At our first networking event in the Gregg Latchams’ Business Network programme, we heard from three business owners with different experiences but one shared, common theme – a huge amount of passion for what they do. Joining Finance Kitchen and GL Business Consultancy was Will Beckett, co-founder of Hawksmoor London, a steak restaurant renowned as one of the best out there.
Although the talk of so much steak was making us hungry, we decided to speak to him about his passion, get the low-down on his journey, and find out exactly how an award-winning franchise can blossom from a chargrill in a Turkish restaurant.
Hi Will! Thanks for coming along to the business breakfast. Let’s first go right back to the beginning of your business journey. How did it all begin?
“It all started 13 years ago with the Redchurch, a small bar in Shoreditch. Huw Gott, my best friend from school, joined me in opening the 1,200 square foot bar, with a simple idea behind it – food, cocktails that were simple but done well, and music at the weekends. This was at a time when Shoreditch was still up and coming, so we were the ‘go to’ bar in the area, which was a lot of fun. In some ways it was great, but in other ways, it was horrific – we had no idea how to run a business. We learned a lot of lessons very quickly, including seeing things from the customer’s viewpoint, and the importance of fresh ingredients and getting pricing right.”
Why did you choose such a competitive industry to go into?
“We come from the background – Huw’s parents have a café business in the sustainable and seasonal trade, and my mum is a food and drink journalist. We did go and get ‘real jobs’ at first, but there’s a real pull with this industry – we felt we had to do it. Plus, we have a genuine passion for food and drink, which is a huge part of what we do.”
Now what about the journey from your first restaurant to when you opened your first Hawksmoor?
“We opened two restaurants before we struck gold with Hawksmoor – a Mexican place, and a gastro pub. Both taught us a lot, and three years after we’d finished with Red Church, Hawksmoor had begun. Even then, it wasn’t plain sailing from day one – to start with there were lots of financial ups and downs, but by two years after we opened it, we’d started to get a feel for how to run a business.
The whole process took about five years, and within that there was a huge amount deliberate learning. Looking back, I don’t think we could have done it any sooner – I think that’s how long these things take. It was a really good period for us and definitely prepared us for where we are today.”
What do you think the relationship between passion and profit is? Can passion get in the way of success?
“Passion isn’t a barrier to profit – if you love something, that’s a great place to start a business. Entrepreneurs have to be passionate! We found it difficult at the beginning to make a sustainable business, but that’s the journey everyone goes on. It’s just a stage of business, you have to accept that, but you have to work very hard to get out of that into profit – not everyone succeeds, and I am under no illusions that luck didn’t play a part in Hawksmoor’s success.”
You found something that worked in Hawksmoor – but what business lessons did you need to learn to take it to the next level and successfully expand?
“Learning to delegate, and let go of part of your business, is a big lesson we had to learn. Getting people to the right level and then genuinely giving them responsibility is no mean feat, but it’s crucial that the team work to your standards in order to role out your business on a bigger scale.
Every time we go up a level – whether that’s a new restaurant, or a more complex project, we have to think about how we keep our standards up. As the business develops, answers to the questions around standards change, and so far Hawksmoor has been able to successfully find answers to those questions.”
What’s the relationship between creativity and commerciality for you?
“It is, at times, a tense one. But I genuinely believe in the idea that if you do things right, commerciality will be an output of that. That’s the order it ought to go in – we would never put profit before doing the right thing.
The size of the business is a big part of it – a smaller business has risk at the heart of it, and you can make more wildly creative decisions. Now we have 700 staff, so we’re slightly less inclined to take wildly creative risks. But the most important thing is regular communication to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and wants to be creative and commercial in equal measures.”
How can a business stand out in what is a very crowded marketplace?
“It’s more and more difficult in our industry, especially in London. The only thing you can do is keep to your standards, and consistently do what people expect of you. Your customers are key to your business, so it’s important to do what’s right for them. It doesn’t matter if you have one million potential customers – if you only need 10,000, and you’ve got 10,000 as it stands, your job is to work with those people. Even if everyone else ignores you, it doesn’t matter, because you need to stand out for your customers.”
What’s next for Hawksmoor?
“We’re opening a flagship restaurant in the World Trade Center next year – a 14,000 square foot venture. It’s hard not to be excited by New York, and it will be our biggest challenge yet. It will be our largest restaurant, in a new country, with a different audience. But we like pushing and testing ourselves, and this definitely feels like that.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to someone in your industry?
“When you see people running a business, you see a diverse range of skills, passions and goals. But one thing unites people that run successful businesses is their optimism combined with realism.
If you’re optimistic for the future and realistic about the issues, you’ll be well on your way to building success. Of course, optimism has to come without naivety – it’s about being realistic about the work you have to do, but optimistic about getting through it. If you can surround yourself with others who think like that, that will give you the best chance.”