Hospitality Mavericks - Podcast #144 with Monika Linton

In this revealing discussion Monika speaks from the heart about the origins of Brindisa and how the founding 'food first' and open-book principles of the business remain as true today as they were 34 years ago.

| Brindisa Marketing

Hospitality Mavericks Podcast #144

Monika Linton with Michael Tingsager MCIPD

In this revealing discussion Monika speaks from the heart about the origins of Brindisa and how the founding 'food first' and open-book principles of the business remain as true today as they were 34 years ago.

Brindisa has been the home of Spanish food in the UK for over 30 years. It was set up by Monika Linton in the 1980s to share her love for quality Spanish produce to the UK, and her aim has always been to bring excellent food and ingredients from the most remote parts of Spain to Britain and to champion selected smaller producers and their skills.

It is amazing to learn how she structures her business with 120 employees through open-book management. We explore working with small producers, growing your business in the right directions, the power of having an HR department, and eating strange foods as a child.






Hospitality Mavericks

#144 Monika Linton, Founder of Brindisa, on Open-Book Management


welcome to the hospitality maverick podcast with me Michael Tingsager we at hospitality mavericks are here to inspire leaders to create heart felt and profitable businesses from the inside out the kind to both employees and customers love and support thanks to Bizimply for sponsoring this episode as our show partner and this simply is the all-in-one hr workforce management roadside operations software designed and built by hospitality experts to make every shift run like clockwork and we join forces to help the industry to find new ways to become even more innovative and how we lead our people how we operate to how we grow our businesses to how we serve our customers together we want to share strategies and tools that can make the industry tried long term not just survive


i really truly believe you have to be yourself you have to be able to be yourself in all the circumstances that you find yourself in in the business and so i'm a very natural sort of i have a very natural manner with people we have open door approach in the business um when i in the very early years i didn't believe in hierarchy i mean there had to be a little bit because people had to be in charge of things but um when we had rewards or gain share or bonus it was the same for everybody whatever position they were in the business so just be fair and be yourself and unpretentious is a very key thing for me


this is Monika Linton founder of Brindisa. Brindisa have for more than 30 years been bringing the best of Spanish food to you via their restaurants retail shops online shop and wholesale Monika shares the story from the early days back in the late 80s when the business was founded


at that point in time Spanish gastronomy was almost non-insistent in the uk Monika and Brindisa created a whole new category of food in the uk they are what i would call real trailblazers we dive into how they approach growth leadership development of their people and how they're developing a culture people love and support Monika gives an overview of what she thinks are the key challenges for hospitality right now and how they are trying to overcome these we talk about the power of getting the right people in the right seats when it comes to the leadership team and how this really has been a key factor for navigating the pandemic for Brindisa. Monika shares how she has grown and developed herself and show up pro every day and she has a lot of great advice during this conversation before you tune in please sign up for a weekly newsletter packed with more maverick insights strategies and tools find the link in the show notes or visit hospitalitymap and the last thing this conversation will make you reflect on how you build an organization and culture that people want to join and stay with a great place to work enjoy [Music]


i'm super excited about today's conversation because we already been talking about some of my favorite things we talked about pulses we talked about food from Spain and we talked about directly that uh last time i was here in your restaurant was with my wife many years ago were not married at that point i just moved to London and we had this you know thing to get around Spanish food and and pulses which then have followed me the rest of life so we just had a good conversation about food in general in the industry so i'm really looking forward to dive into today's conversation so welcome to the conversation Monika and the show really a pleasure to have here you're here and uh and thank you to ari for making it all happen


yeah well i feel very privileged to be included in your list of very very erudite people on your podcast so thank you


you've done you've done the work yourself in a way and ari said you need to talk with Monika if you don't know Monika you need to meet her and you need to talk with her


that's very kind of him yeah um


so for people that you know don't know who you are and what businesses you're involving can you just give you know like maybe an overview and a bit of background how you ended up in hospitality and all the other elements of you know retail wholesale you're involved in


well Brindisa started out as an importing business um in 1988 which um is now 34 years ago or so um and so we source we've been distributing and importing products from Spain of very high caliber for 34 30 plus years we then set up to um to sell to the public directly without having to go through intermediaries we then set up retail so we've got shops and we've got an e-commerce platform so people can buy directly from Brindisa and then in 2004 we set up or i set up a separate entity which is the tapas restaurant group which is now made up of six restaurants and a market bar here in Borough and that we've also acquired a business in Spain which is called Peréllo which is a brand an olive brand and a pulses brand that we run out of barcelona um and we export from there and that's that's the sort of sum total of Brindisa at the moment um how this all started is is a whole other kind of question really because it's sort of you know i'm not really a traditional um business person i started out as a teacher i did a degree in Spanish um as a family you know my parents lived and worked abroad a lot so we were influenced by living in africa in asia and just you know moving around the world and eating different foods and meeting different cultures so that all i think must have fed into my interest in food generally and um having done a Spanish degree you know i wanted to use my language i wanted to stay connected with Spain i lived in Spain for a fair bit after my degree um working as a teacher and then i came back to england and brought the sort of foods with me and started this business up really inspired my brother started it with me and since then it's just grown to what i've just explained it is now with all these outlets um you know it's much bigger than it was obviously at the beginning um and so i kind of got to a stage where you know over 35 years the world has evolved into a very different place and so you know i have built around me some very very good teams and people because you can't acquire all the skills yourself so um you know my i suppose my my kind of main reason to to do this is just love of Spanish food and love of food in general exchanging culture exchanging foods connecting with the people who make food and who make food really really really properly because there's craft in making good food it's not obviously we need fuel to survive but you know within the food world there are people who have so much skill and so much knowledge that watching how the Spanish manage if you like their gastronomy how much they know was just a total insight to you know completely you know just knocked me sideways when i saw what they knew and i wanted to bring that knowledge back to england um therefore we you know that's how we got the business going and and


