Pathways: Afees Bello, group back of house operations manager, Corbin & King

15 October 2021 by
Pathways: Afees Bello, group back of house operations manager, Corbin & King

The group back of house operations manager at Corbin & King describes meeting Jeremy King as "kismet" and has a deep admiration for those with the courage to follow their passion. He talks to Katherine Price

Did you do any work experience in the industry at a young age?

I did voluntary work in a small café near my house. I worked in the kitchen, prepared and made sandwiches, and worked on the till.

Who was your first mentor or role model in hospitality?

Jeremy King, and my only one so far – it was kismet.

Could you talk me through the steps in your career in hospitality?

I started as a kitchen porter at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 and then took a massively accelerated role as assistant back of house manager at Corbin & King's Brasserie Zédel as part of the pre-opening team.

I learned on the job, and there was something new every day. The early period was difficult, but I gained experience really quickly and was promoted to back of house manager a year later. I learned about different areas of the business, such as procurement, purchasing, accounting, health and safety, recruitment, security, maintenance and engineering. It was vital to understand how all the back of house functions pull together.

Where did your career take you after that?

I left Brasserie Zédel in summer 2015 and moved to the Beaumont hotel. I built the team from scratch. The management team was very collaborative and they were open to my ideas to improve back of house. In 2017 I took responsibility for operating expenses. I was not only managing costs but negotiating new contracts, procuring new products and making the back of house department work more efficiently by minimising agency costs and investing more in the in-house team.

In 2018, when the hotel changed ownership, I moved to the accounts department and became purchasing and cost control manager. I worked closely with finance and learned more about audit trails, movement of funds, balance sheets and how margin reports are created, helping me understand the impact of finance in a business.

In 2019, I moved back to Corbin & King as group back of house operations manager, where I now oversee the running of operations at eight restaurants, working alongside the general managers and head chefs. I have more than 150 members of staff in my team, including porters, goods receivers and cleaners.

What advice would you give someone who is starting out in the industry?

Be passionate and work hard and you will be rewarded. Hospitality offers so much opportunity to grow, and you can climb that career ladder quickly.

Would you recommend a career in hospitality to your friends and family?

Yes – if you have the passion for it. The sector is incredibly versatile and you will find your niche in it. Some people started out on the floor and now work in head office, and vice versa. Hospitality is incredibly broad and there is something for you if you are passionate about it. It also feels like family. Whatever you are good at, you will find a place in hospitality.

Who inspires you in the industry?

The team behind Ikoyi restaurant – Iré Hassan-Odukale and Jeremy Chan. They are a great example of taking a bold step and doing something different. To revolutionise West African ingredients in central London and be awarded a Michelin star is very impressive.

When I met Jeremy back in late 2017, he was incredibly passionate about the concept and remained confident about it. I don't meet a lot of Nigerians in hospitality, so when I meet people like Iré and Jeremy, who trust their instincts, it inspires me to trust my own instincts and follow my passion.

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