Sam Harrison is the proprietor of Sam’s Brasserie and Bar in Chiswick and Harrison’s in Balham.
Sam Harrison’s godmother first inspired him to explore the world of hospitality. He was 16 and working as a waiter for her catering firm to earn some extra cash during the summer, but so taken was he by her passion for food and the buzz of teamwork, that he enrolled on a university course to study hotel and restaurant management.
“It was hotels that originally fascinated me,” says Harrison. “I’m lucky that as a child I travelled a bit and loved staying in hotels. I liked the idea of making money out of looking after people and offering them a place to sleep,” he says.
Between 1997 and 2001, Harrison worked for Rick Stein at his restaurant with 35 rooms which, he says, further “fuelled my love of food and service”. One day, he says, he may venture into his original dream of hotel management but for now he has his hands full with his two London restaurants, Sam’s Brasserie and Bar in Chiswick and Harrison’s in Balham.
Harrison advises would-be restaurateurs to gain as much, and as varied, work experience as they can with experienced people that they can learn from. “Ask lots of questions,” he urges. “Teach yourself, read widely, visit places and soak up information.”
When in business, Harrison says that you should never underestimate the value of good staff. “You need a good team and you need to look after people, without them you don’t have a business,” he says.
HIGHS… Working with Rick [Stein] and his wife at the time as a general manager at a young age  was definitely a high. I learned so much from them about running and growing a business, having passion, setting standards and maintaining them, looking after the customer and building repeat business.
I’ll never forget the opening night of Sam’s Brasserie. It took two years to plan and raise the finance, so to open the doors to people coming to my restaurant was a proud moment. Three years later it was voted the Evening Standard‘s best-value restaurant in London. The paper described Sam’s as a perfect example of a neighbourhood restaurant offering exceptional value across the board. I was proud to be recognised in front of my peers and for my team. It was a huge pat on the back for all of us.
LOWS… We were rejected by four banks before securing a deal to open Sam’s Brasserie which was hugely frustrating. I felt we had a strong business plan but we were at risk of losing the site. We don’t do enough in this country to encourage entrepreneurs. There should be more financial support and encouragement from the Government and banks.
Cash-flow problems during the recession in 2008 were another massive stress and we were counting the pennies every day. This was a period of not much sleep and a lot of wine.
As the recession started to have an impact, sales dropped whilst costs increased, and the landlord in Balham was trying to enforce a rent increase. But I knew we still had a great project and I kept the margins tight.
Drives Honda scooter
Favourite holiday New England with friends
Motto Every day try to improve some aspect of your business
2001 Appointed general manager at Rick Stein’s Padstow restaurant at age 28
2005 Opened Sam’s Brasserie in Chiswick (co-owned by Rick Stein)
2007 Opened Harrisons in Balham (co-owned by Rick Stein)
Work harder than ever before. Look at your business every day and see what can be improved. Get your staff involved because they sometimes have great ideas. Front-of-house staff should know customers better than anyone and kitchen staff must know costs, so get them interested in numbers as much as possible.