you already alert a bit to it but what is like the the deep purpose because you need to have a quiet you know deep purpose to actually keep a business running for 35 years there needs to be an of course there needs to be an evolving vision but then what is the purpose of why did you set up the business and why you created all these different parts of the business because it must be some kind of thing you want to achieve


yeah well i think the overriding principle is to bring Spanish food to creative cooks in in Britain because um you know we bring in ingredients as well as um products like cheese and charcuterie that are not just industrial products i mean there are really really well crafted products um that you know i i wanted to learn how to differentiate from you know all these different qualities and so on and so then bringing them over to Britain for the public to try out through professionals or directly with us watching chefs in Britain converting some of the ingredients that we could find into really stunning dishes or not being too dogmatic about it being a Spanish menu or a Spanish dish these were products that in their own right were of exceptional quality so some of the pulses that we brought over some of the cheeses we brought over or rice that we brought over you know in their own um in their own right they were amazing ingredients for anyone who was a really good chef and could understand what a differentiated pulse or bean might bring to a dish or really good saffron would bring to a dish and so the professional chef and the high class retailers were the speciality retailers were the people who could see what i was trying to do and i wanted people to continue well to learn how to cook you know our ingredients so it's not just you know a convenience food if you like it was trying to challenge um that message a little bit so that people kept cooking as a key skill and learning how to buy your food is a key skill and so for me right at the very beginning i wanted us to make sure that was quite central to what we did and but at the early days i had to use you know chefs to help get that message through so they put some of the better ingredients if you like the top ingredients onto their menus often naming them whether it was a peculiar pepper or whether it was a hudion bean or a cantabrian anchovy you know the chefs respected the quality as well and they would communicate that through their menus and then that helped the public and other retailers third-party retailers across the country recognized that we were innovating in areas where really the specialism hadn't been done this was in the 90s the specialism hadn't really kind of been recognized that much and it's still um still growing the but i love there's like different levels to it to your purpose as well and you talk about that thing also you want to give people a life skill of cooking which you know the pandemic brought that you know that need or life skill backing right away definitely what i've observed myself and you could even see myself cooking more than i would have done normally and now it's become a very good habit


yeah yeah and i think you're you're so right uh


so many that that lacks that skill of actually being able to you know how know how to buy food and then cook food out of principles not from recipes you know yeah the basic how you work with food i really like that as well and learning to actually taste things you know because it is very subjective quality you know um of a product and so you know not everyone takes the time to enjoy the aroma or the texture or the flavor of an ingredient or a dish it's sort of just fuel if you know what i mean so you know learning teaching that within the business learning it myself and then trying to communicate that as a you know a really exciting part of one's life you know it is quite an adventure to to learn how to appreciate ingredients um so that was a that's a big part of the yeah and i guess that you're never done because there's so much still to be learned that's like you can keep on food stuff it continues and that's what i love with and some of the things that make me addictive to the the food bit because you can never learn and i just learned about a new pulse before we started as well and i was talking about fava beans


yeah um what do you think that makes your business because you need to have something that consumers or customers thinks is quite unique about you to stay in business for so long what is that that really makes you unique and that could be producer or it could be some other brand what is that makes you both from a customer maybe also for an employee point of view


well um i think it's partly the um all these different channels within the business um cross-fertilizing across all these channels is something that's very unique to Brindisa and in such a niche you know so it's not it's not like a multinational business or you know or a very big business really um but you know we source we ship we distribute we retail we cook you know ingredients from Spain now people most maybe sensible business people would say we're going to do that we're going to do it across a global range of foods rather than just from one country that people don't understand particularly well i mean i always want to make the impossible possible so i just you know selling Spanish cheese in when i when my first cheese was in 1989 selling Spanish cheese in 1990 in London was probably the most ridiculously difficult thing to try and do but i was going to try and do it and you know i did and it you know this is where we've come it's been a long road but you know we are one of Britain's most um respected Spanish cheese businesses um you know that category within Brindisa is very important so um that's what i think is quite unique about Brindisa in that it's most normal people wouldn't have chosen to do it quite like this it means that we can kind of you've got this cross-fertilization if you like across all these channels of something that is quite niche really


Spanish food i mean it's um so i think that's quite unique but i think also that then what you're saying as well blind is that you know you became the experts in this and it takes time to become the experts in in a specific needs but then when you own that it's quite good for the business long term because you're building on that


yeah exactly we're building on that and the culture is very much around you know really nurturing that really loving that subject you know um you know the business can accommodate people who might not be in love with Spanish food that's fine now that we're bigger but right at the very beginning it was kind of do you want to get on this train it's quite good fun you know we didn't really necessarily have the skills we just learnt on the way yeah but um there was always a sense of like this is this is a really exciting journey of discovery there's a lot of fun to be had you know working out which are the right foods who to sell them to you know i mean in the early days it was that that's what it felt like like it was an adventure um and so i think that spirit still lives on in the business a bit and obviously i'm still really close to business and one of my strongest desires has always been to share my experiences where or whatever they've been or wherever they've been you know so we lived in west Africa you know we lived in the far east we lived um you know i worked you know i went to um lots of countries on my own part of my degree sent me to south America and so on and Spain is this you know this Brindisa exchange if you like between Spain and England is an extension of that you know joy that i always found just seeing the rest of the world meeting new people eating their foods food brings people together and people speak through food you know so you learn so much just by whether it's a long house in Borneo eating some really salty river fish that's like bony and really unpleasant you know we've eaten it all rice wine with sort of worms in the bottom you know as kids we had all of those kind of strange foods and it was sort of part of part of a kind of a very special upbringing that we had and so to me Brindisa is just you know a professional expression if you like of something that we were brought up with


