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#043 - Hospitality Meets Simon Esner - The Hospitality Legend & Mentor
Episode 434th November 2020 • Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street • Phil Street
00:00:00 01:20:23

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43 episodes in and we finally chat to someone from contract catering, although today's guest has done far more than that. We speak to hospitality legend Simon Esner, Founder at Executive business mentoring Uncommon Sense ( Simon is also still involved with Baxter Storey ( and WSH Ltd ( working with some world leading chefs and concepts.

Simon has had an Epic career and life so far and has achieved so much, with much still to do. We only just scratch the surface of his story bank but nevertheless we chat about maintaining positivity, keeping the glass half full, family, mentors, electrics, food scene development, getting your break, pay rises, skiing, paper job adverts, Ford Cortina’s and of course his epic journey so far.

Simon carries so much positivity and humour, it's infectious.

Thanks so much Simon.


Show Transcription


Phil Street, Simon Esner

Phil Street 00:01

Welcome to hospitality meets with me Phil street where we take a light hearted look into the stories and individuals that make up the wonderful world of hospitality. Today's guest is Simon Esner Founder at uncommon sense, and all round hospitality legend. Coming up on today's show... Simon talks about the first time that he met Phil...

Simon Esner 00:22

But when I got home, I said to my wife, I said this guy's a nutter Phil shows a unique command of the English language....

Phil Street 00:29

Yeah, you keep upgrading your life, it seems from a position of upgrade. And Simon gives us an exclusive on a new food and drink concept. He's been working on...

Simon Esner 00:38

The dish of the day was a cup of tea, and a special was toast.

Phil Street 00:42

All that and so much more as Simon talks us through his epic career journey to date. Simon really has built a life and career around having a positive mental attitude. And is proof as to what you can achieve when you keep believing, and when you surround yourself with extraordinary people. Nice work, Simon. Don't forget, we launch a brand new episode each week telling the amazing and always amusing stories from hospitality. So make sure you hit that subscribe button and give us a like and share across your networks. Let's share these stories as far as we can. Enjoy. Hello, and welcome to another edition of hospitality meets with me Your host Phil Street. It's not everyday you get to chat to someone who on the face of it seems to have touched the lives of quite a number of people in this industry. But today, we get to do just that, with some marquee brands and his background, including Baxter Storey, WSH limited, which is the parent company for many a familiar brand, but now also the founder of Uncommon Sense, which I'm sure we'll talk about in a lot more detail later on. I'm also delighted to have been on the receiving end of some mentoring from this chap. So I'm absolutely thrilled to welcome to the show, Simon Esner.

Simon Esner 01:50

Well, good afternoon to you. And obviously, Phil, you've arranged the great weather, which is fantastic, because here we are in the middle of September the 14th, glorious, beautiful sunshine. And I get to sit and chat with you. And just reminisce about some good times, but also talk about the opportunities. So thank you for inviting me.

Phil Street 02:12

Oh, my pleasure. And I think actually we've had a couple of chats over the last few months through this wonderful situation that we find ourselves and we probably would have had chats anyway. But on a couple of occasions, we've had the chat you've you've been sat in the sun, but but in Portugal, so I am glad we've got we've brought the sun to you in this country now as well.

Simon Esner  02:34

Thank you very much. Yeah. So I've been on a few podcasts and zooms over this COVID period. And you're quite right. In fact, I think you asked me when we were chatting, is that one of those fake backgrounds? I said no, actually, that's real blue sky that exists. So yeah, very, very fortunate. But another one that wasn't quite as amusing. When it was quite warm weather over here. I'd forgotten that I was having a zoom kind of podcasting webinar. And I was enjoying the delights of Estrella lager copiously

Phil Street 03:09


Simon Esner 03:09

and was only when I realised I was on camera. That's the embarrassment ensued, but we've got none of that today. Sure. Vodka only no alcohol.

Phil Street 03:20

To be honest, it's audio only. So you can be drinking whatever the hell you wish.

Simon Esner 03:25

Very good. So how do you want to kick this off, though, coz you're good at this. And I'm new.

Phil Street 03:31

Well, that's that's a rumour I've heard but I'm not. I'm not. I'm gonna err on the side of caution. But to be honest, I'm, I'm very excited about this for lots of reasons. I think one. Every time I've had a conversation with you, you're what I would definitely classify as a glass half full kind of guy. Do you think that's fair? You seem to see the positive and quite a lot of things.

