Tom Soden is co-owner of Nine Lives, the Lion & Lamb and the Gunmaker pubs and bars in London. He discusses changing consumer beverage tastes, the importance of a five-year plan and how you're never really ‘off' as a business owner
I studied business and finance at Sheffield Hallam University, but quickly realised it wasn't for me. I knew by then that I wanted my own business and needed experience to do it, not a degree.
I first started working in hospitality at the age of 16. I worked as a kitchen porter in a BHS café in St Albans. Then I worked for Restaurant Associates for around five years and learned a lot about business during this period, thanks to a great manager I had, James Stanley.
The Match Bar Group was a pivotal job for me, as it was for many bartenders. Monthly training sessions with the best in the industry coupled with a massively competitive and professional working environment taught me a lot of what I know now.
Understanding financial details has been crucial in owning my own business. I was group manager for Diageo's internal bars and looked after multiple sites, so I learned how to be fully accountable for each. Being a large company, their financial and operational systems were very tight, so I learned how to be very precise in these areas.
We opened Nine Lives in June 2017. In hindsight, it wasn't the easiest time to open a bar: I was about to become a father and Sweet&Chilli [a specialist drinks agency for which Soden was a consultancy director] was in its busiest period, but you have to strike when the iron is hot. We opened in the lead-up to summer, which we knew was going to be quiet; the warmer weather would provide a soft opening for us to refine the product prior to the busy winter season.
In both Nine Lives and the Gunmakers the focus is on tasty, approachable drinks.
My working life is split into three sections. I am part-owner of three venues: Nine Lives, the Gunmakers and the Lion & Lamb - these take up a substantial amount of my time. In addition to this, Destructive Lines is a design agency providing concept development, interior design and build for the on-trade, and I've set up a company called Ace+Freak, which is a ready-to-drink cocktail in a canned format.
There is no real 'off' when you have your own business. You're always monitoring the situation. Being your own business owner can be very challenging due to the number of variables you need to deal with on a daily basis. If you love what you do though, it's also hugely rewarding.
Efficiency, experience, positivity and a concrete work ethic are fundamental to success. Having a good support network around you is also so important. Someone to give you advice, to tell you it's going to be OK and to make you laugh. I couldn't do what I do without my family and friends.
Very simply, hard work gets you places. Too many people these days forget that the money they receive now isn't the only reward they're getting, it's the knowledge and experience. I've always worked on a one-, three- and five-year plan so I would retain a reference point to my goals. It's better to be guided by your long-term goals than your short-term financial gain.
Consumers are now getting a real handle on what constitutes quality, whether that's in a beer, spirit or cocktail. They're no longer being led by marketing.
My goal is to take my daughter surfing each morning and to school each day. My work naturally facilitates the freedom to do this.
I've also got an exciting new venture with the DJ Craig Richards coming up. It will be about really bridging the gap between great drinks and great music. This will be popping up in east London shortly, so watch this space.
2017 Relaunched Cecil's Bar as Nine Lives 2014 Opened the Gunmakers, London 2013 Opened Cecil's, London 2012-2017 Consultancy director, Sweet&Chilli 2008-2012 Group bar manager, Diageo 2007-2008 Bar manager, the Exhibit, London 2004-2007 Senior bartender, Match Bar Group, London
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