um and you expanded the business you already made that clear over the years the 35 years but yes you said we are not a not a global player we are we are we are focusing we are expert in a niche but what is your approach to growth because there's always especially in the food industry we need to grow we need to have a hundred units we need to have so and so on so this needs to happen well growth has to happen obviously


i mean i don't resist growth it has to be i think one of your fellow podcasters called elegant growth yeah um for me it has to be elegant growth it has to be growth not just for um vanity if you like um you know big numbers i've always rather frightened me so i don't you know i don't say we've got to do this we've got to do that we've got to just be like the biggest we to be the best is what i like um but to be the biggest is not the most important thing and i would also the way i've kind of managed it if you like within the business is to kind of put certain limitations and areas of the business where i feel if we were to build it too far in one direction we'd get to a tipping point where the business would need to change and become something that i couldn't recognize personally and then i wouldn't really want to be in charge of it so it's identifying really with the growth pattern if you like where we where we're going to enjoy the growth and whether where the where it's going to be true to our values you know so that we're not so i put some percentages on certain channels so if there's a channel that i think for example big supermarket supply you know discounted foods or whatever that's just not that's not our place but obviously you know people do ask us um then there are other categories where we would also potentially go like fresh fish or fresh fruit and vegetable you know Spain's got amazing fish amazing vegetables but if we were to go in that direction you know and again we get asked but we just have to be really clear about which growth is healthy growth for us and it can be growth in quality not just quantity as interesting it almost seems like you need to create these stop doing lists or kpis of the stop doing list


yes yes absolutely and i think it's very interesting that you say that you all it's like not just something you put in a spreadsheet it's also an intuitive feel that you have what can break the business yeah in the wrong direction or what you would feel what's the wrong direction from the purpose of


yeah yeah absolutely but what does that do again you know that would really i guess normally when i talk with people that you know growth has an impact on about how you think your business in general and the philosophy behind it and how you do things what does that mean for the way you think you know your leadership philosophy across the business and because i know you you know Ari introduced you and said that would be a really interesting conversation because we talked about that in the US and yeah he said you will represent similar kind of approach as Zingerman’s here in the UK what kind of approach have you taken there well


um i haven't sort of like written it down or formulated it in any kind of you know it's just sort of yeah i like you you used the word instinctive just now i am you know maybe to my detriment in certain areas i am very instinctive um and i don't always look at the numbers and so on but so in terms of leadership philosophy um you know i really truly believe you have to be yourself you have to be able to be yourself in all the circumstances that you find yourself in in the business and so i'm a very natural sort of i have a very natural manner with people we have open door you know approach in the business um when i in the very early years i didn't believe in hierarchy i mean there had to be a little bit because people had to be in charge of things but um when we had rewards or gain share or bonus it was the same for everybody whatever position they were in the business um so i've been you know that's a sort of just be fair and be yourself and unpretentious was is a very key thing for me um courage i think is another really big one for me because when i look back at what the things that i've done i think my god how on earth i mean like what was i thinking you know whether it was you know asking the milkman if he could the local milton whether he could store the cheese that i'd imported from Spain because i had nowhere else to put it to and just stopping him in the street kind of thing to um you know setting up a restaurant when i had no idea how to run a restaurant you know um i just pitched for the site i was very convincing that i knew what i was doing i i mean good ingredients make good tapas you know what's there to argue about but of course i didn't know how to do that conversion but you know i took the site anyway it was then i've got to find some people so then i found the team you know so courage i think does get you quite a long way um and so you know i still believe in you know in courage you know not just not being frightened to make change or to be disruptive um integrity loyalty i think are really important i think but in a business like ours after so many years you know in the first few years when people left the business or were worried that their future wasn't going to be satisfied within you know because because of me or whatever um i've you know i found that really distressing because i get quite emotional and i just you know sort of you feel everything and that makes you less able to think and so as times gone on we obviously set up hr departments at an hr department in the building both businesses and that was the most amazing thing to do because at the end in the early days you get so close to people because you love your colleagues they're your friends they're your family you know you don't want people to be dissatisfied or unhappy um but you haven't got all the money in the world to pay them either because you're just a new business so i've learned over time that you know loyalty and integrity and friendship all the in the business context are really important but they still do still need to be professional if you know what i mean


yeah because it's um that's a hard balance


yeah um when you start out you don't really understand how important having a little bit of distance from people because you you want to take it all on with the same joy you might want to find the food you also want to help everybody and then again it's the passion that comes out there you know been they've been there myself as well where you know there's no fine lines between what's you know job and and it's the family thing yeah and then suddenly it grows and then yeah some of them leave you for it could be your fault sometimes it is and sometimes it's not and you spend so much time on you know processing that and yeah it's not it's not helping you or the people that's stayed


no exactly and also you remember in that process that you know okay i'm the one that sort of started this and i'm the bigger loser or winner whichever way it goes but you know these guys are just you know it's a job and they're really happy to be on the train with you but you know um you know they've got other things to think about they've got they want to be able to pay their rent they want to be able to bring up a family they want to do go on holiday so you've got to start making the business into a really viable option for everybody yeah as well


