A Day in the Life: Nisha Katona

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Mowgli restaurants founder Nisha Katona interview

Related tags: Chefs, Casual dining, Restaurant

The former barrister opened Indian restaurant Mowgli in Liverpool in 2014. The group now operates sites in Manchester, Birmingham, Oxford, Nottingham and Sheffield, with Cardiff, Leicester and Bristol to open this year.

I get up at around 8am so I have a lie in.​  I always put my first meeting in for about 10.30 or 11am, that’s when Mowgli churns into action. As a barrister, court didn’t start until 10.30am so that’s what I’ve been used to, and it’s very easy to keep that going. But I’m not sitting in my house doing nothing, the minute I’m awake I’m working.

Work is a 10-minute drive away from home.​ I’ve now got a driver, which I really need. When I visit sites I can’t afford to be in a car for an hour and not be working.

Every day I have meetings with those heads of department who are available. ​Every Monday we have an all-sites meeting where I will sit down with the heads of every department and start with each site. We’ll go through HR, estate management, operations and finance, looking at things such as who’s the rising star, who’s having difficulties and what can we do about it, what operationally is right and wrong. Estates is a big part of what I do. Anyone can build a shiny new restaurant but you are judged on how it looks a year in.

I insist on having all my meetings in my restaurants so I rarely go to head office. ​The only reason I go there is when I have to do a talk, maybe about our culture or if we are redoing our training document. I’m in Mowgli every day. Our head office is on Bold Street in Liverpool – if anyone wants to meetwith us they have to come up north. It’s good drawing people to a dark street in Liverpool.

I eat in Mowgli twice a day.​ I have lunch at midday and then eat again at 3.30-4pm. Watching the reaction of every single person in the restaurants is the reason I exist. You’re only as good as their last mouthful. I get a table with everything on it and then have a couple of spoonfuls of everything. I eat the entire menu twice a week.

I like to take time within a day to stop and philosophise about things. ​Ask myself why are we doing it, what can we do better? I don’t want to keep growing unless every new restaurant I open is the best one in the portfolio – and then go back to the old ones and bring them up to the level of the new one.

It's quite lonely as a restaurateur up north ​so it’s good to have a body of people engaged. You’ve got to take time to stop and think and talk to your audience about what you’re doing. I post on Twitter throughout the day but a maximum of only two or three posts. I put two wraps on the menu recently and I asked my customers ‘do you like the names’, ‘would you eat them’, ‘would you pay this much for one’, ‘would you order anything else?’ It’s a daily assessment of their needs and it absorbs a lot of my time.

Work in the restaurants finishes at around 5pm​ and then I get home and cook and ferry the children around – but I’m never off my phone. Only when service gets busy at 8pm do things quieten down, and that’s when you can think about the next day. The dream is to get a five-minute power nap on the sofa in the sun, then up and a coffee. I don’t generally feel tired by the end of the day.

Mowgli-food2
Dishes at Mowgli

It's usually about 10.30pm or 11pm before I sit down on the sofa ​and then I will want to watch something that takes me miles away. Sometimes it’s a Netflix box set but other times I want to be emotionally engaged. I have loads of Alan Partridge DVDs and sometimes I just want to sit down with Steve Coogan for half an hour with an episode I know verbatim before heading to bed. I usually go to bed at about 12.30 or 1am.

I'll work in bed til about 2am​ because the daily reports from every single restaurant come in at about 1am so I’m fairly nocturnal. I’ll read my reports and anything that comes out of them, I get the message out to head office on the WhatsApp groups that night so things can be looked into and rectified first thing the next morning. I do all of Mowgli’s social media. I put our Instagram and Facebook posts out at about 2am so people are reading them when they are having their morning coffee. I will also read before I sleep, although I’m listening to more audio books at the moment.

It's about fear and hunger, it's an immigrant mentality.  ​I’ve been raised to think that if people do not see you working every single minute you will fall off the face of Great Britain, that is actually how I feel. And when you’re a CEO, you are the one who is completely accountable for everything. I might stop being a CEO one day and take on a different role in Mowgli. I can sleep then.

R200

This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the June issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.

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