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The Caterer

Take it from me…

10 November 2004
Take it from me…

The truth is that the restaurant started as a nightclub and we got closed down by the police. So I opened the property as a restaurant as a way of paying for it. Actually, I'd been thinking of opening a fish restaurant. It seems blindingly obvious to open a fish restaurant in a fishing village, doesn't it? But then those are the things you often don't notice at the time.

I think everybody needs a lucky break. Ours was in the mid-1980s when we were rather an obscure restaurant in the middle of nowhere and won a competition run by the Sunday Times and the RAC for readers to nominate the "best restaurant" in the country. We were able to use it to have something to say on a press release. Often in Caterer you read about how to promote your business, and that's where I got the idea for doing the release from, because I had something newsworthy. Things changed overnight as a result of that award. People checked us out - including the BBC - and that was how, in the end, I got the TV series.

It was really a determination to pursue quality both in cooking and front of house that got me to where I am now. You should never go after money; you should go after delivering a good product and then the money will follow. The determination to succeed is so important for an entrepreneur - and the willingness to work appalling hours. You have got to be single-minded and bloody-minded and make the business the most important thing around. Life sometimes passes you by because of it. But it's the price you pay.

Over the years I've surrounded myself with the best people. The secret of success is making a dynamic atmosphere where intelligent, creative people want to work.

I wish I had been more organised in the way I ran things 25 years ago. And over the years I could have been tougher, particularly with staff. I've always treated staff like they were equals, but it's made it tricky to deal with people when there's been a personnel issue. It's a strength and a weakness.

I'd advise anyone thinking of launching a business to remember location, location, location. It's so important. The number of restaurants that fail because they're in the wrong place is horrendous.

My biggest influence on how we ran the Seafood Restaurant were local seafood restaurants in France and, in pure business terms, Peter Herbert of Gravetye Manor in East Grinstead, who's just retired. He's one of those unsung people who takes time to help others in the trade just by giving them ideas - things like advice on accountancy control. You've just got to get the figures right - and it's something that chefs are bad at, because they don't get taught it.

Buying the Rocklands hotel in Newquay last year was very nearly disastrous. We got overwhelmed by escalating costs, and the episode made me realise I just wanted to stay a large fish in small pond. I've always erred on the side of caution. Pulling the plug on Newquay was embarrassing, but I can't tell you how thankful I am that I did it. You have to know your limitations.

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