so anyway that sort of um i suppose integrity in terms of your duty to the staff to provide an environment that is appropriate you know so people can make a living and you know be comfortable is really important but at the beginning it was all a bit of sort of sacrifice and we love it let's just do it it doesn't matter whether we make any money or not or um but over the years that so so that to me is now really important um and recognition both ways i mean recognition to all the amazing people i work with you know and you have to do it more and more through your management structure um and then for people within the business you know not just myself but other people getting recognized as you know an expert in this or we get a prize for certain products that sort of external recognition is also really gratifying um because you know we all work really hard to make things happen and then if you know um i've got an award for you know hard work for with Spanish cheese this year and that was really really nice because we've worked as a business sacrificed to locked me a lot to make to put Spanish cheese on the so recognition you know and it filters both ways if you are able to recognize people's skills and pat them on the back and hopefully pay rewards now and again when the business done well enough that's just really really really important


you mentioned something just before around hierarchy that you in the beginning you're much into there should be almost no hierarchy and then you you put a bit of structure in place and there's this whole movement in the moment going from the i call it the christmas tree the top-down organization to the the bottom-up where you involve your people in the business and you can do that in different ways and intensify structures or in decision-making structures and i don't know if you ever read the book and you might have because we know ari both about the great the great game of business in principle where they turn around this manufacturing business that's you know totally in the rot to suddenly become very profitable business by removing hierarchy


yeah involving people in business where are you now in like 35 years down the line what kind of approach do you have to the structure of the business well we have structure because you know more than we did at the very beginning obviously because we're now many more people so it's a bit like we're you know we're like 120 people in Brindisa in the restaurants we're approaching probably 200 people and it's very difficult to manage um and in Barcelona we have another half a dozen people which is sort of how Brindisa was at the very beginning so we need we do need structure and i think people often feel safer if there is a structure because they know what's expected of them and but you've got to manage that structure and you've also so you need the sort of the the leaders or the managers to really be able to um lead their teams well um and it really needs to be more as more inclusive than maybe traditional businesses so the staff need to be um included and consulted in decision making and development and i think you'll find you always see where the rising stars are or the people who are really engaged one of the things that we did was open book finance yeah so um i did take staff over to zingerman's um quite a long time ago now and i'd love to refresh everybody with it but open book finance which sort of links in with the book you mentioned um the game of business um i think is a really really really inspiring technique for all sorts of businesses and we ran it within Brindisa for quite a while and it's just gone a little bit you know like some of these things can that gets a bit stale um it's being covered and we've had Brexit we've all had all sorts of things that just have thrown us all into sort of disarray and we've got like really high priorities to think about yeah and we haven't really been able to put it back into the business for a few years but i think that system is a great way of breaking down the hierarchy because you still need it but you don't necessarily need to behave like you might do in a traditional Christmas tree if you see what i mean structure you can still be inclusive consultative you know generous you know all the things that your employees employers and managers should be anyway but you can make sure that there's some other systems in place to make sure that people have their voice


people need their voice in your business yeah and the open book management you talk about


there is also about you know sharing the numbers this is how the business are doing this is the results because there's often what i've learned before i even learned about the term of book management you know there was always people thought it was going much better than it was actually was and we were sitting in the as the top tree or part of the business and you said look yeah well how do we tell how do we explain that to them that you know maybe it's not always good and we always save the business in the last three months of the year up to Christmas that's that's how the business model works and lots of people thought we were making lots of money all the time what was the when you did open book management because i think that's really interesting technique compared to the challenges that's coming up ahead by which we have to be really agile in food and move fast that people knows where you make money and lose money


in principle what was your learning when you were doing that and you say you want to reinforce that and put it back into the business


well i think the um i think it's it's just all those extra bits that people i mean people see the top line yeah and they think hey this is great um but you know how many people really focus on maybe the wastage maybe they just feel that someone else's problem someone else can pay for that oh we've you know we've got to waste two pallets of something um but i've made the sales so it's not really my problem um or there are other costs to bringing in a new product that you know isn't costed properly in terms of marketing it and launching it and so nobody spends any money on marketing or launching it and therefore it doesn't go anywhere and then you kind of wasted a whole lot of effort from the bias to the logistics team and everything but so with openbook finance you bring all of that out and it allows people to understand the hidden costs and the complexity really in a business to make something actually work and um and i think that's where the system was really really good but you do need to be asking good questions like all of these things you have to be asking the right questions because you can just get into a system of just doing doing a a huddle if you like with a with a dor board and you know you just kind of go through the motions but you know you really need to interrogate the information even if you've got the system if you see what i mean yeah because then the the system can become the the worst enemy of itself because it's easy now then we've done that and we can tick it off yeah but really you didn't come to the root cause of either the the costs the wastes that's going up or the sales that didn't come in on these days and um so yeah


so so i i agree i think really that thing also when you start sharing people the complexity that's also when one of the next thing i wanted to talk with you about you really can start grow and develop people and make them better business people when they move on because a lot of people you know i work through my career i often start to when i get them in from somewhere or maybe to get in very early in their career


that's definitely my experience first i need to learn them how work how work works you know how to be productive at work and efficient and then i start with the p l and then i find out lots of people don't know that they just know the top line sales profit exactly all the complexities you're saying that's going on i mean i must say with the restaurant business which is a much more immediate business than say the warehouse the warehouse is complex because we have lots of different categories and we have lots of different channels and so understanding how that comes out and what the what margin comes out in the wash is more complex than it is for the restaurant business because you know you you're doing one thing which is you know supplying amazing dishes to customers who pay on the nail um so you haven't got credit issues it's just getting that balance right and um my finance director and operations and partner um director in the restaurants Ratnesh Bagdai is absolutely brilliant at bringing those numbers together because they're at hand every week so the staff see that we have a daily report from every site of you know the sort of um you know what the activity of the day the staff cost they're watching the staff are trained in that in that business to watch it every day because it is more it's more controllable it's more visible yeah and the teams the managers and the the head chefs are all really versed in what they need to do to make the business make their site stay profitable and function really really well and that's really part two partly from um the input from ratnesh site by site and his direct his operations team communicating to to um to all the leaders in the business but with the restaurants this is a bit easier than the wholesale business yeah because you also have the complex thing about you have different business models going on here


