sonny's Kitchen I had never heard of Barnes - I was looking in suburbs because I didn't have the capital myself to invest in a central London restaurant. I was convinced there was a market on the doorstep for the same people who went to Mayfair, Kensington & Chelsea and Knightsbridge - it was the same demographic but they wanted something closer to home.

Banks weren't lending money so my Mother re-mortgaged her own house to help me. The estate agent took me to see it (the property which became Sonny's Kitchen). It also had a flat upstairs so we also had somewhere to live which was also quite a big part of it! 

I bought it and it was horrible and really, really tough at the start. The graft of restaurants has changed phenomenally - when we opened Sonny's it was tough, I did 13 shifts a week. It allowed your business to grow because we started off not busy and we steadily grew and in six months I knew it was going to be fine. 

I have seen with our newly-launched business that now - with the internet, better marketing and the hype of the new - everyone goes to the restaurants in the first place to have a look. Then the graph drops and you only know if you have a successful business when it starts to rise again. They are not ready and within seconds there are horrible things on Twitter.

My future plans:

My whole business model has changed - now I will only do things in partnership with people I like. I don't really want to do anything on my own. I want to work slightly less!

I have a partnership with Sam Harrison on Sam's Brasserie and Harrison's which has been refurbished and is about to be relaunched.

I have also got Kitchen W8 and Sonny's Kitchen with Phil; we are possibly looking at something else. I don't know if it would be a neighbourhood restaurant - we are getting so many things offered to us and we are looking at a couple of things - one we just lost but we think 'oh well, never mind'. We are very organic in our growth because we have no backers.

If I wasn't working in hospitality:

I wouldn't be an actress - I think 'God, I had a lucky escape'!

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