#043 – Hospitality Meets Simon Esner – The Hospitality Legend & Mentor

43 episodes in and we finally chat to someone from contract catering, although today’s guest has done far more than that. We speak to hospitality legend Simon Esner, Founder at Executive business mentoring Uncommon Sense (www.finduncommonsense.com). Simon is also still involved with Baxter Storey (https://baxterstorey.com) and WSH Ltd (https://www.wshlimited.com) working with some world leading chefs and concepts.

Simon has had an Epic career and life so far and has achieved so much, with much still to do. We only just scratch the surface of his story bank but nevertheless we chat about maintaining positivity, keeping the glass half full, family, mentors, electrics, food scene development, getting your break, pay rises, skiing, paper job adverts, Ford Cortina’s and of course his epic journey so far.

Simon carries so much positivity and humour, it’s infectious.

Thanks so much Simon.


Show Transcription


Phil Street, Simon Esner

Phil Street 00:01

Welcome to hospitality meets with me Phil street where we take a light hearted look into the stories and individuals that make up the wonderful world of hospitality. Today’s guest is Simon Esner Founder at uncommon sense, and all round hospitality legend. Coming up on today’s show… Simon talks about the first time that he met Phil…

Simon Esner 00:22

But when I got home, I said to my wife, I said this guy’s a nutter Phil shows a unique command of the English language….

Phil Street 00:29

Yeah, you keep upgrading your life, it seems from a position of upgrade. And Simon gives us an exclusive on a new food and drink concept. He’s been working on…

Simon Esner 00:38

The dish of the day was a cup of tea, and a special was toast.

Phil Street 00:42

All that and so much more as Simon talks us through his epic career journey to date. Simon really has built a life and career around having a positive mental attitude. And is proof as to what you can achieve when you keep believing, and when you surround yourself with extraordinary people. Nice work, Simon. Don’t forget, we launch a brand new episode each week telling the amazing and always amusing stories from hospitality. So make sure you hit that subscribe button and give us a like and share across your networks. Let’s share these stories as far as we can. Enjoy. Hello, and welcome to another edition of hospitality meets with me Your host Phil Street. It’s not everyday you get to chat to someone who on the face of it seems to have touched the lives of quite a number of people in this industry. But today, we get to do just that, with some marquee brands and his background, including Baxter Storey, WSH limited, which is the parent company for many a familiar brand, but now also the founder of Uncommon Sense, which I’m sure we’ll talk about in a lot more detail later on. I’m also delighted to have been on the receiving end of some mentoring from this chap. So I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome to the show, Simon Esner.

Simon Esner 01:50

Well, good afternoon to you. And obviously, Phil, you’ve arranged the great weather, which is fantastic, because here we are in the middle of September the 14th, glorious, beautiful sunshine. And I get to sit and chat with you. And just reminisce about some good times, but also talk about the opportunities. So thank you for inviting me.

Phil Street 02:12

Oh, my pleasure. And I think actually we’ve had a couple of chats over the last few months through this wonderful situation that we find ourselves and we probably would have had chats anyway. But on a couple of occasions, we’ve had the chat you’ve you’ve been sat in the sun, but but in Portugal, so I am glad we’ve got we’ve brought the sun to you in this country now as well.

Simon Esner  02:34

Thank you very much. Yeah. So I’ve been on a few podcasts and zooms over this COVID period. And you’re quite right. In fact, I think you asked me when we were chatting, is that one of those fake backgrounds? I said no, actually, that’s real blue sky that exists. So yeah, very, very fortunate. But another one that wasn’t quite as amusing. When it was quite warm weather over here. I’d forgotten that I was having a zoom kind of podcasting webinar. And I was enjoying the delights of Estrella lager copiously

Phil Street 03:09


Simon Esner 03:09

and was only when I realised I was on camera. That’s the embarrassment ensued, but we’ve got none of that today. Sure. Vodka only no alcohol.

Phil Street 03:20

To be honest, it’s audio only. So you can be drinking whatever the hell you wish.

Simon Esner 03:25

Very good. So how do you want to kick this off, though, coz you’re good at this. And I’m new.

Phil Street 03:31

Well, that’s that’s a rumour I’ve heard but I’m not. I’m not. I’m gonna err on the side of caution. But to be honest, I’m, I’m very excited about this for lots of reasons. I think one. Every time I’ve had a conversation with you, you’re what I would definitely classify as a glass half full kind of guy. Do you think that’s fair? You seem to see the positive and quite a lot of things.

Simon Esner 03:53

Absolutely. I’d think generally in life, I was watching something just the other day, and actually was this morning, sorry. And it was a snippet from something that was on television a few days ago or whatever. An interview with sir Captain Tom law, as wonderful 100 year old gentleman who’s raised so much money for the National Health Service. And a comment he made really did resonate with me because I’m sure I’ve said this to my own family and friends and acquaintances is that tomorrow will be a better day. And I kind of agree with the captain Tom more and actually, even if it’s all going completely pear shaped at this moment in time. Tomorrow will be a better day. It’s another opportunity to get it right it’s another opportunity to learn and so I guess the I am I’m pretty much a glass half full. And as you know, Phil and anybody else that’s met with me or see me on various zooms that glass really gets to the halfway point. I try to keep it as topped up as I can. But I’m very, very fortunate, I guess I’m really, I was. So like, I had two great parents, sadly, no longer with us two amazing parents and architect. And my mother was not only a theatrical agent for singers and dance acts, etc. But she was also a psychologist. So they’re really sort of dynamic, forward thinking individual can imagine an architect, my father was always looking for the creative element in everything, and my mother, too, in her spare. Yeah, my brother and I were both super lucky that we grew up in a really open minded dynamic household, which I’m forever grateful for. And I genuinely mean, not as easy, but it’s the site, but I am grateful for it. We did not have I can’t do the whole hard luck story. It was a tough life, we had an average suburban middle class life. It was in a South Gate in North London, a great part of the world for a youngster to grow up in masses of local friends, lots of open space to run around and burn off energy. And actually, it’s just a great time, good youth clubs, all the things that, you know, sadly, are missing a lot of communities today, we were so so blessed and joyful to have those. And I think having that early start with that. Those surroundings really did create for me that opportunity of positivity. My father, as a very young man, he developed polio and diphtheria and was in something called an iron lung, which obviously does not exist today. But back when he was a young lad, it was that what they thought the way of dealing with polio and diphtheria. And he, he was disabled. So my brother and I grew up in a house with a less than able bodied person. Therefore, to us, of course, he was dead. The fact that his legs didn’t work very well, but the rest of his body did. And certainly his mind was my Goodness me. So active them. Very, very intelligent guy, which I’m afraid didn’t come off on me, but did on my brother.

Phil Street 07:14


Simon Esner 07:15

But he, he, I guess, taught us without even saying he just taught us that. You can actually if you think about it, if there’s a hurdle, there’s a way of getting through it or over it. And I remember watching my dad on we were in Bognor Regis, this is my own, who’s still with us today at 97. miles had a little café café down on the seafront in Bogota. And we were down there and we drove down there. And in my dad’s car, which is an old green, Ford Poplar, lovely old motor, didn’t think it at the time, but look back fondly now. And I just remember he, he sort of parked in a particular position where duty is his physical challenges, he was unable to get out of the car easily. So my mom sort of said to him, Well, why don’t you sort of scoot into the backseat? And I’ll try and drive? He says, You’re not driving this car? Have you seen what you’ve done to your Ford call Tina. So literally, what you have is a guy manoeuvring himself out of a window of a car, so that he could get out of the car and not have to clamber over anybody. And it was just stuck with me that he, he looked at it, he looked at situations that there’s a way through it, and made no fuss about it, make no comment of it. And and indeed, neither of any of us did. It was just Well, that’s bad. And that’s what that does. So I guess growing up in a household like that makes you see the positives and everything. And I’m very, very blessed. As a side to have that. But I I think one of the questions you asked me when we were chatting when I was sitting in the other sunshine was, you know how it all started. And for me that I can only blame a Canadian TV chef called Graham Kerr. And I’m quite an old guy now. So this is when I was a youngster sort of early 70s.