yeah and that's again but uh it's interesting you mentioned open book management then when we are the subject about you know what is your approach because you have these different business how do you grow and develop people because you know lots of people are trying to find the way to retain people in the moment it all comes back to we need to train them more we need to develop them more we need to give them transferable skills and then they stay with us what has your approach been through the years and trying to find your way around this


well it's it's a it's a challenge but we do have really good retention in all the businesses in um the retail the restaurant the restaurant group and um and the warehouse i mean people do enjoy working at Brindisa and each of the branches has a slightly different approach so obviously the restaurants um i think the i would say the operations team empower the staff by sharing this information really actively you know daily weekly and then they work the budgets out together and they're really they're really close to the numbers um and i think and we pay them a fair um a fair salary and that the terms are good and people get paid over time they're all sorts of you know in the in the hospitality business there's all sorts of different ways of paying people but um we've chosen one particular route that works quite well well for the staff so um [Music] you know that that works and the trunk goes back to the staff so there's you know there's obviously monetary benefits in the restaurants but if they're in control of the numbers that really helps retain them um and i have i i think that the restaurants it would be fair to say that the connection with Brindisa and the food and the fact that we've got the food going right back to Spain and we're in we're all in this decision-making process together also gives them um what i would call you know a great privilege really to be working with great ingredients because you could be working in a restaurant group where the ingredient might not be quite so um special so that helps the team behind the behind the stoves sort of really get into the menu and enjoy using these ingredients in the wholesale business um it's there's so many different areas of that of that business obviously you've got operations you've got sales i mean we do a lot of training um outside training for management skills and for tasting skills we've got um one of my longest standing colleagues called james robinson who's been in the business for a very long time is now the training manager and he does all the sort of he's the food guru if you like um and so he brings in all the new when the new recruits come in he he's he's just brilliant um at communicating with them about the food um my husband's now running the cheese program and he's really really um you know the cheese guru so he is now beginning all those training sessions now postcode again so there's training um we obviously share training with the restaurants as well so we go out with uh from the warehouse to the restaurants to train the the people there and they really like that and now that covid is you know we're in this new phase where we've got more freedom we want to bring the restaurant staff down to the cheese rooms our cheese maturing rooms to see the warehouse in action and begin that exchange that we used to do that is really the cross fertilization you know what i mean of the two sides is really interesting and the other thing that we did do before covid came about was we always did two trips a year to Spain i mean we do lots of trips to Spain but one particular trip was a non-hierarchical trip you didn't have to be a buyer or a manager it was just sort of everybody and anybody who worked in the business and we sort of would i'd want four from the restaurant business and four from the distribution business from this distribution business and they'd have to all be from separate departments but not necessarily be the top of their department and they would go out and stay at my brother's farmhouse which is in Catalonia and they'd have three days there and they'd go and visit suppliers together they would meet each other from both sides of the business and it would just be kind of a jolly if you know what i mean in that there was no agenda they didn't have to come back and sort of fill in you know do 100 you know an exam on Spanish food or anything like that it was just to connect and to be in Spain yeah and they really enjoyed that and my brother and his wife were great hosts and some of them slept in the yet and someone would have to sleep in the attic and someone asleep in the bedroom you know it was sort of and there was a swimming pool you know yeah it's just fun and that was a really um nice way to you know connect people to to Spain because we're very multicultural in Burundi so not everybody's from Spain or England


i love you again lots of things you talk about in in your training as well there's also that this love for food and Spanish food and you come back to the purpose and how you can actually train them in food and they can get a connection with the food and you're taking them there so they really understand where does this actually come from i serve in the restaurant in London or put in a box to a client


yeah um i really really really like that um if you you know for everyone the last couple of years has been madness and especially in in hospitality and food has been that's still a lot of hit but what has been like you know the biggest change for for for the group what is like you know besides you know you have to go to lockdown and opening close we've been on to all that but like has been some kind of change within the organization you've seen this really manifested now that you think things are getting a bit back into normal or a new normal or whatever we call this period we're in now yeah well um i think there's um a huge feeling of um well i think first of all i think people have been are very tired really really tired so um i mean the teams have been amazing through covid i mean the people have been absolutely unbelievable and you know we're sort of brothers in arms we're all together in this it's you know they've had to take pay drop in pay they had to work harder um obviously we're understaffed in almost every corner of the business um but they're still fighting on so you know there are amazing teams in the crisis and they will be amazing teams out of crisis and i think um you know that seeing that with your own eyes is amazing um and that will carry us through because i think the next year is going to be really busy and i think we have to find um a way to sort of make sure that they don't get totally burnt out because i think the demand is going to you know rock it yeah and um that's going to be quite um a big thing for us to cope with in terms of other big changes if you like that have been um important to the business on a more personal level is that um about three years ago i appointed an md in Brindisa and i've also got um an fdmd at the restaurant group um ratnach that i mentioned so i've got Heath Blackford and Ratnesh Bagdai and these two uh gentlemen that i call them have um absolutely transformed my life in that they have taken on the business they control the business they watch it really closely and um we have set up in Brindisa wholesale we set up an external board that's very very balanced and we've got two externals on it the directors we've now got my husband who was never on the board before and for me personally that's one of the biggest changes ever to have um eight nine individual individuals across the two businesses because we've got three um directors in the restaurant business as well um has just made me i can sleep i can rest i can think about the business i can enjoy the distance i have from the day-to-day and help think about things for the future and i can contribute in a way that you know when it's growing and it's all like all hands on deck and it's also like rush rush rush do you know what i mean um so that's been one of the biggest changes to have a very established and very competent very devoted team of key directors so when brexit came and then covid came um we all worked together as we did with everybody else in the business but with these guys watching the key things i felt so much safer yeah i guess also not alone no i'm not alone yeah yeah and different thinking looking at the problem finding different solutions that's probably better than when you don't if you're just trying to yourself to find a solution


