Having sold Sam's Brasserie in Chiswick and Harrison's in Balham to Hawksmoor duo Will Beckett and Huw Gott, Sam Harrison tells James Stagg what he's learned from operating in the capital for 10 years
It's vital to build a strong team around you. Sam's Brasserie is 10 years old and Harrison's is eight years old and I've learned you can't do everything on your own. Being an owner-operator, you want to do everything, but successful business people bring others in to complement their skills. It doesn't show weakness. If anything it shows strength and confidence.
You need to be thick-skinned. I used to take every comment or review so personally, but there are so many comments now on the internet and social media that you just have to accept that not everyone will like what you do. Sites like TripAdvisor include some good content, but much of it you have to take with a pinch of salt and not let it get you down.
Balancing my time between the two restaurants took me a long time to get my head around. You can't be in both and it's pretty pointless trying to be. It's about having strong teams before you grow and working with people that you really trust.
In this business you work such long hours and you spend so much time together you must work with people you really get on with. It becomes as much a friendship as a working partnership with staff. You have to go through the good times and bad times together.
I have a few people I trust in the industry, or who have been in the industry. I use them to be unofficial mystery diners every so often, which gives me feedback I can trust.
Opening night on both businesses was a dream come true.
You have to be strict with yourself. Perhaps I've found the business tougher because I'm single. If you have a wife and family maybe that discipline is easier. I've thought a lot about work-life balance and realised that however hard you work it can never be perfect the whole time. It's about accepting that. You are much more use when you're productive and active. To do that you need time away. The next time around I'll be working on that.
Make sure you've done your homework and know your market. It's key to understand what makes your product stand out from the crowd. It's good to gain as much experience as you can with other people first, and when you open your own place, put your heart and soul into it.
Selling was a hard decision but the timing was right. We've had people interested in buying one restaurant or the other but not both. At the end of the day, everything has a price. It's easy to say this - but it's the honest truth - I wouldn't just sell to anyone. If it had been a big corporate high street brand who I didn't think would offer my guys real opportunities, I wouldn't have done the deal.
Working for Hawksmoor and Foxlow is a step up for the team. One of the reasons I did the deal was that we believe in the same things in terms of how restaurants should be run. On the day I had to say to my team, "Guys, I have some news for you" - which was emotional for all of us. Being able to look them in the eye and say there are some great opportunities was comforting. It now appears virtually all the team will stay at what will be Foxlow Chiswick and Foxlow Balham, while others will take jobs in Hawsmoor sites.
For me it's a change of pace. I'm basing myself in west Oxfordshire for a while and I like the idea of a brasserie with rooms in the country. It'll be a twist on what we've been doing here in London.