Phil Street 09:07

They wouldn’t have been 10 a penny, celebrity chefs, back then either would they I mean, that would have been a new thing.

Simon Esner 09:14

Well, the celebrity chef was Fanny Craddock and Johnny

Phil Street 09:18


Simon Esner 09:19

And there was the great grain curve with his programme called the galloping gourmet. And there was one other chapters name now has gone from my mind, but it will come back. However, galloping gourmet TV programme, I can’t remember what time of day it was on, obviously, clearly, I wasn’t at school, and I was watching this programme. And it used to be on once or twice a week, I suddenly felt like that’s me now. And what got me to love the idea of being in hospitality is that this amazing cook I’m sure he’s, I hope he’s still alive because I’ve actually, I’d like, right. I’ll come back to that later because you ask a question of me about who would like to have lunch with But anyway, Watch this programme and this guy would cook a meal. He’d, uh, let’s, let’s call it for the purpose of this conversation that colour on. So he would cook tackler arms, he would plate it out, he would then put it on a gingham laid tablecloth, and then go out to the audience and select a member of the audience to come and join him at this table for two. And he would sit and watch the audience member enjoying the dish, and the look on the audience members face of enjoying and loving and savouring this food that this man had cooked for him. But something happened in my small, young, immature brain that said, I want to do that I want to make people have that experience. Yeah. And that’s what put me on the road to becoming a chef. And I no one else in my family was incapable my aunt had a café in Bogota. And when I say café, I’m saying it, you know, it was caf. And it you know, the dish of the day was a cup of tea. And the special was toast. So we’re not talking. It wasn’t haut cuisine, but it made it..

Phil Street 11:07

There’s a time, and a place, there’s a time and a place

Simon Esner 11:09

Absolutely, but through various friends and connections of family, I was given the opportunity in about 1976, 78 so I’d have been 14, 15 or so to get a job in the school holidays washing up in the kitchen of a place called the sportsman Casino in Tottenham Court Road. We lived in North London, it’s really easy to commute from where we lived. So it started one summer, beginning of the summer holiday. The chef, one of my great mentors in my life, a gentleman called Louie D’Maitre, Austrian guy. And he threw, as I say, through friends and family and collections, I was given this opportunity to be a kitchen Porter. And my dad kind of thought, Well look, you know, he’ll, he’ll either love it or hate it, he was certainly encouraging in that. He said, Look, you know, I’ll give you the fare to go up on the tube, rather get on the bus. And you can meet me afterwards, when the session finishes at my place of work. He worked in great Poland Street. So you know, I had encouragement, but I kind of thought he was thinking, you know, maybe just maybe one of my sons will will join in the world of architecture when my brother became an engineer. And obviously I didn’t.

Phil Street 12:22

Yeah, but that’s actually that. I mean, it’s semi it’s critical, isn’t it that you’re all here, you’ve got a parent who basically just let you go and explore your brain, basically, let them go and find his own path, not going to railroad them. And that’s, that’s unlucky enough to have had parents very similar in the outlook, and it makes a massive difference.

Simon Esner 12:47

Absolutely. And if both my brother and I, we really did go out our own ways, career wise, and, and hopefully encouragement, right. And in fact, to the day that we sadly lost separately, both of them, they were both as equally encouraging. But then, so I did the washing up and came home. And you know, after the first week, Mom and Dad Well, as I got it. I want to get back. So I carried on. And then obviously the chef Louie Mitter, who was the executive chef of the group could see that there was a something, whatever it is, he could see he saw it. And he said, Okay, well look, you know, if you really want to get into this, because by the way, I should add, me and regular education did not mix the absolute epitome of oil and water. We did not make primaries, and I thought there was a lot more fun to be had outside of the classroom, in town, just looking around doing stuff playing with my friends. We were a group of kids that frankly answered the days today’s world, I think we’d be under special measures and putting it in a very, very high secure home. In those days, we were just a bunch of scallywags. And I think the teachers were happy that we weren’t in the school being disruptive. So

Phil Street 14:03


Simon Esner 14:04

School and me didn’t get on

Phil Street 14:06

You see, positive side of things again, there we are.

Simon Esner 14:08

Absolutely, So I did, Louis, Mr. Chef, Mr. said, Okay, so you need to have formal qualifications if you want to become a chef, and that’s called a City and Guilds and there’s a course called the 706 one and two. And you need to take that. And so Mum, Dad helped me sort of look into how to find out where I could do that together with Louis jmeter. And we found the college in North London and I started the 7061 and two course, I started off on full time and moved to de release because I realised that I actually like earning money. Yeah. And that’s an important point. So I did that and listen for me, it caught me in college. I found something I loved and therefore my attendance record was exemplary. I was fortunate enough to receive distinctions and pass I’d won competitions. Whilst I was there, I had found where I belonged. And I was in seventh heaven, there was nothing that I would do. And nothing would keep me away from going to college, to study to learn to get that piece of paper or pieces of paper, because I was told by my mentor and the chef, Louis D’Metre, you need to have that piece of paper, that documentation says that you can get a job anywhere. So for me, I thought I got to do it. And, and I did, and I absolutely, I loved college, truthfully, there wasn’t a lesson I didn’t enjoy the writing, the reading, the cooking, the prep, everything, the cleaning, I just loved everything about it,

Phil Street 15:44

That shows you i think that that’s a real, absolute golden nugget of you know, when you find the thing that you’re supposed to do, then it really doesn’t feel like you’re doing a day’s work. And I think a lot of the time, we do ask the what we do ask people to kind of settle on a career very, very quickly, without really, people having a chance to explore all of the different options that are available to them. Quite a young age to make a call like that. But for you to find it so, so early, I think, you know, what a what a blessing that must have been?

Simon Esner 16:22

Absolutely. And it’s interesting as I mean, I, my wife, and I got to two kids, a daughter and our son. And my kids often said to me as they were growing up, and they’re 28 and 25. Now, but you know, it’s okay for you. You found your passion early, because I would say from you, where do you want to go? What do you want to do? And both my kids really took a few attempts, not in a bad way, but positively attempts to find the right path for them. workwise. And that’s great. And my wife and I fully supportive of that. But I and my son, you say to me, it’s just not fair. You knew what you wanted to do. The age of sort of 14 and, you know, here I am, I remember the conversation months when he was about 2021. He said, Here I am, I still don’t know, if you’ll find it, it will happen. And when it happens, you’ll know it. I’ll know. We’ll all know. Just relax and enjoy it. So

Phil Street 17:12

That’s the societal pressure, isn’t it that you got it? You got to find your path. You’ve got to get on as quickly as you can.

Simon Esner 17:18

Yeah. Yeah. And of course, you look today, here we are in this current situation, you know, economically, pandemic wise, health wise, and so many young people who found their powerful now sadly, sadly, I saw another one today, another talented young chef, who has been made redundant. So, you know, it’s, it’s it’s very, very, it’s tough out there. And I think you’re right society, peer pressure, etc. And I think young people have got to be given the opportunity. It is rare. I know. I know. It is rare to at a young age to find the thing you love and just literally focus on it. The downside of it is my wife says this is my long suffering. And I can tell you in in just three days time it’s 31 years of marriage with my lovely wife and myself so well. I think so yeah. long suffering a woman. She she’s often said, you know, Simon is the only ever done hospitality. So for God’s sake, please don’t ask him to wire a plug but he’ll make you an omelette. Yeah. And that is that is the other downside of knowing what you want to do so early is that I was single mindedly blinkered vision on what I wanted, and where I was going to go. That the the sort of loss of any other ability in earlier years to gain skills and remember our very first plant that we had together, and my father in law came over to see me with a drill in my hand, literally about to drill directly into an electrical cable. And he sort of screamed, not fast enough, because I did hit the cable and went flying off the ladder and there was no dramas, we didn’t need the ambulance, but it was in I had a bit of a shock. Yeah, I mean, that is that my ability to do anything other than as she says, make an omelette. Do not she says to people, please just don’t ask him to advise you have anything to do with anything other than cooking. So you

Phil Street 19:15

But you did learn, I bet you didn’t do it again.

