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#144 Monika Linton, Founder of Brindisa, on Open-Book Management
Episode 1443rd February 2022 • Hospitality Mavericks Podcast • Michael Tingsager
00:00:00 01:12:47

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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 was 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 direction, the power of having an HR department, and eating strange foods as a child.

Links:

#114 Ari Weinzweig, Co-Founder of Zingerman's, on Self-Leadership: https://hospitality-mavericks.captivate.fm/episode/114 

‘The Great Game of Business’ by Bo Burlingham and Jack Stack: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0385348339 

‘The Greens Cookbook’ by Deborah Madison: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0553051954

‘Brindisa: The True Food of Spain’ by Monika Linton: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0008244170/ 

#56 Heartfelt Hospitality with Neena Jivraj Stevenson, Chief Cultural Officer of Point A Hotels: https://hospitality-mavericks.captivate.fm/episode/heartfelt-hospitality-with-neena-jivraj-stevenson 

Brindisa: ​​https://brindisa.com/ 

Brindisa Kitchens: https://www.brindisakitchens.com/ 

Monika’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/monika-linton-9ab22b3/ 

Monika’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/brindisa_monika/ 

Connect with the podcast:

Join the Hospitality Mavericks newsletter: https://rb.gy/5rqyeq  

A big thank you to our sponsor Bizimply who are helping progressive leaders and operators making every shift run like clockwork. Head to our website at www.bizimply.com or email them directly at advice@bizimply.com.



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Transcripts

Michael Tingsager: 3:45

Welcome to the show Monika - it's a great pleasure to have you here.

Monika Linton: 3:54

Well, I feel very privileged to be included in your list of very, very erudite people on your podcast. So thank you.

Michael Tingsager: 4:00

You've done the work yourself in a way and Ari told me that you need to talk with Monika, if you don't know Monica, you need to meet her to talk with her.

Monika Linton: 4:08

That's very kind of him.

Michael Tingsager: 4:10

So for people that you know, don't know who you are, and what businesses you're involved in, 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?

Monika Linton: 4:30

t as an importing business in:

And we export from there. And that's, that's the sort of sum total of Brindisa at the moment. 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 business person, I started out as a teacher, I did a degree in Spanish. 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 is all I think, must have fed into my interest in food generally. And 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, 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. You know, it's much bigger than it was obviously, at the beginning. 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, you know, my, I suppose my, my kind of main reason 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 a craft and 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, you know, completely just knocked me sideways, when I saw what they knew. And I wanted to bring that knowledge back to England. Therefore we, you know, that's how we got the business going.

Michael Tingsager: 7:53

But what is the deep purpose behind a business running for 35 years, what is the purpose of why did you set up the business, and why did you create all these different parts of the business? Because it's a must be some kind of thing you want to achieve?

Monika Linton: 8:19

Yeah, well, I think the overriding principle is to bring Spanish food to creative cooks, in Britain, because, you know, we bring in ingredients, as well as products like cheese and charcuterie that are not just industrial products, I mean, there are really, really well-crafted products. That, you know, I wanted to learn how to differentiate from, you know, all these different qualities, and so on. And so than 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 right, they were amazing ingredients for anyone who was a really good chef and could understand what a differentiated pulse or being 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 specialty 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, convenience food if you like it was trying to challenge that and message a little bit so that people kept cooking as a key skill and learning how to buy your food as a key skill. And so for me right at the very beginning, I wanted us to make sure that 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 Hoodie on a bean, or 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 recognize 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 recognised that much, and it's still growing. But

Michael Tingsager::

I love those like, different levels to your purpose as well. And you talk about that thing. Also, you want to give people life skills. Yeah, of cooking with, you know, the pandemic broad that you know, that need or life skills back to the forefront. Definitely what I've observed myself, and you could even see me cooking more than I would have done normally. And now it's become a very good habit.

Monika Linton::

Yeah, yeah.

Michael Tingsager::

And I think you're so right, so many the lacks that skill of actually being able to, you know, how to know how to buy food, and then cook food out of principles, not from recipes, you know, the basic how you work with food, I really like that as well.

