Chef’s Pass - inploi meets Simon Boyle from Brigade Bar & Bistro Part III inploi Team | 11.11.2016
inploi is proud to share Simon Boyle’s story in a three-part series, as he takes us through his life and career; from misguided teen years through to becoming a world-class chef, entrepreneur and founder of Brigade Bar and Bistro.
“The grass isn’t greener elsewhere, everyone has their crosses to bear."
Brigade and the Beyond Food Foundation have grown over the years. How did you scale-up these projects?
I had a few failures. I went onto Dragons Den and tried to get investment, which I failed to do. But I got a lot of love from them. They helped me and said I needed to divide the business into two to create a charity. So I did do that with their help and then I realised I needed to work with people who knew about things like accountancy. I couldn’t afford to employ lots of people, and I thought – “Why don’t I go to businesses that are world-class”. And that’s what we did. I went to PwC and asked for some help and they introduced me to the Brigade building. We became partners and that’s how I do everything now – in partnerships. We do employ a lot of people here but actually there’s a lot more people involved in a successful model.
It’s apparent that retaining staff in the hospitality sector is becoming increasingly challenging. The Brigade also went through a period where cohort success rates dipped - Why do you think this is?
We lost our way a little bit. We also stopped being a charity recently we’re now a Community Interest Company. I brought people in, but they weren’t the right people. They wanted to take us in a different direction. So I think that’s where our numbers weren’t so good. But I do think they are very good now. We are now five years old in Brigade. We’ve now worked with over a thousand homeless people – and a tenth of them go into our permanent programmes. And our permanent programmes have 90% retention of jobs. You could go, “Well that’s only ten percent, how about the ninety percent”. But they’re designed in a way that the scheme has two parts. They’re designed not for us to get them a full-time job. They’re designed to help people start to work out what they want to do. At that point we take them along to meet people who we think they can work with. We’re very pleased with that and that flow of model is unique – no one else does it that way. I do think overall we are generally very happy. But it is a difficult sector to work in – it’s a lot of hours, you don’t get paid that much – it’s hard to make money in it. There’s so much competition.
If you paid people for the amount of effort that they put in, you’d be out of business. So it is really hard. But, as I said earlier, it is a great median to inspire people and it is enjoyable. You’re not staring at a computer screen all day long. You know, you start work in the morning, and you finish your product – your food, by the end of the night. For other companies – your project can take one year, two years or three years. But with food, it’s day to day. That’s why you get so much stress. I think it’s amazing. You start the day with one thing, and you finish it – The stress of it is that the customer’s gonna come in whether you’re ready or not.
Could more be done to promote the hospitality industry to younger generations?
The problem is – it used to be, you come out of school, go to catering college, do two years in catering college and then start as a commis. Or spend three or four years as a commis. But it’s not like that anymore. You either don’t go to college, or you come out of college and expect to be what they call a chef de partie. It took me five years to become a chef de partie – so I had lots of experience. But these guys coming in want to be paid a lot more money for a lot less experience. So the whole industry has become de-skilled. The other point is that, it’s not very well paid, and you don’t get very good packages. But I think that’s changing. My chefs do 40 hours a week, and they moan about the hours. But I say to them, “If you were working in an office, there’s no such thing as a 9-5 any longer. You go home, and you sit on your emails, or work on the weekends – because stuff needs to be done.” I always say, “The grass isn’t greener elsewhere, everyone has their crosses to bear”. That’s the way it is.
I have chefs that have been with me for five years. And I have chefs that stay with me for a matter of months. But that’s down to me though, it’s not down to them. If I’m inspirational and I look after them, and we congratulate them, and we train them so they gain new skills; we should keep them. But if you drop the ball on any of those things, then they’ll leave. So I do think it’s down to employers rather than employees to retain staff. You don’t just want them to do the job, you want them to learn and prosper and therefore want to stay. And at the point that they want to leave, they should be communicating that with you in plenty of time, so you can help them. And you become known for that. And people want to work for you because of it. Being an employer is a process.
I was speaking at the Big Hospitality Conversation and I said, “I’ve travelled the world, and seen loads of great things. I worked in Saudi Arabia prince. You know there were crazy, crazy things that I did - but they were amazing for my career.” And you don’t have to work in a Michelin star restaurant to cook good food any longer. You know, you can work in a local pub and cook amazing food. It’s open and accessible to everybody. I suppose the industry does have a bit of a name. But I’m not sure I agree with that.
What are your aspirations for the future?
People are very surprised when I say I don’t want to grow Brigade. I used to – I was obsessed with it. But now I’ve got to the point where a couple of things have happened to me in my life that made me realise that family’s more important than work. So what I’d rather do is fill Brigade with customers and apprentices, and I’m quite fulfilled with that.
I’ve got a kind of small alternative business with some food products that I sell. I didn’t take it that seriously before, but I’m excited to take it seriously. Do I want to work in a restaurant until I’m 65? Not really. It’s a lot of hard work. So rather than just leave, I’m working on a food brand based around me and my thoughts. And I’ve set up a social investment fund on the side so the profits go into that fund and they get distributed. So that’s where I am. And there’s some thinking about the way we train and how we can share those. So I’ve got some interesting ideas and we can see where they go in the future. It’s about trying to find like-minded organisations that we can work with – in partnership. To share some of the things we do.
You’ve also found the time to write several books - Do you plan on writing more?
I have another one coming out – following How to Get a Job - and Keep It - it’s part of a series. I seem to have found a bit of a no-nonsense kind of way of writing. The next one’s called How to Cook, and Keep Cooking. Because I think there’s a market for people who are leaving home for the first time.
I’ve managed to steer my career to a point where I have space and time. So I have a head chef at Brigade, I have people who run the business. I’ve created that fluidity and flexibility within my role. And I’ve worked hard to get that. Over the years people involved with Brigade have wanted me to be in the kitchen the whole time. But I think it’s really important that that’s not how I spend my life. I prefer to keep myself flexible. And that allows me to do stuff like writing. But I do think that if I do stuff like that, it comes back to the business in a different kind of way – in a positive way. So that’s how I see it. I’m quite lucky.
This interview has been edited for publishing purposes.
If you missed parts one and two of this interview don’t hesitate to check them out here:
About the author: Victoria Bushnell is Head of Marketing/PR at inploi.