How I Got Here: Jon Warren

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mimo founder Jon Warren on building the business
Jon Warren founded cookery school Mimo in San Sebastián, Spain in 2009. The concept, which also offers food tastings and tours, opened in London this year.

Why restaurants?
After quitting my City job in 2008, I moved to San Sebastián with just my bicycle and a suitcase and got a job as a bell boy in a hotel. All the guests would ask me how to experience the best local cuisine and there, the idea for Mimo was born. I also met my future wife at the hotel, so it was a life changing six months!  

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
To go with your gut. It’s so easy to doubt yourself, but in the end you often find that your instinct was right. And when everything seems like it’s going wrong, to keep calm and carry on. 

What do you do in your spare time?
I spend time with my family. With a three and five-year-old, they keep us busy!  I love to walk along the concha beach which is a short walk from our house in San Sebastián. I also love cycling, tennis and golf but rarely get the chance. I like to have little projects on the go and I’m currently attempting to build a wood oven and Spanish huerta​ (vegetable patch) in our garden.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)?
I never forget the first time I went to Arzak 9 years ago with some friends in San Sebastian and it still feels a very special place to me. It was also the first three-Michelin-starred restaurant I ever had the privilege to try. But I’ve always favoured dining at rustic places and these days my favourite restaurants are the classic farmhouse-style Basque restaurants.  They can be found dotted around the green hills and Basque countryside, often hard to locate but always worth the journey and with warm welcome.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants?
I’d probably still be rushing around the City as a financial advisor, which is what I was doing before I left London for Spain. I’m so grateful to my brother for giving me some valuable advice which was essentially to say whatever you are planning, go and do it because if you hang around, it will never happen!  It got me motivated to move to San Sebastian rather than wait for something to happen. 

What motivates you?
From an early age, I was surrounded by a family with an entrepreneurial spirit whether it was my Mum and Dad and their antique shop, which was part of our family home, or my uncle Paddy’s restaurant in West Africa or my brother and sister’s businesses.  I grew up absorbing it all and it led me on a natural path.  I’m also the youngest of four children. These factors I feel have given me the tenacity to keep going and to achieve without giving up.  I’m also passionate about food and remember when I was six years old I would sell runner beans outside my parents' shop!

Where was your last holiday?
I’ve recently got back from a week in Tenerife at Easter. After a new opening, it was ideal to relax and spend time with the family. Before that, I had a fantastic weekend in the Douro valley, Portugal to celebrate my wife’s 40th​ birthday.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
Charles Irving.  Charles is our chairman and has been great in helping to simplify things and go back to basics. It is often easy to make things more complicated than they need to be! He’s very experienced in business so has been a great mentor, giving me the confidence and space to achieve my vision.   

What keeps you up at night?
My three-year-old! But once he’s woken me up, it’s hard to stop thinking of my to do list the next day and new ideas!  I write down some notes and try to go back to sleep.   

Worst business decision?
Back at the beginning, I decided to turn an old squid fishing boat into our office desk and tasting table. While it looked lovely, it wasn’t practical and cost a fortune. I’d probably still do it again though!  

Best business decision?
Taking the leap of faith to build our first cooking school in San Sebastián, Spain.  In hindsight, it was quite innovative and ground breaking to go ahead and build a 500m2​ luxury cooking school in a five-star hotel. I’m so thankful I believed in my instinct when friends, family and colleagues told me I was crazy!  

What are you reading at the moment?
Sapiens, a brief history of humankind​, which is fascinating, but I need time to concentrate on it!  My mother-in-law just bought me Richard Reed’s If I could tell you just one thing​ which is much more digestible after a long day at work. I’ve also recently dug out my old Spanish grammar exercise book because I’d love to improve my past tenses! 

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Put in the extra effort and you will be rewarded. Use your initiative and go for it. Believe in your instincts. If you make a mistake, you’ll learn from it and nobody will blame you. In fact, the opposite. By making mistakes, it’s the best way to learn the big lessons.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
Remember that the front of house experience is as important as the food you serve. I really enjoyed reading The Art of the Restaurateur​ by Nick Lander, which depicts this very well.    

CV to date

Born in Canterbury ​1979

Studied at The Kings School, Canterbury then completed a degree in Business Economics at the University of Liverpool

Interned at Rafter Associates Financial Management 2001

Barman at Queen’s Tennis Club, London 2002-03

Asset Manager at Anderson Charnley Ltd , London 2003-2008           

Founded Mimo in San Sebastián, Spain 2009 

Since opened Mimo sites in Seville, Mallorca, the Algarve. First London site launched in 2019

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