yeah um and you mentioned you know you mentioned brexit covet now what do you in your opinion is like the key challenges for you know hospitality food as we go into i'll be careful to use the word post pandemic because i really don't know but that's what people have called it but the new period the new phase of all this


well i think for the restaurants it's going to be staff staffing up and skilling up for what's likely to be a very big summer that's probably the biggest issue for the restaurant group and at the same time you know in the wholesale business you know because obviously we sell to a lot of restaurants through the wholesale business so we watch from a distance what's happening across the country if you like so we'll be watching everyone else having um issues with their staffing for the wholesale business in terms of um Brexit you know we've got higher costs all the time coming in the whole impact of Brexit who knows if it was by design but it's been so staggered that you maybe the full impact is just not really visible yet and you know maybe for the government that's been helpful because they haven't had all the big drama happen in one go um and we have had Brexit three or four times because of all the stop start that was going on so we've stocked up and then not needed to stock up three times over which has been a cash flow issue that we've had to manage um and then now things obviously are flowing but we've now got new January we've got documents new documentation some suppliers didn't make it onto the lorry in july we're going to have more phyto sanitary certificates that have got to be approved with each shipment i mean you know it's going back in time in terms of um efficiencies and it's going to be i think it will challenge the diversity of product that will be able to come into the country not just from us but for you know for the rest of the world you know rest of Europe particularly and the standards that we were working to you know are sort of a bit of a moving feast so you know um we've had to you know we've got a lot more costs basically the the red tape that we wanted to say goodbye to is there in greater quantities and greater costs and so you know that that's that's what's happening so diversity and cost or you know reduction in our diversity of range might be a consequence you mentioned the the staffing crisis there's for many right now really a big focus on especially we're sitting in London where there's really a huge demand for for people just to keep open some people have to reduce their opening days and uh


what is um what what has been your way to manage that as you came back and switched on the light and opened the doors again how did you manage that and how are you moving with that right attracting more people are the right people i guess it's not just people you want the right people


yes absolutely um well initially we reduced the working week so that the people who obviously last year we had to make you know the beginning of the lockdown the first lockdowns and so on there were obviously redundancies and we had to you know lose people which was heart-breaking then we worked on a smaller team during the eat out help out phase leading up to Christmas and we shortened the hours and again we've got a shorter week in some of the restaurants and we haven't fully opened if we haven't fully opened um so that's the way we've managed it we have got some good people coming into the business now in terms of looking you know um looking for work with us to work with us um i think one of our benefits is that business hasn't really changed we haven't suddenly kind of sold out to anybody i mean we're still a privately owned company so people are still working none of the ethics have changed none of the sort of values have changed the aim of the business the restaurant business and Brindisa is to run a healthy happy profitable enjoyable business you know with excellent food at the forefront so that hasn't changed in covid we can still do that we've we've come through on both sides um in a way that you know we've sustained it we've sustained the the period of covid


what what has been you know if you take you as a the founder and you've been on a journey where you have put yourself in a new position over the last three years you just talked about what has been your most significant learning because we all everybody takes something out of this thing covert and what what has that been for you


well i kind of touched on it just now it's um [Music] it's just the utter joy of working with people that you can trust i mean it's just it is the most um amazing thing in the world really to feel that because the business has got to a size that you know i mean i couldn't cope with running Brindisa on my own and so um watching just yeah just working with people that you trust is you know something that is really really the best gift really so and i think covid has proven that because um you know people have had to come together in really dire circumstances to you know manage their own personal challenges with family and friends and all sorts of things going on but also like just work so hard and devote so much energy and time to the business um so all across the structure all the teams have just put in so much and we've lost some people on the way obviously in the restaurants because they had to close but um those who are with us and those who are in key positions who have led their teams well i mean you know i trust all of them and to me covid has made that trust even deeper if you like than it was before so you know that's one of my biggest learnings the joy of trust


i i really like that because it's like also we all know in the hardest time no matter if it's in business in life the people that stands with you yeah are the people that you can trust whatever mountains you're crawling