Simon Esner 03:53

Absolutely. I'd think generally in life, I was watching something just the other day, and actually was this morning, sorry. And it was a snippet from something that was on television a few days ago or whatever. An interview with sir Captain Tom law, as wonderful 100 year old gentleman who's raised so much money for the National Health Service. And a comment he made really did resonate with me because I'm sure I've said this to my own family and friends and acquaintances is that tomorrow will be a better day. And I kind of agree with the captain Tom more and actually, even if it's all going completely pear shaped at this moment in time. Tomorrow will be a better day. It's another opportunity to get it right it's another opportunity to learn and so I guess the I am I'm pretty much a glass half full. And as you know, Phil and anybody else that's met with me or see me on various zooms that glass really gets to the halfway point. I try to keep it as topped up as I can. But I'm very, very fortunate, I guess I'm really, I was. So like, I had two great parents, sadly, no longer with us two amazing parents and architect. And my mother was not only a theatrical agent for singers and dance acts, etc. But she was also a psychologist. So they're really sort of dynamic, forward thinking individual can imagine an architect, my father was always looking for the creative element in everything, and my mother, too, in her spare. Yeah, my brother and I were both super lucky that we grew up in a really open minded dynamic household, which I'm forever grateful for. And I genuinely mean, not as easy, but it's the site, but I am grateful for it. We did not have I can't do the whole hard luck story. It was a tough life, we had an average suburban middle class life. It was in a South Gate in North London, a great part of the world for a youngster to grow up in masses of local friends, lots of open space to run around and burn off energy. And actually, it's just a great time, good youth clubs, all the things that, you know, sadly, are missing a lot of communities today, we were so so blessed and joyful to have those. And I think having that early start with that. Those surroundings really did create for me that opportunity of positivity. My father, as a very young man, he developed polio and diphtheria and was in something called an iron lung, which obviously does not exist today. But back when he was a young lad, it was that what they thought the way of dealing with polio and diphtheria. And he, he was disabled. So my brother and I grew up in a house with a less than able bodied person. Therefore, to us, of course, he was dead. The fact that his legs didn't work very well, but the rest of his body did. And certainly his mind was my Goodness me. So active them. Very, very intelligent guy, which I'm afraid didn't come off on me, but did on my brother.

Phil Street 07:14


Simon Esner 07:15

But he, he, I guess, taught us without even saying he just taught us that. You can actually if you think about it, if there's a hurdle, there's a way of getting through it or over it. And I remember watching my dad on we were in Bognor Regis, this is my own, who's still with us today at 97. miles had a little café café down on the seafront in Bogota. And we were down there and we drove down there. And in my dad's car, which is an old green, Ford Poplar, lovely old motor, didn't think it at the time, but look back fondly now. And I just remember he, he sort of parked in a particular position where duty is his physical challenges, he was unable to get out of the car easily. So my mom sort of said to him, Well, why don't you sort of scoot into the backseat? And I'll try and drive? He says, You're not driving this car? Have you seen what you've done to your Ford call Tina. So literally, what you have is a guy manoeuvring himself out of a window of a car, so that he could get out of the car and not have to clamber over anybody. And it was just stuck with me that he, he looked at it, he looked at situations that there's a way through it, and made no fuss about it, make no comment of it. And and indeed, neither of any of us did. It was just Well, that's bad. And that's what that does. So I guess growing up in a household like that makes you see the positives and everything. And I'm very, very blessed. As a side to have that. But I I think one of the questions you asked me when we were chatting when I was sitting in the other sunshine was, you know how it all started. And for me that I can only blame a Canadian TV chef called Graham Kerr. And I'm quite an old guy now. So this is when I was a youngster sort of early 70s.

Phil Street 09:07

They wouldn't have been 10 a penny, celebrity chefs, back then either would they I mean, that would have been a new thing.

Simon Esner 09:14

Well, the celebrity chef was Fanny Craddock and Johnny

Phil Street 09:18


Simon Esner 09:19

And there was the great grain curve with his programme called the galloping gourmet. And there was one other chapters name now has gone from my mind, but it will come back. However, galloping gourmet TV programme, I can't remember what time of day it was on, obviously, clearly, I wasn't at school, and I was watching this programme. And it used to be on once or twice a week, I suddenly felt like that's me now. And what got me to love the idea of being in hospitality is that this amazing cook I'm sure he's, I hope he's still alive because I've actually, I'd like, right. I'll come back to that later because you ask a question of me about who would like to have lunch with But anyway, Watch this programme and this guy would cook a meal. He'd, uh, let's, let's call it for the purpose of this conversation that colour on. So he would cook tackler arms, he would plate it out, he would then put it on a gingham laid tablecloth, and then go out to the audience and select a member of the audience to come and join him at this table for two. And he would sit and watch the audience member enjoying the dish, and the look on the audience members face of enjoying and loving and savouring this food that this man had cooked for him. But something happened in my small, young, immature brain that said, I want to do that I want to make people have that experience. Yeah. And that's what put me on the road to becoming a chef. And I no one else in my family was incapable my aunt had a café in Bogota. And when I say café, I'm saying it, you know, it was caf. And it you know, the dish of the day was a cup of tea. And the special was toast. So we're not talking. It wasn't haut cuisine, but it made it..

