Small talk

Suga Gunam on The Hideaway and why you can never spend too much time with your team

By Melodie Michel contact

- Last updated on GMT

Suga Gunam previously worked at The Draft House and Nando's
Suga Gunam previously worked at The Draft House and Nando's
Suga Gunam opened her first solo venture – The Hideaway – this year, and hopes to open a second bar next year. She talks about her experience with chains and her passion for helping people.

Tell us more about The Hideaway.

After being in the hospitality industry for 18 years, I started running an HR and recruitment company (Roots Services). When you consult for other businesses, you follow and implement their vision, but I have my own beliefs in terms of how a company should be run and how people should be looked after, and I felt like the only way I could do that was if I had a place of my own.

I looked for a place for nearly two years – I wanted a venue that looked a bit like a house as the whole concept is to be a ‘home from home’. The whole place is decorated with antique furniture, a fireplace, all the staff are incentivised to know all the regular customers’ names.

I’m very much into fresh food and making everything in-house, so we make fresh sourdough pizzas, along with salads. We have a very big cocktail menu, and some the drinks are challenges for customers. One of my favourites has got chili in it, so any customer that can handle five of those gets a free bar tab for the evening.

Do you have plans to expand?

At the moment I’m enjoying The Hideaway, but next year the plan will be to hire more staff, including managers so I can focus on a new venue, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

How did you decide to get involved in HR consulting?

My experience was mainly practical at Nando’s, Wahaca and the Draft House, and the main frustration I had as I was going to conferences and meetings was that managers and operational directors were still hiring HR and training as a separate entity, whether that was as full-time or temporarily.

I wanted to do it from an operational angle. My first step is to meet the owner directly and understand his values and vision. I then go work a five-hour shift in the company, both in the back and front of house to understand what kind of people they already have in the business, to see if there’s a match between that and what the owners are asking for.

I also ask the owners to let me know who their stars are in the company and have a one-to-one interview with them, to understand what qualities the company really values. It makes it easier to go out and look for the right person.

While at The Draft House I had a lot of conversations with my owner there about what I wanted to do and he gave me my first few contracts in the industry. It’s really grown from there – I don’t advertise Roots Services, and every new contract has come in through word of mouth.

How did you get to where you are now?

It was very coincidental: I went to university and did a degree in nursing, specialised as a midwife, and in those days we got paid around £11.5K a year to work and study. 15 of us went to McDonald’s for lunch and there were big posters advertising for manager training, which was paid £16.5K. I couldn’t believe it: we saved lives in our job, so you couldn’t possibly be tossing burgers and earning more money. My friend dared me, and I took two months off, joined McDonalds and never went back.

My passion was always in charity and doing voluntary work. What The Hideaway and Roots Services have enabled me to do is use the money to do my own thing separately. One of the main attractions for the Hideaway was its basement bar, where just last week we did a big live music fundraising event to raise money for Ebola. I can now do these things the way I want to.

What do you like the most about working in hospitality?

I love the customers and my team.  When I worked for a big corporate in the City, the feedback at my annual review was that I’d wasted too much time with the team and managers. I went back to them saying I don’t think you can ever spend too much time with your people. That’s what pushed me to open The Hideaway and get into HR and recruitment. I spend all my time and energy with the team and the customers.

Who inspired you the most in your career?

I went to a coaching course with Nando’s a few years ago and this was the first question they asked. Everyone named famous people but I turned around and said ‘my dad’. He always set standards for us and he was in the RAF so you can imagine how strict and structured he was.

 I was always brought up being told that whatever happened I should get up and keep going. He used to say that if you see someone achieving something you can do it too as long as you go with the right attitude.

I also very much look up to Alan Sugar.

What would be the advice you would give to young people starting out in the industry?

I’d tell them to go for it. I spent so many years saying I wasn’t ready when everyone else thought I was. I wanted to know everything before doing it on my own. Now that I’ve done it I can tell that I still learn every day. As much as you think you might know, you still trip over, fall and learn from your mistakes. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Pubs & Bars, Small Talk

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