Interview with Conde Nast
The Secrets to a Successful Food Business
Gary Robinson has cooked in some of the world’s most exclusive kitchens during his stints as Personal Chef to HRH Prince of Wales and Executive Chef at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. He recently gave up a lifetime of working at the back of house to head up Condé Nast International Restaurants, the restaurant licensing arm of the luxury publishing house based in Hong Kong. Here, Gary shares his expertise on how to successfully start a food business and how he manages the challenges of opening and operating branded VOGUE Cafés and GQ Bars around the globe.
What is your experience with starting a food business?
It is quite possibly one of the most trying and sleep deprived experiences anyone will ever undertake. That said, when the doors finally open and the guests start dining, the rewards have the potential to be part of some of the most amazing and enriching experiences that anyone could ever live through.
What are the biggest challenges you have encountered when starting up a new restaurant/food business?
The starting point for any new restaurant business should always be researching the market in which you intend to make an impression. Understanding what your potential audience is missing in their lives, rather than creating a concept and a vision that isn’t much more than a personal ego trip, is a challenge I’ve learnt to overcome quite recently.
Was there any trepidation about leaving your previous role in the kitchen to take on a restaurant development role?
There always has been and always will. You don’t spend a significant amount of time developing a skill only to walk away from it, so in that sense I am still very fortunate to be able to have access to our kitchens on a regular basis, in order to remain attached to the ‘old me’.
You currently manage several restaurants around the world. How do you split your time among these operations?
Without the backing of my team, there is no way that any amount of hours would cover what needs to be done throughout the day. Surrounding myself with good people and sharing the burden and the successes is the only way ahead.
In addition to full service restaurants, you have also worked on special menus, guest chef appearances, and pop-up restaurants. Tell us about your most memorable experience on a temporary arrangement.
Showing up at Nigella Lawson’s house with a basket of ingredients to present the sample menu for her father Nigel, (Baron Lawson of Blaby’s) birthday, and serving the menu in what is effectively her TV studio, was pretty memorable. The tasting was a success and we had the privilege of cooking for the event at 11 Downing Street (home to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and one door down from the Prime Minister’s residence) to quite an incredible and very appreciative guest list.
And finally – what, in your experience, are the most necessary skills needed to successfully open and run a food business?
Dedication, desire, passion and the will to make a difference. A bit of luck and good fortune is always useful, but at the end of the day there is absolutely no substitution for good, honest hard work.
Find out more about Condé Nast International Restaurants at www.cnirestaurants.com
Gary Robinson interviewed by Valerie The
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