Simon Esner 19:18

I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what I learned. Make money and get someone else to do it for you. That’s what I learned. But not all jokes aside. Yeah, I’ve learned a few lessons like that over the years. But yeah, so I started washing up did the college thing, which was great. In those days, I don’t know if it is still the same. But in those days, we used to have this kind of butterfly mentality where we wanted. All the chefs wanted the young commies to move from restaurants or restaurant, hotel, to hotel kitchen to kitchen, to learn from others and be mentored and learn skills on the back of your City and Guilds one and two and so I was living in London. I was just so Lucky in those times because I mean, some of the best hotels were there and food was because of course the route brothers have turned up and turn London cuisine on its head. Thank God for owl down Michelle, and and their children and oh my god, what they’ve done for this industry. It’s not even worth contemplating what it might have been like without them. Well, the only thing I can say to you is go to the Ukraine and see the food there. That’s what we had. But that’s a whole different story. But I am the I, I was so lucky to be around at that time where food was changing and moving. And, you know, you had the various fashions, cuisine, nouvelle cuisine, Sancerre and all these other nonsense things. But actually, what you had was food developing at a significant rate. And it meant that I was on that, that journey with a lot of other young chefs who of course, some are so brilliant and so amazing, I was just able to stand and look at their skill and, and try in some way to emulate it. And occasionally got it right more often than not didn’t, but it was a great time. And I literally went from the Ritz to the Royal Palace Hotel doesn’t exist anymore to the Royal Hotel, so and so on and so on and so on. Just learning my craft and it was great fun. And I ended up back at the casino group working in a one of their most beautiful beautiful places called les ambassador in Hamilton place in Mayfair, just near what was then the Playboy Club. So it’s a really great place to be for a young man.

Phil Street 21:35

Yeah, for sure.

Simon Esner 21:36

Sadly at the time I finished also the time that everybody else did. And they were wearing big thick coats and trying to catch the last bus. So you didn’t really get a great opportunity to say anything. However, that said, Hamilton place as Ambassador was amazing. I work with our chef called john king, sadly, we lost him a few years ago, his wife runs the caviar business King is and john was just brilliant. I mean six foot four, we worked in a kitchen where the ceiling height was six foot one. So this portion of hats are everywhere. But the rest of us we’re all tiny little squatty things that we were proud of. Okay. And I just learned so much. I mean, I just remember thinking to myself, you know, I’m holding lobsters, I’m holding skulls, which are hand dyed hand called scallops in my hand, and I’m having the privilege to be able to prepare those under the chits stewardship and tutoring of great people. And I did recognise it at that time that I was lucky, I could see that this was pure for me, the best school in the world. And I was absorbing everything. So I was super, super lucky and fortunate to be there at that time. Now, of course people say you make your own luck, etc. But when I say lucky, I’ve even referenced it a moment ago. And I say this and it used to drive one of my still today your great mentors, it drove Alice the story mad. Because I used to say to people, I’ve never done a day’s work in my life. And what I mean by that is that I am so so joyous to be doing something and being paid for that I love that I adore. I used to go home on a if you’re looking take a typical scenario Monday to Friday, Friday evening, I’d be home going home miserable. And I’d be really happy on a Sunday evening. Because, you know, for me the week had finished that wasn’t good. But oh my Christ. Monday morning was coming and I could be back at it metaphorically when I talk about those days of the week because clearly I was working on a Saturday, Sunday they asleep and bang, you’re straight back on it on a Monday. But yes, I did that right up all the way. Oh my gosh, from from 16th through 18th through 20. I didn’t do the kind of going to discos and all the kind of stuff that a lot of pounds worth doing. I thought I didn’t think I was missing out because I was doing what I loved. So it was kind of cool. And I you know, I still went out I still did stuff. I mean, many chefs will tell you that era that you know, when the kitchens closed at 11 o’clock, and you’re working in central London, Soho was a very very fantastic place to spend your evening while away a few hours losing a few quid in the Chinese gambling restaurants because you didn’t understand the language and you knew you were being hoodwinked but and you’re also getting extremely pissed. So but you did it and you got home on the last pass or the last two been or occasionally getting so went back into the restaurant and went into the staff changing rooms and slept in the corner on the old laundry bag. And hey, I’m sure we’ve all done that.

Phil Street 24:46

You’re actually the the second guest that I’ve had spoken of the virtues of Soho. They’re the other chap who’s actually works within the world of finance, right had the one of the greatest lines that I’ve had on the podcast so far, which was I’ve got such fond memories of Soho, and they’re clean memories, as well. Yeah. Which I thought I just did just have to justify that point with Soho all because it brings up conjures up images, doesn’t it of what you might be able to get up to, which is pretty much anything probably

Simon Esner 25:18

Absolutely, oh, there’s a restaurant in there for the streets, a Hungarian place years and years ago, and I can’t wait to finish. Let’s say, you know, we’ve I’ve worked a night working in the Casanova Club, which is in Grove Street. And we would then all just sort of hightail it over to fresh Street to this restaurant, and you’d find some chefs, part of waiters, whatever, the whole crowd of hospitality people, and we would be in there till the stupid hours of the morning thinking, Okay, at some point, someone’s going to tell us that we should be leaving, but no one ever did. And so in the morning time you went in, you walked back to the same restaurant that you’d left a few hours before. Absolutely a very, very poor condition, expected to do the order trolley and make sure that it was absolutely perfect. And the song Julie and I don’t know if Well, many of your listeners, the younger ones will certainly not know what earth song Julie, the older ones will. And people used to have this on a trolley and auto trolley, which was essentially a boiled egg and aspect jelly. When you think about it with a bit of tarragon as economists It was ridiculous. That that I don’t know if you remember but the genie stunk. And if you had a hangover Oh my god, there was nothing worse. You’re boiling the eggs. You let them get cold. You’re making the jelly. I still to this day hate the smell of tarragon. It just comes up so many bad mornings. But anyway, yes. There I am. I’m doing all of this. And everything is going absolutely the right way. I’m learning I’m learning. I’m having fun. Life is grand. And then life just took a turn for what I can say the better. So how can you is it wasn’t going so well at this point. Yeah, exactly. How do you improve on a fantastic Well, how you improve on fantastic is that one of my chefs who I was working with said Look, I know this guy. He’s got a restaurant in North London, an area called winchmore Hill, which I knew very well having grown up not too far from there. very affluent area all the A listers, what we would today call, you know, the big celebrities. So in today’s world, it would be people like Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan and Beyonce that mean that level. Okay. But in those days, it was Dez O’Connor, Ted Ray, Cliff, Richard, so big, big name Cilla Black, all these people lived in and around that area. There was one road called the broadwalk where every house started at the millions and millions and Gosh, I mean, they were palaces compared to what I grew up in and certainly compared to what I was living in in the digs. But these people were the customers of this restaurant, which was in Winchmore Hill, privately owned by a. There’s a theme here an Austrian, another gentleman called Ziggy, Ziggy Nariyaj and Ziggy was a friend of a friend of a French chef, and he was looking for a sous chef to join his brigade. And the money was great. I think I’m getting 220 quid cash. So don’t tell the taxman 223 cash for doing straight shifts. So no lunches, just dinners and doing six of those a week. So we’re talking the big bucks and every lunchtime off. So that was like amazing, brilliant. And I went and met with zig and met with a chef and one thing and other and they offered me a position as sous chef. So I started winchmore Hill I returned a living home with mum and dad because they were in Southgate North London, so it was a motorbike ride of approximately 15 minutes. And in those days I was a motorbike man rather than a car man be a little bit less traffic back then as well. Probably a little bit less traffic and more importantly, running a motorbike was a lot cheaper because you really didn’t bother with the whole thing called rotex and nonsense like fuel. You know, it really was that it was a two stroke engine I had on my phone was a jealousies that it was a ridiculous a cheap, stupid bike, but it got me around and that was my very first motorbike and I sort of moved down so Honda’s and yam is such like But yeah, I worked in LA fondue and I was there for about a year and the head chef said to me Look, I’m gonna go over to Australia I’ve had this opportunity and I just want to see if it’s gonna work I’ve cleared it with the governor you’re gonna be head acting acting head chef and but we won’t increase the brigade but we’ll add another column here. And I was like okay, so by the way, this is like the the yappy time this is the busiest time For restaurants, I mean, frankly, you just have to open your door and the restaurant was full. But where we were the demographic had an expectation because they were celebrity, you can imagine and we had all the football teams in Arsenal, Tottenham, everybody it was North London, it was massive. And he was going to leave me in control, acting headship with an additional commie as part of the brigade. Well, thanks very much that my workload just increased significantly. Yep. And then there he went. He went off with his his young lady. And he, he just wanted to get this Australia thing out of his system. So

Phil Street 30:37

You’d probably call that galivanting wouldn’t you?

