For Simon Goggin, managing director of contract and events caterer Cooks & Partners, service is most definitely king. The 36-year-old started his business in 1997 with this philosophy to guide him, and has kept true to this ever since.
Goggin started at the Eagle pub and Toby carvery in Wanstead, London, in 1983 as kitchen porter. While there he launched himself into a City & Guilds course to make up for a lack of academic qualifications.
In 1985 he joined the Prince Regent hotel in Woodford Bridge, Essex, as commis chef, and was promoted to demi chef de partie pastry.
Uncertain of what to do and where, Goggin spent a year temping from 1986. He chose the restaurant business and became a member of the team at Leith's restaurant in Notting Hill, which later gained a Michelin star, as chef de partie pastry in 1987.
In 1989 he moved to Leith's Events and Parties, still in a pastry role. But an opportunity arose and Goggin won promotion to sous chef at the company in 1991, before becoming head chef in 1995. "I went from cheffing to man management," says Goggin, but looking after a brigade of 20 was invaluable experience for what was to come and he was well supported at Leith's with extra management training.
However, Leith's Events and Parties was bought by Compass group soon after, and for Goggin it lost its charm.
"I didn't want to work for a huge company and just be a number within it," he says. "Instead, I felt I would concentrate on the personal service side that we had always provided." So he went it alone, and Cooks & Partners was born in 1997.
His working hours at the company, which has 12 full-time staff plus casuals and part-timers, can range from 40 to 90 a week, depending on how many events the company is catering for and where they're being held. On top of this, Cooks & Partners runs bespoke catering contracts in London at the Museum of Childhood at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Geological Society at the Royal Academy of Arts, Harvey & May and City Presentation Centre.
For those keen to set up their own venture, Goggin advises them to make the most of any free help. "You may be a good chef but you'll also need to understand the business side to succeed," says Goggin. "I'd also avoid the partnership route unless you both have very distinct roles within the business, as it can be hard to reconcile differing views if you're both chefs."
Started career at Eagle pub
Joined Leith's restaurant as chef de partie pastry
Head chef at Leith's Events and Parties
Founded Cooks & Partners