Jale Erentok – My life in hospitality

06 July 2009 by
Jale Erentok – My life in hospitality

Jale Erentok is managing director of Busaba Eathai.

All through university Jale worked at Wagamama and, after a short stint in the fashion industry after graduation, she soon realised she didn't like it, so came back to hospitality.

She explains: "I had been surrounded by lecturers and friends saying I should take a different path, but I just didn't enjoy it as much as hospitality, so it was a conscious decision, when I returned to it, to make my career in this field."

She is drawn by the food, but also the working environment. "I really enjoy the direct relationships you have with the people you work with and the customers. You get direct and immediate feedback."

To her, it's akin to the film business: "It's like I'm the movie director; I have my hands in a number of pots, contributing to the design, taste, cutlery and atmosphere of each restaurant. There's a very creative side to the business as well as the financial and operational side and it's lovely to be in that."

She advises others starting out to make sure they do their jobs as well as they can, show commitment and never stop learning, either from your own mistakes or from other people's experiences. But more than this, it's vital to look after your finances really well.

"No matter how successful you think you are, you need to understand the business and your profitability, especially in today's volatile market. It's essential," she advises.


I hope to achieve many more highs in the future, especially with Busaba, which I'd like to grow to 20 sites.

But, up till now, the biggest high has to be the opening of Hakkasan. It was a real moment of team effort and a huge journey. It was so different from Wagamama, on a completely new level and a lot more complicated. It was a great learning curve for me and I had to learn it very quickly, but after a couple of years, we had really got it together and were a very sound business, which was a really good achievement.


The opening of Busaba was kind of a disaster because the whole project was running really late. The opening party was on a Tuesday evening at 6pm, but nothing was ready and the builders were in until an hour before guests arrived.

It was total chaos and I've never done such a thing in my life. But everyone pulled together and although it was one of the hardest evenings of my life, it was also one of the most enjoyable. Guests thought it was great and that we'd been doing dry runs and all sorts, but we hadn't; it was just sheer graft.

I didn't have control of the finances to start with and had to learn how to control a balance-sheet - which is all about knowing where the pennies go. If you don't have control, the path you want for your business will change and you may never make the journey you want to.

Family Married to Alan Yau Age 39
Favourite holiday Phuket, Thailand
Drives Audi
Working motto To be fair about everything I do. Work hard and be committed.


2008 Managing director, rolling out Busaba brand within UK and internationally
2005 Operations director overseeing launch of Hakkasan, Yauatcha, London
1995 Opening manager for Wagamama in Lexington Street, Soho
1993 General manager of Wagamama


â- On the other hand, we never compromise on the quality of our food or training.

â- I also think it's crucial to work with suppliers and build up long-term relationships with them.

By Emily Manson

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