Simon Esner 30:40

Yeah. So he went off and gallivanted. And I’m left in there, and I’m having fun. And I’m kind of, I’m getting confident that all right, all right. It’s working. But maybe this con is not so good. And maybe if we could make the chef the party, move him up, and I’m kind of playing around with a few things. So I said to the boss, Ziggy, I said, I think I need to make some changes. Otherwise, we’re just not going to hit service time at the right way and everything. And he said, Look, you’re the acting head chef, you make those decisions. But let me just tell you something. When the guy gets back, you’re gone. You’re back a sous chef, do you understand? I said, Yes, of course. I said, but if I’m acting head chef, I want to act with a bit more money. because money is a motivator for me and always has and always will be. It’s some it’s not the pinnacle of success, but it shows the your worth and I’m a great believer in that one should be rewarded for one’s worth what one is doing.

Phil Street 31:35

Yeah, I think it’s it’s a discussion that’s not really considered to be, you know, a positive discussion, but I completely agree with you. I’ve always been a big believer that that money shouldn’t be your primary motivator for doing anything.

Simon Esner 31:50


Phil Street 31:50

But it does give you if you if you’re motivated into what you’re doing, and you become exceptional at what you do, then absolutely, that money conversation needs to be hard.

Simon Esner 32:02

Yeah, you’ve got to be rewarded for the effort that you’re putting in. And he was cool about it. And you know, he upped it another 20 quid a week, and we’re going back a long time. 20 quid, it was good. Anyway…

Phil Street 32:13

That’d be worth about three grand now would it?.

Simon Esner 32:15

Three, three months in, and there’s no sign of chef chef ain’t coming back. So I sort of turn around and I said to the boss, I said, Look, you know, things are great. could do with another member in the kitchen. The Kp, we’ve got fantastic, but if he had two arms, it would be really good. And you think I’m joking. I’m not I had a one armed brick kitchen Porter. And he was, he was great. But it was slow. And we had three k peas in the kitchen. And he was he assumed the position of senior Kp because he was the eldest and and he only had one arms. He was the senior came along and the short of it is, we had a conversation me and the boss or the boss said, Look, I guess he’s not coming back. I’ve had a letter which arrived in the post suggesting that he’s really happy out there. So yeah, we’ll just carry on as this and well, boy, what when? We’re not just carrying on? No, no, I’m not acting head chef anymore. Either the head chef, or you find one who is going to be the chef and I go back to being the sous chef. Yeah. And by the way, there are 20 quid you’re getting a game if that thing, thank you. But now we need to negotiate. Anyway, he’s excited to laugh and say I love it. You said when you use these big English words negotiate. He and I were quite close he that he actually was a guy that took me skiing for the first time. And by the way, it was the last time that’s a long, long story, but skiing and me. If you’re supposed to ski you would have big feet. I’ve only got size nine. I’m not supposed to ski.

Phil Street 33:57

I am 100% on board with you I’ve I’ve never, I’ve done it once. Actually it was snowboarding.

Simon Esner 34:05

Oh Right

Phil Street 34:06

in powder. And then the other two times I’ve done it on a dry ski slope in the UK. And I just I couldn’t get beyond the snow plough.

Simon Esner 34:14


Phil Street 34:15

Your feet are not meant to go in that direction.

Simon Esner 34:18

Absolutely. Well. I got on well with the boss to the point where he you know, he took me skiing to his hometown in Austria. So we had a great relationship. And we were quite happy to talk about money and it was a great conversation we would have and he would start pretending that his English wasn’t so good. Bear in mind. He lived there for 20 years. So we got there in the end. And ultimately I became the head chef of la fonda, which is the restaurant in Winchmore. Hill, North London. And I stayed there for six years as head chef and I loved every bloody day of the week. I just could not get enough of it. We never opened lunches. We had this thing. Or he had this thing that the restaurant was a dinner restaurant. But we still obviously we used to About four o’clock in the afternoon, in the afternoon to do Mise en Place. And we didn’t we didn’t open on Sundays and we were just so we had a Sunday off. It was great. And I loved it. It’s also where I met my wife because she was a customer. And she came in and through. One of the things I used to do was walk around the restaurant, meet at the end of service meetings, you know, the boss would say, look, this guy wants to meet the chef, this one wants to meet the chef, sort of various well known people pizza, pizza, Alan Sunderland, he was an arsenal player, we just have a lot of the awesome guys, Graham Rick’s Peter Shilton and Pat Jennings, Glenn Hoddle, so lots of well known footballers, and some quite well known music and acting celebrities. And so I’d go over Hi, how are you? I hope you enjoyed the mill, blah, blah, blah, you know, that sort of thing? And, you know, how did it how do you make that shift? I said, Oh, well, you know, it’s like this, this and this could you write that, of course, would be happening. And it was all part of that whole kind of, I suppose now, what happens were chefs the front of house, but this didn’t happen a lot in those days. And the boss was very much about, he wasn’t he was missed the front of house, he was mine house, and he was brilliant at it. And part of his thing was, I want you, you’re the guy that’s cooked the meal, put a clean pair of whites on and get out here and start mingling. But it was controlled, mingling, I wasn’t allowed to go, you know, knocking back pints and having fun with people mingling. And I was learning while doing that, that this is actually a really important aspect of hospitality, massage. And one particular occasion as my wife’s family were there. And I just saw this really stunning young woman who actually interestingly, they knew my parents reasonably well. And the long the short of it is because this is a terribly long story. And we’ve only got a little time. But the long and the short of it is that Melanie, my wife, her parents, my parents knew each other very, very well. My mother sadly developed breast cancer and she was in the Royal Marsden Hospital. And on one particular Sunday, when I was off work, I went up on my motorbike to visit her and my wife’s family. Were there visiting too. And I walked in to the hospital and the first thing I noticed this is a terrible name drop for anybody that’s a young man of the 70s and 80s. But I walked in the first thing I saw was shoddy. Who was there actually with her drama, visiting the dramas mother who was also in the role models and being treated for some obvious obvious can for issue. So I hadn’t even gone to say hello to my mum when I’m saying Sharla and I’m starstruck. Yeah. Wow. That’s shouting. So being the shy, retiring bloke I am I walked over the shop, said, said Hi, I just bought your album the other week, cuz I’m so sorry. I know you’re visiting here. Obviously, some of mine, my mum’s over there. And the lady in the bed said Oh, Helen. Yeah, we’ve been chatting. I said, Well, you know, shodai any chance of an autograph? So yeah, my problem she was really cool about it. And, and then I went over to see my mum who said to me, by the way, some The rules are you say hello to me first before you say hello to anybody? Yes. But that is your day. And my mum said, Oh, Charlotte. Yes, I remember you like her that anyway, we had that conversation. And meanwhile, there’s this lovely family of a mum, dad and two daughters sitting by my mother’s bedside. And I’m like, Whoa, I know. I know you. Anyway, long story short, I don’t even think I don’t remember actually saying hello properly to my mother that day. And I certainly don’t remember saying goodbye to my mom that day. All I do remember is spending about an hour with this most amazing, dynamic young woman who had captured my heart instantly because a stunningly beautiful bee. And I know I can feel myself getting choked up because it is coming up to our 31st wedding anniversary. We’ve been together for 33 years and we met properly. The bedside of my mom, who at that time was being treated successfully for cancer. So she had many, many years with us afterwards. So you know, Shemi passed away in 2015. So we’re super lucky. But we met there.

