How is Pastaio going?
It’s going really well. It’s always difficult opening restaurants, and every time I do it I think maybe it will be easier than the last time… but it never is.
How was the soft launch?
We had a couple of services where our tech crashed. We’ve got screens in the kitchen now instead of tickets like we normally have, and they just froze. It was very difficult to get back up and running, and whilst most people were really understanding, some people were really not very understanding at all. If you’re at a soft launch you’ve got to understand that this sort of thing can happen. We had to make the restaurant really busy so we could properly test all our systems and what we found was that some of them didn’t work. Obviously now we’ve learned, but those kind of things were hard. Some people were just ungenerous.
What’s the new site like?
It’s right off Carnaby Street. It’s great, it’s exciting, and it’s very different for us. This restaurant is no reservations which is something we’ve never done before. When we launched Palatino in January we sold out for the first three weeks in ten minutes with reservations. I’m loving being in Soho, though. I was saying the other day that I was pacing around the area feeling like Russell Norman (of Polpo fame), because these streets were where I always used to see him.
You run a fair few restaurants now…
I’ve got really good people around me, so I can create teams that are self-managing to an extent. So essentially it’s just me, Liam Nelson (operations manager) who works with me on everything, and Adam Lawrence, (marketing manager). We do all of the restaurants, then my role - once a restaurant is up and running - is to disrupt, rather than to manage. I make sure we’re always making restaurants more fun, better for customers and better for the staff to work in.
Are you happy to be hands-off? Is delegating hard for you?
I know what I’m not good at, and I’m always happy to recognise other people’s skills. I still challenge and question things but we run reasonably democratically. There’s no point in me trying to run every element of the restaurant. I’m really happy to be influenced and to be collaborative.
Was it always the plan to go for a big Soho site?
We have been looking for a site like that for almost two years, and they don’t come up often. We had to go through a massive process to get it- pitching, tastings, charming the landlord, etcetera, just to be allowed to pay a massive rent there. We’ve wanting to do something cheaper and a bit faster for ages, but I knew that it wasn’t something we wanted to do in Dalston, or somewhere like that.
What have been the high points of your career?
I don’t mean to be contrived in a humble way, but when I see people who have worked for me doing cool stuff, I find it incredibly satisfying and exciting. Alex Jackson, who was the second person after my sister that I ever hired, now runs Sardine. We help him a little bit but that’s his place and I feel proud that I’ve been able to make that happen. Elliott, who is one of my head chefs, has now set up his own company in New Zealand. I just love seeing people do things and knowing I’ve helped in a way. I love that element of it.
And the low points?
The worst bits are also related to that. I hate sacking people. I hate it. We had someone steal some money from us, and it’s those kind of things that make you feel really let down by your team. It’s absolutely heart breaking. I was doing a briefing with the new team at Pastaio and I had to tell them, “Look, you aren’t working for some multinational conglomerate, this is me. I’ve invested my own money in this. Don’t kid yourself that you’re stealing off some corporation and it doesn’t matter, you’re just stealing from my pocket.”
What’s the best part of your job?
I’ve been very lucky to get incredible reviews and I love that sort of thing, awards and all of that, but for me, it’s the people stuff that’s really exciting to me.