Monika Linton::

I'm learning to actually taste things, you know, because it is a very subjective quality, you know, of a product. And so, you know, not everyone takes the time to enjoy the aroma or the texture, or the flavour 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 real exciting part of one's life, you know, it is quite an adventure too, to learn how to appreciate ingredients. So that was a that's a big part of the.

Michael Tingsager::

Yeah, and I guess that you are never done because there's so much still to be learned. It's like you can keep on food stuff continuous and that's what I love with some of the things that made me addicted to the food bit because you can never learn it all, and I just learned about a new bean before we started as well. And I was talking about fava beans. Yeah. What do you think makes your business unique because you need to have something that consumers or customers think is quite unique about you to stay in business for so long? What is it that really makes you unique?

Monika Linton::

Well, I think it's partly the all these different channels within the business, 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. But, you know, we, we source we ship, we distribute, we retail, we cook, you know, ingredients from Spain, now, people are a 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 1990 and selling Spicy 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, you know, this is where we've come. It's been a long road, but you know, we are one of Britain's most respected Spanish cheese businesses. You know, that category within Brindisa is very important. So that's why I think it's quite unique about Brindisa in that it's most normal people wouldn't have chosen to do it quite likely. 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 a niche, really Spanish food. I mean, it's so I think that's quite unique.

Michael Tingsager::

But I think also that then what you're saying as well is that you know, you became the experts in this and it takes time to become the experts in a specific niche. But then when you own that it's quite good for the business long term. Because you building on that.

Monika Linton::

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, 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, you want to get on this train, it's quite good fun, you know, we didn't really necessarily have the skills we just learned on the way. But there was always a sense of like, 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's, that's what it felt like, like, it was an adventure. And so I think that spirit still lives on in the business a bit. And obviously, I'm still really close to the 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, you know, our, you know, I went to 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 exchanged, if you like, between Spain, and England is an extension of that, you know, the 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 longhouse 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 kinds of strange foods, and it was sort 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.

Michael Tingsager::

And your view expanded Brindisa, you already made that clear over the years, for 35 years. But yes, you said we are not a global player, we are focusing, we are expert in a niche, but what is your approach to growth, because there's always in especially in the food industry, we need to grow, we need to have 100 units we need to have, so and so on. So this needs to happen.

Monika Linton::

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 it Elegant growth. Yeah. For me, it has to be elegant growth, it has to be growth, not just for the vanity if you like, you know, big numbers have 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. 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 recognise 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 were, we're going to enjoy the growth and whether it was that was it's going to be true to our values, you know, so that we're not, so I put certain 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, 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, it's 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.

Michael Tingsager::

It is interesting. It almost seemed like you need to create the stop doing list or KPIs.

Monika Linton::

Yeah, stop doing the list. Yes, yes, absolutely.

Michael Tingsager::

And the thing is very interesting that you say that you're 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.

Monika Linton::

Yeah, yeah.

Michael Tingsager::

But what does that do? Again, you know, that really, I guess normally when I talk with people, 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 did 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 he said you will represent a similar kind of approach or sentiment here in the UK? What, kind of approach have you taken there?

Monika Linton::

Well, um, I haven't thought of like, written it down or formulated it in any kind of, you know, it's just a sort of, yeah, I like to use the word instinctively, just know, I am, you know, maybe to my detriment in certain areas, I am very instinctive. And I don't always look at the numbers, and so on. But so in terms of leadership philosophy, you know, I really, truly believe you have to be yourself, you have to be able to be yourself in 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 an open door, you know, approach in the business. When I was 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 when we had rewards or gain share or bonus, it was the same for everybody, whatever position they were in the business.

So I've been, you know, that to sort of just be fair, and be yourself and unpretentious was is a very key thing for me. 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, what was I thinking, you know, whether it was, you know, asking the milkman if he could, the local milkman, 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 you know, setting up a restaurant when I had no idea how to run a restaurant, you know, I just pitched for the site, I was very convinced that I knew what I was doing. 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 side anyway, because 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. And so, you know, I still believe in, you know, couraged, you know, not just being frightened to make a change, or to be disruptive. Integrity, and loyalty, I think are really important, I think. But in an 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 it because of me, or whatever I've been, 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 went on, we obviously set up HR departments at an HR department in the building of both businesses, and that was the most amazing thing to do. Because in the end, the early days, you get so close to people, because you love your colleagues, they're your friends or your family, you know, you don't want people to be dissatisfied or unhappy.