Phil Street 39:22

And that highlights to me is what a smooth operator you are.

Simon Esner 39:29


Phil Street 39:29

I’ve been trying to resist dropping that in and that but I just don’t I can’t, I can’t help a pun.

Simon Esner 39:36

I too was going to and I thought no, it would be too obvious. So I won’t. But thank you for for going down that road.

Phil Street 39:43

That’s alright I’ll take the heat on that one

Simon Esner 39:44

That’s a great song as well. By the way I’m in today on the Albert Hall. It was a great gig venue. Let’s not digress because I am danger of going off to many different pathways. So anyway, met my wife, blah, blah, blah. Why is that important? You might be thinking I’ll tell you why that’s important because Not only is she brilliant and my life partner and the mum of two amazing kids, and she’s been guiding me and us in where we go and what we do, and she is the reason I left the kitchen, the love of the kitchen, the love of what I’m doing was not enough in comparison to wanting to spend time with her. And a job came up for a company called a Hobart, who made kitchen equipment. Yeah, man manufactured kitchen equipment, big, big US company. And they had a big factory in Germany. And they had a massive, massive head office in Southgate, North London, which used to be actually the old cinema where I spent a little of my childhood. My wife, her family, were also associated within the hospitality world. And so she like me used to read the caterer, that brilliant magazine that back in the day had a section at the bank that was so thick, full of jobs, and she spotted a job for a chef demonstrator based in Southgate North London, the deal was a company car. Have you ever heard of one of those? I hadn’t. chef’s didn’t get company cars. Company come Monday to Friday, and you know, salary to be discussed. So anyway, she saw this ad and she said, What do you think I said, Oh, my God, this is over the phone, because you couldn’t just email some somebody or WhatsApp? Somebody? No, no, no, she had to find me in the restaurant where I was working.

Phil Street 41:34

Yes, on a landline phone.

Simon Esner 41:37

Indeed. And she had to phone me at half past five, because that was when it was the team break before we got ready for service. So you know, it was a lot of factors to take into place when you consider how you would communicate today. Yeah. Anyway, we had this conversation. I’ve read this in the case where you guys okay, well, I’ve got the caterer here, I’ll have a look through. So this gentleman that why would I want to hold off. I don’t know anything about that. Anyway, I applied for the job. And a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant man called David Smithson, who is still with us today. And David, great guy, and I interviewed with him, and he was the most in a good way flamboyant, the most positive. Everything’s about having fun and winning a deal person, the all over me. And David said to me, this is what we want. Well, someone who can cook but also has a bit of a way about them. I kind of like the cut of your jib. And I looked at him and I thought, I want to be able to wear suits like you do, because I didn’t possess it. So I think I had a suit when you went to funerals and weddings, but that was it. And they gave me a chance. And it was great. And I was working Monday to Friday, and I was spending evenings with Melanie and weekends with Melanie and life was great. I had this company car, a Ford Sierra estate in red. It was

Phil Street 43:01

Moved on a bit from the Cortina

Simon Esner 43:03

Ah Gosh, which by the way, was my mother’s and not mine. And I never got to drive because my brother wrecked it. But that’s again another story

Phil Street 43:10

I had experience of Cortinas as a kid growing up my my father’s company cars were always Cortina’s. Yeah. Yeah, it’s that quite nicely. That

Simon Esner 43:21

Yes, that’s the car of choice. No, I had, so it was great. But I also found that I had this a lot of time on my hands. And the one thing that I’m not good at is not having time on my hands. I can be dangerous if left alone with too much time. So I decided that what I would do is you know, I’ve loved I’ve loved the cooking, I’d love what I’m doing. I’m loving working with Hobart, learning new things. And they would create really teaching me how to become a business person. And I was loving it. Everything was great. But I needed to do something because I didn’t know what to do with every night of the week. Suppose I couldn’t see Melanie every night of the week she was studying and she lived in Peru. And then she and her family moved to Charlie would this place out in the sticks in Hertfordshire, which we now live in. But of course the 25 was an open so to get there was a nightmare. Anyway, I saw an opportunity to go and learn how to become a teacher. Okay. And I did this at a college called South Gate now called South Gate university or South Gate Polytechnic, or whatever it was called South Gate Technical College. And I took the opportunity but you had to have a position within the faculty, the teaching faculty before you could do this course properly. So I went to the head of catering chap called Mr. Eddie Berman no longer with us. And I asked him if I could do a part time shadowing teaching course on his faculty, his teaching faculty whilst I did this teacher training course and he said yes. And that was great. So I did I get this course. And I loved it. And part of the course was I had to have X amount of hours in a month where I was teaching. Well, it worked out super for Mr. Eddie Berman, because Eddie Berman had a free evening class teacher, for students that wanted to do mature students that wanted to do a 706 1 city & guilds

Phil Street 45:21


Simon Esner 45:22

So my job was to do lesson planning, for my course that I was doing, Eddie Berman, which would show me and tell me the courses that he wanted me to do, and to talk me through it. So he would be guiding me. And then I would have the students turn up for a six foot 630 in the evening lesson, they will mature students, anybody from the age of 18, up what and my teachers who were teaching me, were sitting on the class to make sure that my lesson planning and everything was going as should, and I would have a moderator from the catering team, who faculty who would be in the class too. So I was kind of super supportive. I’ve got a catering lead, if there’s a problem, I’ve got the people who are teaching me how to be a teacher if there’s a problem. And then I’ve got my own little bit of knowledge about food service and cooking. I’m kind of thinking not a lot can go wrong. Oh, how wrong you can be

Phil Street 46:25

just start thinking that that’s usually when things start going wrong, isn’t it?

Simon Esner 46:29

Absolutely. So I am Anyway, I’ve done a few lessons. And I’m doing my course. And it’s all going okay. And for one particular day, and we were talking about the different cuts of vegetable. So for the shifts and months that your listeners if they haven’t fallen asleep already listening to this most boring podcast, I was taking them through brain wires through to Macedonian. So the various cuts of vegetable. And I had this young lad, he was about 18. And he’d obviously been a bit of a challenging chap at school, and I recognise myself in him. And he’d been forced to do this evening class, if you’re going to you know, you can’t do anything, you’re bloody useless, you’re going to go and learn to cook, which, of course, is what a lot of, sadly, in those days that young people thought you can’t do anything got to be a chef. Yeah, thankfully, those days are long gone. But anyway, this kid, that’s I had, in the class had this big mirror, that pretty much looked at what my hands were doing. So the students would be gathered around the bench, looking at me looking at the mirror and seeing the sort of how I was using the knife and etc, etc. And I was doing run wires through, you know, Julianne, and so on and so on. And this young man was to my left shoulder, and I had and he was just constantly in my left ear, just giving me chip, and just giving me cheek, and whatever it was at one particular moment, and I don’t know why I can’t recall the words he said. But I had my hands, right hand on a head of celery, and his face, not head of celery connected. Because I couldn’t take it any longer. Imagine the scene there, my Hello class, this is what we’re doing chip in the celery, straight into his face. Well, of course, pandemonium ensued, the catering lead in the class has run over. First thing he has done is made sure all knives are down. Then she looked at me and said you got to leave this classroom now. Mike chufa, who’s tutoring me has sitting there with his head in his hands like no. So I’m there thinking, I don’t think that was a good lesson. So I get taken out of the clock gets taken out of the class. And I’m now in the corridor. And I’d like a naughty schoolboy. Because I’m now being told off not only by the catering person who sent you cannot do this to one of the students. We’re going to get sued. You could have blinded him with the salary. And I’m going he’ll get a lot more worse when he goes into the real world. Don’t worry about the salary going in his eyes, you’ll be getting somewhere else. That you can’t say okay. Anyway, the love of the short of it is we got through that episode where the following day I was called in from the principal of the college, the head of catering It was a nightmare. So there’s things I wish I’d never done. That’s one of them is I wish I just didn’t have the celery in my hand. On the other side. At least it wasn’t a knife.