Phil Street 11:07

There's a time, and a place, there's a time and a place

Simon Esner 11:09

Absolutely, but through various friends and connections of family, I was given the opportunity in about 1976, 78 so I'd have been 14, 15 or so to get a job in the school holidays washing up in the kitchen of a place called the sportsman Casino in Tottenham Court Road. We lived in North London, it's really easy to commute from where we lived. So it started one summer, beginning of the summer holiday. The chef, one of my great mentors in my life, a gentleman called Louie D'Maitre, Austrian guy. And he threw, as I say, through friends and family and collections, I was given this opportunity to be a kitchen Porter. And my dad kind of thought, Well look, you know, he'll, he'll either love it or hate it, he was certainly encouraging in that. He said, Look, you know, I'll give you the fare to go up on the tube, rather get on the bus. And you can meet me afterwards, when the session finishes at my place of work. He worked in great Poland Street. So you know, I had encouragement, but I kind of thought he was thinking, you know, maybe just maybe one of my sons will will join in the world of architecture when my brother became an engineer. And obviously I didn't.

Phil Street 12:22

Yeah, but that's actually that. I mean, it's semi it's critical, isn't it that you're all here, you've got a parent who basically just let you go and explore your brain, basically, let them go and find his own path, not going to railroad them. And that's, that's unlucky enough to have had parents very similar in the outlook, and it makes a massive difference.

Simon Esner 12:47

Absolutely. And if both my brother and I, we really did go out our own ways, career wise, and, and hopefully encouragement, right. And in fact, to the day that we sadly lost separately, both of them, they were both as equally encouraging. But then, so I did the washing up and came home. And you know, after the first week, Mom and Dad Well, as I got it. I want to get back. So I carried on. And then obviously the chef Louie Mitter, who was the executive chef of the group could see that there was a something, whatever it is, he could see he saw it. And he said, Okay, well look, you know, if you really want to get into this, because by the way, I should add, me and regular education did not mix the absolute epitome of oil and water. We did not make primaries, and I thought there was a lot more fun to be had outside of the classroom, in town, just looking around doing stuff playing with my friends. We were a group of kids that frankly answered the days today's world, I think we'd be under special measures and putting it in a very, very high secure home. In those days, we were just a bunch of scallywags. And I think the teachers were happy that we weren't in the school being disruptive. So

Phil Street 14:03


Simon Esner 14:04

School and me didn't get on

Phil Street 14:06

You see, positive side of things again, there we are.

Simon Esner 14:08

Absolutely, So I did, Louis, Mr. Chef, Mr. said, Okay, so you need to have formal qualifications if you want to become a chef, and that's called a City and Guilds and there's a course called the 706 one and two. And you need to take that. And so Mum, Dad helped me sort of look into how to find out where I could do that together with Louis jmeter. And we found the college in North London and I started the 7061 and two course, I started off on full time and moved to de release because I realised that I actually like earning money. Yeah. And that's an important point. So I did that and listen for me, it caught me in college. I found something I loved and therefore my attendance record was exemplary. I was fortunate enough to receive distinctions and pass I'd won competitions. Whilst I was there, I had found where I belonged. And I was in seventh heaven, there was nothing that I would do. And nothing would keep me away from going to college, to study to learn to get that piece of paper or pieces of paper, because I was told by my mentor and the chef, Louis D'Metre, you need to have that piece of paper, that documentation says that you can get a job anywhere. So for me, I thought I got to do it. And, and I did, and I absolutely, I loved college, truthfully, there wasn't a lesson I didn't enjoy the writing, the reading, the cooking, the prep, everything, the cleaning, I just loved everything about it,

Phil Street 15:44

That shows you i think that that's a real, absolute golden nugget of you know, when you find the thing that you're supposed to do, then it really doesn't feel like you're doing a day's work. And I think a lot of the time, we do ask the what we do ask people to kind of settle on a career very, very quickly, without really, people having a chance to explore all of the different options that are available to them. Quite a young age to make a call like that. But for you to find it so, so early, I think, you know, what a what a blessing that must have been?

Simon Esner 16:22

Absolutely. And it's interesting as I mean, I, my wife, and I got to two kids, a daughter and our son. And my kids often said to me as they were growing up, and they're 28 and 25. Now, but you know, it's okay for you. You found your passion early, because I would say from you, where do you want to go? What do you want to do? And both my kids really took a few attempts, not in a bad way, but positively attempts to find the right path for them. workwise. And that's great. And my wife and I fully supportive of that. But I and my son, you say to me, it's just not fair. You knew what you wanted to do. The age of sort of 14 and, you know, here I am, I remember the conversation months when he was about 2021. He said, Here I am, I still don't know, if you'll find it, it will happen. And when it happens, you'll know it. I'll know. We'll all know. Just relax and enjoy it. So

Phil Street 17:12

That's the societal pressure, isn't it that you got it? You got to find your path. You've got to get on as quickly as you can.

Simon Esner 17:18

Yeah. Yeah. And of course, you look today, here we are in this current situation, you know, economically, pandemic wise, health wise, and so many young people who found their powerful now sadly, sadly, I saw another one today, another talented young chef, who has been made redundant. So, you know, it's, it's it's very, very, it's tough out there. And I think you're right society, peer pressure, etc. And I think young people have got to be given the opportunity. It is rare. I know. I know. It is rare to at a young age to find the thing you love and just literally focus on it. The downside of it is my wife says this is my long suffering. And I can tell you in in just three days time it's 31 years of marriage with my...



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