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, integrity, and friendship or that in a business context are really important, but they still do still need to be professional. If you know what I mean. Yeah, because it's, that's a hard balance. Yeah. When you start out, you don't really understand how important having a little bit of distance from people is because you want to take it all on with the same joy, you might want to find the foods you also want to help everybody.

Michael Tingsager::

Again, it's the passion that comes out there, you know, we've been there myself as well, where, you know, then there are no fine lines between what's, you know, job and it's the family thing. Yeah. And then suddenly it grows. And then yeah, some of them leave you for the could be your fault. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it's not. And you spend so much time on, you know, processing that it's not helping you or the people as stayed.

Monika Linton::

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 in 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, you know, they've got other things to think about, they've got they want to be able to pay their rent and 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, 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, we will, it's all a bit of sort of sacrifice, and we love it, let's just do it doesn't matter whether we're making the money or not or, but over the years, that's, that, to me, is now really important.

And recognition, both ways, I mean, recognition to all the amazing people I work with, you know, and you have to do more and more through your management structure. And then for people within the business, you know, not just myself, but other people getting recognised as, you know, an expert in this, or we get a prize for certain products, that sort of external recognition is also really gratifying. Because, you know, we all work really hard to make things happen. And then if, you know, I've got an award for, you know, hard work with Spanish cheese this year. And that was really, really nice because we've worked as a business and sacrificed a lot, a lot to make, to put Spanish cheese on the map. So recognition, you know, and it filters both ways if you are able to recognize people's skills, pat them on the back, and hopefully pay rewards. And again, when the business is done well enough, that's just really, really, really important.

Michael Tingsager::

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 put a bit of structure in place. And there's this whole movement in the moment going from the call of the Christmas tree, a top-down organisation to the bottom-up where you involve your people in the business. And you can do that in different ways intensifying structures, or in decision-making structures. And I don't know if you ever read the book and you might have because we know are both of us the great, The Great Game of business, in principle where they turn around this manufacturing business, as you know, totally in the root to suddenly become a very profitable business by removing hierarchy involving people in the business. Where are you now, like 35 years down the line? What kind of approach do we have to the structure of the business?

Monika Linton::

Well, we have structure, because you know, more than we do at the very beginning, obviously, because we're now many more people. So it's a bit like with, you know, we're at like 120 people in Brindisa. In the restaurants were approaching probably 200 people, and it's very difficult to manage. And in Barcelona, we have another half a dozen people, which is sort of how Brindisa was at the very beginning. So we 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 leaders or the managers to really be able to lead their teams well. And it really needs to be more as more inclusive than maybe traditional businesses. So the staff needs to be 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 I did take staff over to Zingerman's. 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, The Great Game of Business, 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 they get a bit stale? It's been COVID We've had Brexit we've 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, 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 employees employers and managers should be anyway. But you and make sure that they have some other systems in place to make sure that people have their voice. People need their voice in your business.

Michael Tingsager::

Yeah, and open-book management you talk about, there is also about, you know, sharing the numbers, this is how the business is doing. This is the result because there's often what I've learned before I even learned about the term open-book management, you know, there were always people who thought it was going much better than it actually was. And we were sitting in the top three or part of the business and you said, Well, how do we tell? How do we explain 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 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 a really interesting technique compared to the challenges that are coming up ahead by which we have to be really agile in food and move fast that people know 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?

Monika Linton::

Well, I think the I think it's, it's just all those extra bits that people I mean, people see the topline, yeah, and they think, hey, this is great. 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. But I've made the sales. So it's not really my problem. Or there are other costs to bringing in a new product that, you know, isn't costed properly in terms of marketing and launching it. And so nobody spends any money on marketing or launching it, and therefore it doesn't go anywhere, when you kind of wasted a whole lot of effort, from the buyers to the logistics team, and everything.

But so with open book 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 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 a huddle with a DOR Board. And you know, you just kind of go through the motions. But you really need to interrogate the information, even if you've got the system if you see what I mean.