Phil Street 49:34

Yes, celery is a little bit more forgiving.

Simon Esner 49:38

It certainly is. What I would say is that that young man never returned from my class. I did complete my course I did get my qualifications. And I took up a role apart from teaching at the college, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And I think that’s what took me on to becoming a mentor later in life because I’ve always enjoyed teaching. Yeah, but I’m going down so many avenues and I I really don’t want to get lost on that. So that’s that’s how I got into catering. That’s how I ended up as a as a chef in my own restaurant. And then ultimately moving into the business side of not in my restaurant serving as the head chef for a restaurant. And then I’m ultimately moved into the business side of hospitality working for Hobart. And I have a lot of great success with them. So much so that I got headhunted by another similar company, who had a product called ruag, which were handmade in France handmade stoves and ranges that went into restaurants such as the Connacht clarities a towel, right? So I’d moved up a level from what Hobart did to these guys

Phil Street 50:40

Did Hobart have a product called potato rumbler

Simon Esner 50:46

Absolutely. still do, by the way. So yeah, made them a lot of money

Phil Street 50:50

The funny thing about that is, is that it’s one of the first pieces of equipment I can remember when I’ve worked on cruise ships and mid made a move into food and beverage. And of course, we’re dealing with saw your massive volume of people on a daily basis. And it used to be a joke that we’d play on new coming chefs is that you’ll send them down to the prep room to scrub all the potatoes. When obviously, you’ve got the rumbler there to in fact, we had four of them, we had four rumblers. And we only ever had two in circulation at any one time. In the event that one of them went down, we could just turn on another one. Yeah, and so on and so forth. But yeah, that machine, I think as a time saver, and this is the whole bar are not sponsoring this show in any way, shape, or form, but game changer for a volume and volume environment.

Simon Esner 51:39

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. No, that was one of their pieces of kit. But no, I inside moves with another company in the Great Recession came and the last thing any hotel and restaurant in, in London wanted to do was spend more money on the chef saying, Yeah, we’d like to have a brand new range player, which is going to cost 20 30,000 pounds. So I’m kind of after that I’ve got I’m made redundant. So that that’s a bit of a shock. I’ve now got a wife. We’ve got a small flat, a wife that’s actually expecting our first child. This is this is, you know, a bit of a difficult time. Yeah, whenever there’s a bit of a difficult time, opportunities are always there. You don’t necessarily see it at the time. But like a lot of chefs, I always wanted to be chef Patron. I wanted my own restaurant. And I met while I was made redundant on the Friday. On Saturday, I was working in a kitchen, even though obviously, the whole redundancy pay was going to happen. I took immediate leave. Because when I was told about the redundancy, I rang every restaurant owner and chef I knew, and lo and behold, they needed someone. So I took the job and went straight back in the kitchen. And I always remember my dad saying, once you’ve got that piece of paper, you can work anywhere, you always be able to prove you can do the job. So I was super, super lucky that he’d encouraged me to to get the city and goes along with Chef Mehta. So I went to work in this restaurant, I met a guy while I was there who is a landlord of another place. And he’s current tenant was was looking to move out of the restaurant. It was in a playful Radlett in hertfordshire. Very much I know you’d be one demographic still is today. And I took over the premises and changed everything about it. The menu was modern European Italian style for them. So we’re going 1991 ish, and just had the best time. I mean, it was amazing. We opened the doors. People came in my head waiter is a guy called Jamie’s MMR a Portuguese guy, he ran the front of house. And he every day, he would go out to the front of the restaurant and he would throw salt all over the front step. Whatever time of the year, it was spring, summer, autumn winter, he was through so high. And I used to say to him, Jay, why are you trying so this brings the customer. So I let him do it. Because I have to tell you, it always brought the customer right now. I’m hoping that there was great service, the ambience, the food, the wine might have contributed now, but I also believe it was the soul. And we had an amazing time. And then our daughter was born and her first proper meal was sitting on a table eating minestrone. We just had it I mean, there were of course, look, there were problems. We are not going to go into all of that. Because, for me, I think everybody who opens a restaurant, you experience challenges and problems. I had a business partner that I should never have had. It taught me that actually, I can run a business without relying on other people. Like many others, I have the whole imposter syndrome. Yeah, I had to get that out of my head. So the long the short of that is we ran the restaurant very, very successfully to the point that our son was So he’s 95 he was born. And it was like, Oh, you know, maybe I probably need to spend some time with these little people. And right time, right place a lot of luck. Still, there’s a company called pizza express wanted the property next to me, which was a hardware store. And they offered great money. We took the deal. And I was very, very, very, super lucky to find a gentleman called john Simons who had a business called Hallmark executive catering. And he was looking for somebody to join his team who he could teach, how to do contract catering, but they had to be a chef, right? He didn’t want just a seller. And they were based in Hartford. And in fact, they were again, it was my brilliant wife, Melanie, who found the job and the caterer. And I went to meet him and you know, in life, you can meet people, and there is an instant click Yep. And john, and to this day, john, became my second mentor. And a hugely important mentor in my life taught me so many things I cannot tell you about business taught me how to use a computer. He taught me how to distinguish between a sending millennial and under burgundy. I mean, really just the most amazing life lessons I learned from Jim. And he supported me amazingly and allowed me to make mistakes allowed me to learn and haulmark ultimately got sold to a company called high table, which is now called Elio. Yeah. And there are a wonderful gentleman who is still to this day a dear friend, Tim West, who was the boss of high table. And Tim, my learning continued working under Tim and working with him. And the great people there are, I mean, just fantastic. Rob Kirby, who’s still there today, and like suddenly, and so many other wonderful people, Rachel lidner, they just taught me so much. And

Phil Street 57:00

I think the key point you made there was was around having a leader who gives you the opportunity to make mistakes, and doesn’t crucify you for it? Because it’s it mistakes are part of life. It’s you know It doesn’t matter how long you do this for, you’re always going to do something wrong.

Simon Esner 57:19

Absolutely, absolutely. Well, as you as I said, at the very beginning, even to this day, where I’m forgetting, I’ve got a zoom and I’m drinking beer to my heart. I’m still making mistakes.

