Ruth Mitchell

Member Article

Interview with Andy Hook, MD of Blackfriars

Name: Andy Hook
Company: Blackfriars
Position: Managing Director

What is your career history to date?

I graduated with a degree in Physics and Laser Physics and went on to work as a process engineer for Philips in London where we built image intensifiers for the night-vision industry. A few years later I was asked to help run a printed circuit board factory in South Shields as a production manager. It was a big change for a lad from the south and not an altogether happy one but I found out years later that several generations of my family had lived in Shields back in the late 19th and early 20th century! I slogged it out for five years before realising my dream of owning a restaurant.

What is your current job title, and what does your role entail?

I’m now the Managing Director of Blackfriars Restaurant which is very much a visionary and administrative role. However, it wasn’t always like that. My first restaurant was Sidney’s in Tynemouth where I worked as owner-manager-dogsbody on every shift for many years. At one point I had three places – Sidney’s, Blackfriars and a brief liaison with a cafe. It’s now just Blackfriars which is easier, though I do also own and administer some other commercial property. Blackfriars has also grown-up and matured over the past decade; we have invested massively into the operation, are blessed with brilliant staff and have an incredibly loyal customer base. I’m able to look forward and plan the future much more effectively than ever before.

What is the big story for your business in 2012?

Last year we launched our ornate medieval Banquet Hall which seats up to 50 diners and has been popular for corporate functions, private parties and weddings. It has an adjoining workshop where we can teach various artisan skills. It’s a lovely space over-looking the cloister garden and has a bespoke central granite-topped table for up to 12 people. We’re really excited about it and have already launched a number of courses this year including bread making, dinner party cooking, food and wine matching and kids cookery.

What has been your biggest business challenge to date?

When you’re forever pushing yourself and your team forward to achieve the next goal you always encounter massive challenges on the way. I put most of them out of my mind especially the odd staff rebellion, people trying to sue me, times when I couldn’t pay my bills and the odd belligerent individual inexplicably desperate to put me out of business. I also remember spending a six figure sum on a commercial building which I didn’t yet own on a hand shake with an old hippy that one day I could buy his place! It’s just as well I’ve forgotten half of it!

What has been your proudest professional moment to date?

I don’t think I’ve ever looked back and thought I’m proud of anything; I only have time to look forward! I suppose surviving a decade or more of business without going bust, getting divorced or killing myself has been a success!

Who or what has inspired you the most in the course of your career?

My dad is the obvious place to start as someone who works hard, never compromises, always wants the best he can possibly have and has diligent attention to detail. I’ve always looked to him for praise and get more upset by his criticisms than anyone else’s. Beyond that, I’ve never worked for anyone else in the hospitality industry and tend to look outside the industry for inspiration as much as inside. People I greatly admire for achieving so much from relatively lowly beginnings range from some of my schoolmates who have gone on to spectacular careers; great industry leaders like Steve Jobs and Alan Sugar; and my wife who has quietly and unassumingly ran a successful PR business for the past decade.

Outside of the workplace, what is your main passion?

Food and hospitality are my passions, hobby and career so outside of ‘work’ I love spending time at my allotment growing vegetables, cooking with my kids and having people over for dinner. I also love music – both listening and playing. I play drums, guitar and piano – all quite badly!

If you weren’t in your current position, what would you be doing?

I have always wanted to play in another rock band – either guitar or drums. Otherwise, I’d be a small-holder, a tri-athlete, a film maker or a writer.

What do you believe will be the challenge and the biggest opportunity facing your sector in the next 12 months?

The biggest challenge my industry faces is the erosion of margin and ability to remain profitable. Discerning diners continue to demand deals and offers whilst the costs of food, drink, diesel, utilities, wages, insurances etc have skyrocketed in recent years. However, if we can be innovative, focussed and survive the next few years then chances are we’ll emerge much stronger than before the downturn.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Ruth Mitchell .

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