yeah because you never know the direction no but you if you have the right people around you you will find a way we'll find a way and we're in it together and you know that feeling of sort of brothers in arms or whatever you want to call it you know where we're going to do the best by each other all the way through talking about people and having the right people around you but who has been most influential to you the top three people that's been most influential to you in on this amazing entrepreneurial journey you've been on well it's oh it's such a difficult i find it quite a difficult question because obviously Brindisa’s had so many different phases so um when i when you ask me that question i go right back to the very beginning obviously there are people right now who are key partners and you know who inspire me every day um but right at the very beginning you know people who sort of i suppose inspired me to do what i wanted to do if you know what i mean um one is was Deborah Madison now she's a a chef in  0.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    an Francisco she you know i think she's and lives in santa fe and i've i have stayed with her once um way back but one of the i met her on a symposium in Spain with um it was Deborah Madison Colin Spencer who's a great writer and Tim Lang who's professor of food policy um at the city of London and um Deborah was just incredible because she you know i hadn't really appreciated how how incredible vegetarian food could be she was so excited about beans she has a book that i have used every day of my life since i met her the greens cookbook and she also taught me that sort of dream of you know growing growing food and putting in a restaurant you can you can get food from field to fork and so controlling that journey in Brindisa in a way that we do now um i'd never really heard of that before so Deborah kind of planted that seed for me to kind of follow that path in some way and Tim Lang who's you know incredibly um i could listen to Tim all day every day in my life he's so brilliant on everything to do with food from the politics to you know the sociological impact of whatever and i mean just like he's just got so much knowledge um he just said to me you know that time just stick in your niche Monika just stay in your niche don't just don't leave it stay there specialize because the world's big and it's going to get bigger so just stay in your place and those were two very important early influences if you like and um and the other one i have to go back to that circle of friends of Arie Randolph and Anita so Anita who founded Monmouth coffee Randolph Hodgson who founded Neil's yard dairy and who then introduced me to Ari and then i saw Arie's business and i just you know that circle of friends um it's just so productive and so positive and so transparent and so there's so much energy in their exchange that um i was just overwhelmed by that and it's sort of um you know the way Brindisa not i can't we can't emulate Zingerman's but we've got these interconnected channels if you like a little bit like Zingerman's have their community of businesses so it's it's the sort of connectivity that i really enjoyed and it took i don't know in the early chapter in the book i explained about my grandpa my Opa in Malawi and how he taught the Malawians how to grow rice and then he set up her he taught them how to grow it and then he built a mill so they could mill it and then he built a little department store in the middle of the countryside so people could get their rice but they could also get their sardines and their needles and their cloth and so you know it's just i suppose that i don't know that crossing over of channels and you know i just trading if you like facilitating um service and trade um which Zingerman's does and you know obviously in Michigan and um and i just thought Anita and Randall's two businesses were so different yet so aligned in their thinking and their approach to business so they they've been and they very very kindly welcomed me to their home way back in the early years when i wanted to sort of say i don't know what to do about this what should i do about this you know they were very very helpful and very generous


yeah and a very counter-intuitive way of thinking business in still in the world we live in today where it will be more relevant i think in the years to come and i i said it many times people they haven't you know looked into these businesses a lot of learn to learn for them and and yours as well because you you've been tapping into


yeah the way they do things as well i mean family i mean family are obviously unbelievably important and i do in the introduction of my book i mentioned family quite a lot because my opi was inspirational and my other grandad was inspirational too but but you know family's just been an absolute rock for me all the way through so my parents values are you know integrity just you know being very just my dad was in personnel so he's always been about you know people people management is key you know my mom's family had this sort of great journey from Germany to Africa and whatever so that you know their comment they set up farms in lots of different places and worked with you know Turks and Greeks and Cyprus and Malawians and Indian families and people communities in Malawi so you know that sort of people of the world strength if you like that has absolutely been like it's just part of my dna


i mean the world is our home yeah you know um and we're just guests on it sometimes we have to remember as well um how do you keep on showing up every day and playing the best game being pro i call it as well yeah


no it's quite it's a fun way to to say it actually being pro um well one of the things and one of the practical things i've done is i've you know a few years ago i decided started to only to diary a short week because the week always gets longer yeah so if you plan to work for five days of the week you will end up working for seven or more um so i plan three days and try to contain it it never works but at least i'm starting from a point where i can manage it without otherwise i flap and then i get useless yeah so that's a way of staying pro for me um because i can i do over commit and i do tend to say yes to pretty much every thing um so that's one thing um i've got better at looking after myself so you know i thought being busy and rushing to work and you know eating drinking seeing people you know all the time was was fine i think when i was younger it was fine but now it's not so i do you know i do a lot more exercise sort of structured exercise more so i've started running a bit i do pilates i do quite a lot of that that kind of thing i've got two dogs so i walk them all every day and i get a bit of space doing that um and um oh one of the other things that changed one of my um colleagues years ago sort of said you know Monika i think you should get a pa you know um two things actually said two things said one you need a car that works and you need a pa because you're not going to get very far you know with this growing business if you don't have both of those things so i have had you know an assistant for you know how long now maybe eight years or so but obviously they've you know they've become totally invaluable all the way they started out being brilliant and they're still brilliant so that really helps take the you know the panic if you're like out of my sort of voice sometimes i kind of accelerate at a pace that i can't keep up with so that's that's brilliant for me


yeah and i've been in dialogue with your your assistant Eva and she's been brilliant you know she's incredible yeah i would hire her yeah


you're not having her [Laughter] so um yeah yeah and um and i i mean i don't know if state this is staying pro or not really but i have two incredible children 23 year old son and a 21 year old daughter and they sent me and that's kind of staying pro or not i don't know but you know obviously you know my husband and my two kids family my own family um they just centre me yeah um which is brilliant


and you need all these elements you talk about how you manage things and time and so on but you also need your base in a way to feel grounded how successful your own business exactly um what uh what top three advice would you give to follow leaders out there that's that's listening in here and saying Monika must have some golden tips to what we should be doing to to to to to to move our businesses or make it better what would your top three advice be


