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Tony Kitous – My life in hospitality

22 May 2009 by
Tony Kitous – My life in hospitality

Tony Kitous is the owner of the Pasha, Kenza, and Comptoir Libanais restaurants.
When he was 18, Tony Kitous came to London for a summer holiday. He got a job in a restaurant and cocktail bar to survive and never looked back.

He says it was the perfect scene for a young man: "You get carried away in the bars. You're young, with no responsibilities, and it's great fun. You see regular customers and put a smile on their faces, and they become like family."

But it wasn't all partying. Kitous had his head screwed on and juggled two jobs, seven days a week for two years without a day off to achieve his goal of having his own operation by the time he turned 23. He opened Baboon aged 22.

Since then, he has learned you need to believe in what you do.

"You have to go with your gut feeling and just go for it," he says. But to do this Kitous admits there was a sacrifice to make - his personal life.

"I've had an interesting journey but if I had to do it again I think I'd do it differently and work for more people before setting up alone. I thought I knew everything, but it was harder and slower on my own," he says.


HIGHS…
Starting at 22 was my dream come true, but I was so naïve I wasn't prepared for it at all. I only employed the chef the day before, and while the first day was great, as I had friends come over, and thought ‘Wow! I'm in business', it was actually much harder.

Buying Pasha from a very experienced team - Caprice Holdings - and turning it around was great. They are one of the best operators in the country for modern British food but couldn't apply those touches to a Moroccan restaurant.

However, it was the culture I was born into, so I knew what to do and what the London scene needed. I changed the menu, the atmosphere, the design, the music, the team and the uniform, and sent the chefs to learn authentic cooking in Morocco.

I'm not a celeb seeker, but it does give you a lot of satisfaction that you've achieved something when people like Hugh Grant, Prince William and Lulu start coming to your restaurant.

Opening Comptoir Libanais was something completely different and I'd wanted to revolutionise Middle Eastern food and make it accessible to the high street for a long time.


LOWS…
My partnership with Gary Hollihead fell apart within weeks of opening the restaurant, which I'd called Hollihead - that was a big mistake.

He's an amazing guy and old-school Michelin-starred chef, but he has his own style of running a kitchen. I wouldn't say he's an animal, but he turns into a different person and is an artist at work. I wanted a more mid-range offering but he wanted fine dining and there was no way back.

Also, one Christmas, my chef and his entire brigade walked out during the second week of December. We were doing 150 for lunch and 200 for dinner, so I was calling agencies all day and just grabbing anyone they had. We did get through, but it was very painful at the time.

Family Single - I'm married to my business
Age 38
Favourite holiday Doing nothing on a hot, sunny beach or by a desert
Drives Smart car
Motto Look after the business and treat the guests as if they are your own family at home

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1993 Opened his first restaurant, Baboon

1996 Opened Hollihead, later relaunched as Oceana Restaurant & Bar

2000 Opened Levant, Wigmore Street

2004 Opened sister restaurant, Levantine in Paddington

2005 Acquired Pasha in Kensington

2007 Opened Kenza in the City

2009 Opened Comptoir Libanais in Westfield Shopping Centre and second site in Wigmore Street in March.

BEAT THE RECESSION

  • Your biggest costs are food and beverages and wages, and you have to get managers to forecast these on a daily basis and really keep on top of it.
  • Remember that your business starts with your team, and each role, from accountant to kitchen porter, is just as important as any other.
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