Phil Street 57:30

Some would argue that that was the right thing to do. But

Simon Esner 57:34

I am super, super, super lucky to work with amazing people and anyone through working at high table bumping into that. I’d met a guy in the circuit on the circuit of food service management, contract, catering, whatever you want to call it, a gentleman called Nigel Anka, and Nigel was the MD of a company called Halladay catering and they were looking for somebody to head up their sales they’d had a previous guy doing it but they were looking at change and growth and one thing or another, and he said I against a mutual friend. He said would you like to come have a meeting? I was like, Yeah, but I don’t know anything about Halladay and B you’re based in Wokingham and I don’t even know where that is. So he said it’s down the M four and I said what’s down the M four I for them for stops that the Queen’s castle Windsor? He said no actually it goes all the way to Wales and it’s a really interesting mostly I am geographically challenged. One of my colleagues the great guy Richard Pierce worked with me for many many years. He always called me geographically dyslexic. Anyway, digressing I met with Nigel at the copied Beach Hotel in Bracknell next to a dry ski slope. There you go. Yeah. You could have been there. Yeah. I think I have actually been to that very dry sleazy. But very ugly john Nike, john Mikey ski slope. I think I meet him and incomes. And these are the days when you could smoke cigarettes and I smoke could go last night like a proverbial chimney. And I’m sitting in the in the copper Beach Hotel whacking through half a dozen Rothmans and just waiting and NIJ comes in and all the sudden behind him comes this lady who I’ve never met, never seen in my life. And I just thought, Wow, she’s a striking, not not in a little while. Pretty girl kind of striking. Gates about her. Her presence was something else. And she came and sat there. She said, Oh, absolutely. Do one of those. I’ve left mine in the office. Can I have one of your cigarettes? I guess of course. And I thought it was nine your secretary. And I said oh, you know, Linda, don’t know. This is Linda holiday. Oh shit. This is the one that I’m supposed to be interviewing or interviewing me. Yeah. So Halloween. Yeah, exactly. So we we start talking and within the bow I’m going to show you we’ve argued this over the years, and we’re great friends. We’re very very great friends now we were at each other’s kids weddings and everything. But we bout I said it was 20 seconds she said it was it was a minute. So I’ll go with her on giving the privilege to the lady but within a minute, we both decided that not only did we really really like each other, but actually we had a mutual understanding of where we wanted to go. And we just clicked and it was amazing. She said to me, You and I are gonna have with Nigel and Arthur and a couple of other guys and girls out there. We are just going to have the most amount of fun building this business which at the time was only single digit turnover kind of thing. So I took the top the biggest decision I had to make was should the Mercedes be black or silver? And it was just a different world. Yeah, and neither neither because I was moving from the city where of course you know, I was a drunk and later about functioning alcoholic for for high table for a number of years. He installed in his office a minibar, which he filled with shavlik which is very, very good. Trouble is as long as it’s and this is all good night, but I have been trying to get here. Ah, yeah, well what happened at lunch, and it’ll warn off to the time you go home. I mean, this is how crazy life was in those days. Long story show. We’re in that we’ve done it a couple years we’re having great fun because a lovely little business and then my mentor number three and still my mentor and the biggest supporter of me, someone who has guided me, I I just think is a genius in business. Alice’s story. out together with his business partner, Keith Wilson, had left Grenada food services and set up Wilson story. And we merged and became Wilson story Halladay and that for me was the moment that for me, my life changed for the better and was already brilliant. It just became it just became super psychic.

Phil Street 1:02:03

Upgrading your life, it seems from a position of upgrade.

Simon Esner 1:02:08

Yeah. Super, super lucky. Genuinely. He said to me, we were in Victoria Street in a coffee bar called Leonardo’s. And we’re back in the early days of WSH. The original WSH, which stood for Wilson story, Halliday now stands for Wesley Street. He said to me, he said, Where do you think we could take this business? So I thought I’ll be adventurous. I’ll say 100 million. Bear in mind. We had a turnover of jack shit. So after the hundred million? Yeah. Yes. or Europe? He said, he shouldn’t he knows that. I think we could do a billion. Now I looked at him, okay. And I looked at him and I thought, Okay, this is 20 years ago. I’m thinking to myself, you can’t call somebody crazy. In broad daylight. It’s just not acceptable. Plus it that whatever you say is your boss, so you can’t call him crazy in public. But when I got home, I said to my wife, I said, this guy’s a nutter he thinks she can take an independent contract patient business to a billion turnover. Anyway, she said, Well, just don’t tell him that don’t tell him is enough. I just see what happens. Well, of course, I was proved wrong. And of course, he was proved right. Because under his stewardship, and working with some of the most talented individuals on this planet, Alistair Storey has taken WSH pre COVID to a billion turnover, which I am absolutely honoured to have played a small part in that happening. So to be involved with a company that had the growth we had organic, they were acquisitions, etc. But most of it is organic under the stewardship analysis was, you know, to sit there and look at how he structured the deal look at how he thought things through and involved in every aspect of the business was its life changing and anybody that has the opportunity to work alongside and with with him and he’s still there today I contend in knocking it out seven days a week 24 seven days head, the guy it’s it’s it’s a privilege to be able to to be able to work with him. So I asked on the last what 20 odd years working as a very much a part of a team to build up the the great business that is today. And as we’ve grown, you know, Bendigo came along the brilliant Ben Warner. And then we we’ve sort of had us another superb colleagues normani, who heads up Baxter storia, a dynamic restless and he always uses that word, his restless for more in a good way dynamic, restless reader who just wanted Baxter story to grow and grow. I’m delighted to say that I had a really great Part of playing developing portico from the business, and then laterally with Monica Galetti, helping to set up that restaurant for her. And my final element for WSH was to create with with, I didn’t do anything, remember, I don’t work. But I connect, connect and bring people together. But to create a business called the collection, which is an event and venue finding business, which I’m super proud, it was the last thing I kind of did before. Sadly, 20 1415. For me, some health challenges came along, which meant that I had to make some decisions, reference work. And so right about 2018, I decided to take less of an operational role within the business with and I have to say with without, without the tremendous support and encouragement, and care of Alice the story, I could never have made those decisions. So I’m so fortunate to have him in my world, my family are fortunate to have him because he, he cared when I was I was pretty unwell. And he made sure that my wife didn’t have to worry, he constantly checked that my kids and young adults, then my kids were okay, when I couldn’t. And I think that is a mark of a man that goes beyond human being he is a super human being to me. And the speakers you find I can only speak as I know, in my heart, how important he he is, and continues to be in my world. So, but this is not an Alistair Storey Love in.

Phil Street 1:06:32

I think decisions like he made are very, very easy and straightforward. When there’s a mutual respect on the table. The I think a lot of the time, business gets over thought and it’s all about pound signs, etc, etc. And of course that’s important in business, but but actually the human element of business for me is, it’s how a business becomes truly exceptional. If it’s just purely business by spreadsheet, then you know it that’s gonna fall on its backside at some point, because there’ll be no heartbeat and soul to the business. Absolutely, yeah, I was lucky enough to meet Alistar. He probably won’t remember this because it was at a networking event where I think he met about 300 people, but I got 30 seconds with a new, there’s a lot going on behind the eyes. I think he just in saucing a pillow quickly. And yeah, I mean, he’s, he’s an impressive guy.

Simon Esner 1:07:29

I would know you had no argument for me. That’s. So that takes us I guess, to the point of where we are now and uncommon, said yeah, so I mentioned earlier on the worst thing you can do is good Simon isn’t nothing to do I become disruptive, which is why I learned to become a teacher. So one of the things I’ve always enjoyed, and I’ve been very, very fortunate I was invited to be some years ago, a trustee and board member of hospitality action, the industry charity, and through that, and also springboard on the patron of, again, an industry chair. Yep. I’ve got into mentoring young people through that. And then through various relationships and contacts, the University of sorry, for the last five years on their hospitality and tourism course, they’re their final year students, they have a mentor to take them through the final year on I’ve been doing that for five years. And what I realised is actually it’s, it’s really fulfilling for me to to see people working through their career, their opportunities, and I can play a little role in that. So I decided when I’d made the decision together with Allison to do less operation on effectively become more of a non exec director for WSH. And, and that’s where I am with WSH. Today, great companies wouldn’t wouldn’t, wouldn’t do anything other than work with them if I was given any choice. But it can also be that I need to kind of do something. So I set up Uncommon Sense, which is essentially a mentoring business for young people who are on the kind of middle level of their sales and business development career. So not at the beginning of it, but they’re moving up and it’s how can they take themselves from being a sales manager from good to great to exceptional to supersonic and that’s that’s very much what Uncommon Sense helps and unlocks the opportunities for for people to do add to that I’ve also taken up a few non exec director roles, which are helping various companies primarily focus my areas to focus on on how growth and business development can can enhance their businesses. So I’m really loving that it’s great the charity, you know, working with Mark Lewis and, and all the team at hospitality action. It’s just a joy because of the work they do and helping so many people and it couldn’t be more needed than it is now. Agreed. I think if any anybody listening to this is in a restaurant and sees the invisible chips, please buy the invisible chips they’re at their low calorie which is great. And, and be more important than worrying about your own calorific intake is that the money goes directly to those that need it. And I urge everybody to to get involved in if they’re in the industry of hospitality, hospitality action is there for you, and it will help you and I have countless stories of people who have been helped by hospitality action, and they’re even right up, even if you’ve only done a week’s work in your life in hospitality, they are there for you. So I’m hugely excited to continue to be a trustee and a board member there just to kind of, I suppose, wrap it up. But there’s a couple of questions that you asked me when you very kindly sent me the invitation to join this podcast, which will probably rank amongst one of the probably boring ones that you can put in the bank

Phil Street 1:10:57

that matters, but there’s some nuggets in here, don’t worry.

