How I Got Here: Charlie Gilkes

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Charlie Gilkes Inception Group

Related tags: Bars, Front of house, Cocktails

Charlie Gilkes is the co-founder of Inception Group, an eclectic collection of London bars and restaurants that includes Cahoots and Bunga Bunga.

Why hospitality? 
My job in hospitality involves everything from property development, interior design, antique and artefact collecting and curation, food, drink, live entertainment, travel and being surrounded by a team of fun people. It encompasses absolutely everything I love and a lot of the time doesn’t feel like work. There’s nothing better than going to a venue and seeing staff and customers having a great time.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
There’s so much we have learnt over the last ten years and continue to learn on a daily basis. I think probably the best learning I have had over time is to do less better and not over complicate things.

What do you do in your spare time?
Long dog walks in Battersea park closer to where I live, finishing up with a pint in our local pub. I also love travelling to new places with our plans usually revolving around where we’re going to eat and drink. Otherwise spare time is spent going to the theatre, concerts, spending time with my one-year old son and getting lost in big flea markets.

What’s your favourite restaurant / bar or hospitality group (besides your current one)?
There are so many but you can’t beat Dukes for a martini made by legendary bar manager Alessandro. The River Cafe never disappoints and I am a big fan of the dumplings in the recently opened Din Tai Fung in Covent Garden.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in hospitality?
I think I have always wanted to run my own business so if it wasn’t in hospitality, I would be trying my hand at another start up.

What motivates you?
It’s amazingly motivating to have an idea and see it become a reality. Also watching our team develop is very motivating. Some of our most successful general managers started their career as junior members of the bar or floor team.

Where was your last holiday?
I went to Marrakesh to celebrate a great friend’s 40th birthday over a long weekend with my wife. It’s such a vibrant and amazing city and I find it amazing you can get there in just three hours.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the hospitality business?
He’s not a direct mentor, but the great US restaurateur, Danny Meyer, wrote the book ‘Setting the Table’ that really impacted my approach to the industry.  Crucially he differentiates between service which is merely a transaction and hospitality being a way you are made to feel. 

What keeps you up at night? 
Worrying about the safety of our staff and customers and any licensing issues that may arise.

Worst business decision?
Opening Disco nightclub in Soho which was popular but made no commercial sense only opening 12 hours a week. We however quickly realised this and reopened it as our 1940s bar concept Cahoots which has been one of our biggest successes.

Best business decision? 
To open Barts, London’s first speakeasy bar hidden away with a nondescript apartment building ten years ago. We did it on a budget of £30,000 and within two months we had paid back our initial investment and had queues outside. It continues to thrive today.

What are you reading at the moment?
Richard Branson’s updated autobiography, Finding my Virginity. It charts his last twenty years where his previous book finished off in 1998. I find his approach to business and can do attitude very inspiring. 

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business? 
I would encourage them primarily to have the right attitude. Nearly everything can be taught in hospitality but those that succeed have to have a willingness to learn and a positive and personable approach. Ultimately, it’s a people business and EQ is vitally important! 

If you could change one thing about the hospitality industry today, what would it be?
I would ensure hospitality was given more credit and prominence as an excellent career path for people leaving full time education the UK.


1984 Born in London
Studied for a masters in Politics at Edinburgh University 
2009 Founded Barts and Inception Group

Related topics: People

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