My day starts pretty early. My partner is a chef in a deli and she gets up at 5.30am. If she’s awake, I’m awake, which is a pattern we’ve got into. I start by getting into a cortado and then spend about an hour checking my emails and working out what the plan for the day is.
Once the coffee has kicked in I’ll do around an hour of exercise at home – on the exercise bike or doing some sit-ups – where I’ll watch something that I’ve recorded. This morning was the British Grand Prix highlights. It’s good to get the exercise out of the way early on before you become too conscious.
I live in Kingston, so it usually takes an hour to get into work. I either go to one of the restaurants or to our head office above Big Chill in King’s Cross. I tend to avoid rush hour for my first meeting of the day as you can’t really get much done on the train and it’s a bit of a misery.
I have daily meetings with people from the senior management team for each brand – Camino and Big Chill. The office is shared. The accounts department do both Camino and Big Chill, there’s marketing for each different brand but the training is also shared and the operations are different too. The only people who work on both things are me, my business partner Nigel Foster, with whom I’ve worked since 1995 when we set up Cantaloupe in Shoreditch, and accounts and training – everyone else does one brand or the other.
We have a monthly board meeting where we go through the accounts. We are always looking at new ideas to improve the business and make the food, drinks and service just that little bit better. It’s a state of continual improvement, that’s the mindset.
Meetings are mainly planned so as to avoid too much being done on email. It is so much more effective if you can get a group of you together for half an hour and resolve something straight away rather than going back and forth on email, which just slows everything down and takes ages. Email can be brilliant, but it can also be a nightmare.
At Camino I typically visit the restaurants at least three times a week. Last weekend I tried the new brunch at Bankside and this weekend I was at Shoreditch. I try the food, have a chat with the chef, take pictures of the food and send it to our executive chef Nacho del Campo so everyone’s aware of what we’re serving. We can then all have a discussion about it – what was good and what we might tweak. But I’m not a chef. I enjoy the food and I know the difficulties chefs have to prepare it and make it all work operationally and fit it with the menu, but I can give them my feedback. With Big Chill we have a residency called Chuck Burger; it’s worked really well. I don’t have to do a lot there, but I’ll certainly try the burger at least once a week.
Most weeks I visit each site at least once. We have a fantastic operational team, so I don’t want to be stepping on their toes. My role is to support people and encourage them and share my experience.
A few years ago, I started something called lunch with the boss. It was a working title until we found a better name for it, but we couldn’t so it’s still called that. I’d read something a few years ago that said most successful companies do something the other 99% don’t do, which got my attention. It said they share their vision and strategy with every single member of the workforce. I thought we already did that and that everyone knows what we are about, but how would they? So, I decided to sit down with any new employees who’d been there a few weeks and have lunch with them to give them the full Camino experience. They can order anything off the menu, as much as they like, with a few of the nicer wines to wash it all down. I recommend they come hungry. I really engage with them and learn something about them and they learn a bit more about the company and can ask me anything they want face to face. It adds some depth and is not just a monologue. For Big Chill
I do the same but in the evening with a few drinks and food from Chuck Burger. We do them about every three months.
About three times a year we take members of the Camino team to a part of Spain and immerse them in the food and drink culture. It’s usually a three-day, two-night trip. We may go to a wine region and visit two or three different bodegas [previous recent trips have included to Asturias and Salamanca]. It’s huge fun and creates loyalty. For Big Chill we do the same, but it is usually with UK-based trips and to some of the big festivals.
I visit other Spanish restaurants on a fairly regular basis. I usually go with Nacho and then we can be very open about the experience; maybe our dish of a certain item is a bit better, but maybe they do some other things better than us. We compare value for money, service and the surroundings.
A normal day means I’m home by 7.30pm. At least twice a week there is something going on, so instead I’ll be back at 11pm or 12pm. But that’s the industry we work in.
When I’m not working I like cycling. I do a bit of cycling down in Surrey or round Richmond Park with a mate or two. As long as we end up in the pub having earned a few.
This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the August 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.