This much I know: Jason Wells, owner of Brew
Australian chef Jason Wells is the owner of Brew, a chain of cafés in London, the US and Australia. He talks to The Caterer about how family, food and people drive his ambitions
When you were a child, what did you expect to be doing at this stage in your life?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an aircraft engineer as I loved engineering and flying. My mum said she always thought I would end up as some kind of entrepreneur.
You operate in Australia, the US and the UK. What are the common hospitality features in these countries?
The common features include the demographic of the people we serve. I see a big similarity in the mums we serve in Putney [south London] and the mums we serve in New York. In terms of differences, in the US it is a lot easier to start a business because of the support you get from the government. There is a real can-do attitude over in the States. When we opened a site in New York we got a call from the mayor's office welcoming us - it was amazing. In the UK and Australia the support network isn't as strong. In the US they love to embrace business.
What can UK hospitality learn from other countries?
In the UK, 50% of people who apply for jobs don't have formal training. They might know how to make a risotto, but they don't understand the gluten structure - they don't have the technical ability. I think the UK government needs to encourage the hospitality sector more as it's enormous now. I think it needs to work with the industry and put some more formal training colleges in place.
What can other countries learn from UK hospitality operators?
They can emulate the depth of understanding of the UK's traditional dishes and the sourcing of delicious local ingredients.
How has the economic climate in the UK affected your business and how have you responded?
We've been very lucky not to have been affected by the economy. When there was a spike in supplier prices we didn't move our pricing. As a hospitality business sitting in the middle of the market, I think we suit the climate better than a more expensive, fine-dining establishment, for
example. Brew is very much a comforting place to come to when times are tough.
How have your hospitality aspirations been shaped?
Through my absolute love of family, food and people; I think these form the core of a happy life. Eating with your family is one of life's great pleasures. I'm just lucky that I've been able to transfer this into my business.
What are your influences?
Richard Branson - I fly with Virgin a lot. His business acumen and personality are very impressive, especially the way he manages to somehow impart some of his personality into every little part of his business.
In terms of my love of food, it has to be [Australian restaurateur and food writer] Stephanie Alexander - she wrote the first cookbook I bought.
How easy is it to find good staff?
We now have 100 staff at Brew and our retention rate is huge. We actually find it relatively easy to find good staff who share the same cultural inspirations as us. We treat them all very well with a lot of respect. We're like one big family. Our staff tell their friends about our working environment and we get a lot of people coming for jobs through recommendations.
The main thing we look for in potential employees is honesty, which is a big thing for me, as well as passion in their eyes. We want Brew to be a career choice for the people we interview, not just a gap filler. It's easy to spot.
What drives you?
Primarily my children. I'm also driven by my staff. Being able to treat them well is very important to me.