well i you know i one of the the first one i thought of which is one i struggle with the most really is focus um because you know there's so much lovely food out there you know um but you know you have to focus um and when we had a restructure when there was the recession in 2008 2009 we had to restructure the team and we had to lose some really valuable people and after that i was sort of emotionally absolutely sort of you know exhausted and you feel quite empty after a process like that and i just remember thinking i can't carry on with this business because i don't know what we're doing anymore i don't know i just don't know um and so that's when i signed up to do the visioning course and i sent myself over to Michigan on my own and i did the visioning course at Ari’s school and um you know that helped me refocus and so guiding principles mission values uh visioning you know all of those are tools to help you stay focused you know so if someone comes to me and says let's have this bonkers product in the business i'll just say no you know but you kind of that focus is what you need to be able to um keep going otherwise you you will spread yourself too thin yeah um the other thing i would say is remember you can say no yeah because i don't but i've learned to say no more and more yeah and it's a really nice thing to say sometimes and that so i would just say to people again it's a bit like staying focused but um it's really fine to say no um to to to opportunities or to um you know whatever it might be another product or another service from you know outside so um the other one was nurture your people and just love your people you need your people and they need you i mean it's a two-way street um and we all i mean whether it's me or whether it's them it's not me and them it's us we all need to feel trusted and relevant and valued and wanted you know and um noticed yeah so nurture your people is absolutely vital and you need the hr to structure it but you need lots of cuddly bits as well you know softer bits like you know Brindisa the warehouse anyway we do birthday cards for everybody every everybody signs it you know if it's Brindisa’s anniversary i try and get you know a doughnut a really nice doughnut for everybody i mean those things those are little things but you know you i i have to do those things for myself and so we'll do it for everybody and that's um i don't know yeah so i would say focus remember to say no and nurture your people would be my three things apart from look at the numbers which i'm really bad at doing but that's also focus yeah numbers makes you focus yeah absolutely um because yeah i totally agree with that i really like the the no thing because that's one of the hardest thing to do when even you know great opportunities comes up and actually say no in that moment i i have had like two years now of my i call to stop doing instead and i'm really still struggling we're putting too much on the plate and then i find out wow yeah i'm three months into it and i committed to something where i can't really follow through on the the standard i want to fall through on that's the thing and then it starts to as you come back to it starts to impact usd yeah and then it implodes as a project and then it's like well you know told you so sort of thing i mean i'm not i'm not saying i'm the best at these but you're practicing right yeah and that's that's as important as well um


yeah is there any way that you know just to keep a quick advice in the end here um anywhere a way of saying no in a good way have you learned to say no in a good way because often people feel that it's that thing is saying no in a good way


that's hard i think it's important to validate to validate the person's offer yeah and say that's a great idea or that's very generous of you to think of us needing that but right now it's not the right time or so i think you need to validate the offer and you know be graceful in that you know even if it's a completely inappropriate offer you should still be polite yeah and um and sort of validate it and be appreciative of it and say it just doesn't suit us as a business because we're whatever going in a different direction or whatever it is good good money here


that's a really good advice i always ask this in the end what is the the one question uh you would have liked me to ask you but i didn't and what would you have answered


yeah um um well i would i would say the question um i would have liked to have been one of the ones i would have liked to be asked would have been why are small producers so important to Brindisa or artisan producers um and because that is sort of where we started out and that's our heritage and um and the reasons why they are important to us is that um because it sort of goes against the grain to want to sell less yeah you know but um these producers um many of them are in rural communities in Spain and Spain's a big country and they're very remote and the fact that they produce something that we can find a market for sustains livelihoods in in that community which is important you know migration to the city happens everywhere but if we can minimize some of it that would be good it also preserves breeds of animals or varieties of plants that we need to keep going we need to keep our our library of you know varietals going whether it's rice or whether it's beans or whether it's um peppers or whatever it might be those producers are not highly mechanized so the craft and the skill that the people have that make these products is you know is really high level skill you know um they do it by hand whether it's picking saffron by hand and then um you know it's all they all sit in a you know round table the mountain of crocuses they are lamonda it's called which is take the stamen out of the flower and then they chat as they do it the ladies are brilliant at it they've got stained fingers from doing it so many hours but you know they exchange stories it's community as well as skill and it holds neighborhoods and communities together so i i just think it just raises the quality of people's work being able to work like that in a less mechanized or totally unmechanized environment and we need to keep that going for as long as possible um and preserve these skills so that's why we that's why we love those products they're harder to sell than industrial products or commoditized products


yeah and it's counter-intuitive again that normally you look at as a business case you think that's that's a bad business idea but yeah it doesn't have to be


and then yeah and that was a great question


yes and the taste comes through you know if you're sensitive to taste and aroma and texture it's worth paying the price for an artisan product


yeah um where can people find out more about you the business online where can people go and look we'll put some some links in the show notes as well so people can find you guys


um well either websites for  or um or um are all there um and i could be found emails get forwarded to me straight away um i'm on LinkedIn yeah i'm not particularly good at managing LinkedIn but i'm there i'm on Facebook i'm on Instagram as @brindisa_monika i'm very happy to get direct messages from Instagram um and Eva you is um very good at helping um put people in touch with me as well


good good good thank you so much Monika that's been an absolutely incredible conversation and thank you for sharing all these things about your journey but also the business and how you do things


yeah thank you so much it was great we could have i could have talked for hours actually but um you know thank you very much indeed it's very nice of you to invite me


thank you so much Monika for sharing your journey and learnings as well as how you build an organization people love and support i would recommend you now to ask yourself how can i build an organizational culture that people love and support to get further inspiration how to improve your organizational culture please tune in to episode number 56 heartfelt hospitality with Nina Jeffrey Stevenson chief cultural officer at point a hotels if you enjoyed today's conversation please share rate review or subscribe to one of our channels a big thank you to bizimply for supporting us bringing great insights strategies and tools to help the industry try not just survive check them out at or via the social at this simply or be simply hq you can also email them directly on advice a big thank you to Fina Charlton who is the show producer and editor from the podcast collective


tune in next time for another interview and in the meantime find out more about us and subscribe to our newsletter and more maverick insights at and don't worry if you didn't get all of this there will be links in the show notes


i'm Michael Tingsager and you've been listening to the hospitality maverick podcast show be maverick [Music]

Leave a comment