Simon Esner 1:11:02

You asked the question about and I loved it is if you go out for a drink with three people. Well, as you know that that happens constantly with me. Yes, well, actually, sighs I kind of put it down. And I have checked this out. So I know that one of the people is still alive. But the first one, and by the way I am. I’m a cook, as my wife says, he’ll make you an omelette. Don’t ask him to do anything else. So I know nothing. But the first person I want to sit down with and have a drink is Boris Johnson. I just want to say this was a Boris wall. But one night, what’s happening, please, you know, I want to have a conversation. I just need to understand why he’s doing and why he’s there. I don’t wanna make it political. But I would like to have a drink with him.

Phil Street 1:11:47

Your, your your business name Uncommon sense, there’s a there’s a lot of uncommon sense on show

Simon Esner 1:11:55


Phil Street 1:11:56

Baffling decisions. But anyway, that’s a different story, that’s a chat for another time

Simon Esner 1:12:01

Absolutely. And I don’t think it would be fair to the listeners to think the guy down the road is not the other one. And believe me, if this person would ever agree to just even just talk to me, let alone sit and have a drink. In the middle of me is the brilliant George Benson, who I have loved since I was a kid, probably the finest exponent of the guitar that you will ever find his music is to die for if you have the chance to listen to anything from George Benson. Go on YouTube. Go on Spotify, wherever you find your music and just download any track. You’re like, it doesn’t matter. Any track, you will be transported into a new world. George Benson I love him. Okay, final points. And the final person for me is a gentleman I mentioned at the very outset, and he is still alive. And he’s an he’s an octogenarian that’s Graham colour, because I want to say thank you for Graham Carr. Because he started me on my journey of hospitality, and would love to sit at a table with a red gingham tablecloth, and just watch him have a meal that I cook for him.

Phil Street 1:13:05


Simon Esner 1:13:05

Because he he started in my mind, he started my journey. So I’d really I’d love to do that. And I think if I if I can finish in case you can probably about any other questions that you aren’t you asked another question about the last day of a meal and drink. And I really thought about it, I thought, oh, should I be all hospitality and sheffy about it and start, you know, naming amazing chefs and all of that. But you know, one of the things that’s happened in my life and truly is I get to have lunch with these people. Often I am so blessed and lucky that I mean the Great Bear Pierre Kaufmann I’ve had lunch with several, I don’t wanna make this a whole name that thing I have, you know, Ben Tisch, and so on some of that I have spent time, Monica Galetti, and so on and so on with these amazing cooks these amazing chefs, and I’m so lucky and so joyful to have spent time eating and drinking with them. So if it was my last ever meal, as you’d asked me and your little note, Phil, you’ve seen only via the power of the internet, but I would like to be at my home in Portugal, with my family, all of my family and my outside kitchen, cooking a meal that I know they all love different meals because some of the kids don’t eat some things but I would make it the menu would be whatever. Having a beautiful chilled alboreto from the the minnow Valley which is considered to be the true home of of Alva Reno, the Portuguese Marina. And for me, that would be if I did that, and I watched them all eating and drinking and enjoying and then it was my time to go back to this. Ah, I would need nothing else. If I couldn’t do that. Then I’d say could I go and have lunch at Clare Smyth please because I love her

Phil Street 1:14:58

well as discussed earlier There’s a time and place for everything right. But the that I think that the interesting thing about that is that the majority of people you speak to and ask that question too. Usually, it’s quite a humble meal. You know, it’s not it’s not an eight course tasting menu with matching wanes. Although, to be honest, that if I was on my own, that that would be my way to go for sure. But you know, as you say, I mean, there’s a time and a place to go and experience Clare Smyth, and there’s a time and experience to have a cherished friend, and so quite eloquently put it beans on toast, with a glass of Sharpie, you know, it’s if you’re just into food, I think it’s such a mood related topic, you know, and also your surroundings where you are at a time and you just highlighted Portugal, you know, we’ve all been on wine tastings somewhere in the world, and you’ve just found the most amazing wine you’ve ever drunk, and then you bring a bottle back home, and you open it in your house, and it doesn’t taste anywhere near like it did when you were in the vineyard. And there’s a reason for that, because of the emotional and psychological responses that are going on while you experience it. But no, look, I mean, that’s, that’s an epic career. I mean, you’re not you’re not finished yet, either. And as I say, oh, gosh, no, you’re, you’re no giving back. And I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of some, some chats. And I think what I like about our discussions is that I think I get to correct me if I’m wrong, but I always get the feeling that you You think I already know the answers. You just you just help me get there.

Simon Esner 1:16:39

And that is mentoring.

Phil Street 1:16:41


Simon Esner 1:16:41

That is mentoring Phil, and there’s nothing clever about it. And I mean, I didn’t even get to mention I’m a fellow of this, and a fellow of that, and all this other nonsense, because it’s not important. But you’re absolutely right. And the key to mentoring, I was told this, because I went through some training, obviously, to make sure I wasn’t gonna, you know, screw people’s brains up. And the reality is that most people already have the answer. You’ve just got to help them find how to articulate it, or how to how to how to feel it. And one of my mentees at the moment, has significant difficulties in terms of disability. And, you know, we’re working through some stuff together. And it’s a long, long journey. But I already know that she has the answer. She has the answer. She knows the answer. And at some point over the next few weeks, months, however long it takes, the answer will come to her. And I’ll be able to sit there, look back at my notes and think, yeah, she knew that 12 weeks ago, but I won’t tell her that.

Phil Street 1:17:41

Yeah. Absolutely. Okay. Well, to to wrap things up, then. Historically, I’ve always asked the question, what would you say to somebody who’s considering a career in hospitality? But I’ve actually, I think I’ve come up with a better question, which is just a little bit more positive. And it’s focused. And that’s just quite simply, why should somebody start a career in hospitality?

Simon Esner 1:18:04

Why should somebody start a career in hospitality because if you take a career in hospitality, it doesn’t just mean that you’re going to be a cook, or a waiter. You can be an accountant, you can be a head of human resources. And you can be a supply chain expert, who can deal with logistics that rivals any large organisation shipping company. So in other words, within hospitality, the Korea, everybody often thinks, oh, hospitality, that’s the waiter, I did that when I was at university or college, I waited tables, or I cleaned glasses in the pub, or I cooked on the grill station. That’s not hospitality, a career in hospitality can take you. For example, an old has been like me, who started off washing up spanning over a sink with paths to becoming a senior director within a 1 billion turnover business to helping to guide and develop brilliant talent, but also myself being guided and developed as I went along that career. And the chances are endless and the opportunities are magnificent. That is why you need to take a career in hospitality.

Phil Street 1:19:28

Here here. Well, I think that’s a wonderful way to leave it. Simon, thank you very, very much for your time. I know we’ve run over a bit, but actually, there’s a lot of really interesting stuff in there. And so you don’t need to be sorry at all.

Simon Esner 1:19:41

I’ll get your your editing scalpel out or however you do these technical things.

Phil Street 1:19:45

Yeah, we’ll be 20 minutes by the time I’m finished.

Simon Esner 1:19:50

Just end with Hello.

Phil Street 1:19:51

(Laughs) Nice fun. Thanks, Simon. Take care.

Simon Esner 1:19:56

God bless you and thank you so much. I really appreciate the invitation.

Phil Street 1:19:59

Nobody motto, speak soon.

Simon Esner 1:20:01

Have a great afternoon. Bye bye.

Phil Street 1:20:02

Cheers. Bye. bye

A truly epic career so far from Simon who know takes great pleasure and pride and giving back to where he can, if you feel you could benefit from some high level mentoring, then I suggest getting in touch with Simon. He’s a total legend. Don’t forget, we launch a brand new episode each week. So hit that subscribe button and give us a like and share where you can. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.