Michael Tingsager::

Yeah, because then the system can become the worst enemy of itself, because it's easy. Now that we've done that we can tick it off. Yeah, but really, you didn't come to the root cause of either the costs, the waste is going up, or the sales that didn't come in and these days, and so yeah, so I agree, I think really the thing that 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 than people when they move on. Because a lot of people, you know, I've worked on my career, often start to, when I get them in from somewhere, or maybe to get in very early in their career, that's definitely my first I need to learn them, how to work, how work works, you know how to be productive at work and efficient. And then I start with a P&L, and then I find out lots of people don't know that it just no top-line sales, profit, exactly all the complexities, you're saying that's going on?

Monika Linton::

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 the what margin comes out in the wash is more complex than it is for the restaurant business. Because, you know, you're doing one thing, which is, you know, supplying amazing dishes to customers who pay on the nail. So you haven't got credit issues. It's just getting that balance, right. And my finance director and operations and partner, director in the restaurants right now she's 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, have, you know, the sort of, you know, what did 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 head chefs are all really versed in what they need to do to make the business make their restaurant stay profitable, and function really, really well. And that's really part two, partly from the input from Ratnash. site by site, and he directs his operations team, communicating, to all the leaders in the business. But where the restaurant is, is a bit easier than the wholesale business.

Michael Tingsager::

Yeah, because you also have to complex things about you have different business models going on here. Yeah. That's again, but it's interesting. You mentioned open-book management, then when we are the subject about, you know, what is your approach to because you have these different businesses? How do you grow and develop people cost, 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. Well, what is your approach been through the years and trying to find your way around this?

Monika Linton::

Well, it's a, it's a challenge. But we do have really good retention in all the businesses in the retail, the restaurant group, 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 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. And I think, and we pay them a fair, a fair salary, and that the terms are good. And people get paid overtime. They're all sorts of you know, that when in the hospitality business, there are all sorts of different ways of paying people but we've chosen one particular route that works quite well, well, for the staff. So you know, 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.

And I have, 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 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 special. So that helps the team behind the stoves, sort of really get into the menu and enjoy using these ingredients. In the wholesale business. It's, there are so many different areas of that business, obviously, you've got operations, you've got sales, I mean, we do a lot of training, outside training, for management skills, and for tasting skills we've got 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.

And so he brings in all the new when the new recruits come in, he, he's just brilliant at communicating with them about food, my husband's now running the cheese program. And he's really, really the cheese guru. So he is now beginning all those training sessions now post COVID. Again, so there's training, we obviously share training with the restaurants as well. So we go out from the warehouse to the restaurants to train 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 by 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 in anybody who worked in the business.

And we sort of would add one 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 at the top of their department. And they would go out there today 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 questions 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 yard, some of them have to sleep in the attic and some of them slept in the bedroom. You know, it was sort of an there was a swimming pool, you know, it's just fun. And that was a really nice way to, you know, connect people to Spain because we're very multicultural and Brindisa. Not everybody's from Spain or England.

Michael Tingsager::

I love you talk about a lot of the things which you talk about in your training as well. There's also that there's love for food and Spanish food, and you come back to the purpose and how you can actually train them and 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 a restaurant in London or put in a box for a client. Yeah. I really, really, really like that. If you, you know, for everyone, the last couple of years has been madness. Yeah. And especially in hospitality and food has been and there's still a lot of hits coming, but what has been like, you know, the biggest change for, for the group, what is like, you know, besides you know, you have to go to lock down and opening and close, we've been on to all that. But like, that's 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 where now?

Monika Linton::

Yeah, well. I think there's a huge feeling of Well, I think, first of all, I think people have been are very tired. Really, really tired. So 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 drop-in pay, they've had to work harder. Obviously, we're understaffed in almost every corner of the business. But they're still fighting on. So, you know, they're amazing teams in the crisis. And they will be amazing teams out of the crisis. And I think you know that seeing that with your own eyes is amazing. 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 a way to sort of making sure that they don't get totally burned out, because I think the demand is going to, you know, rock it. Yeah. And that's going to be quite a big thing for us to cope with. In terms of other big changes, if you like that have been important to the business. On a more personal level is that about three years ago, I appointed an MD in Brindisa. And I've also got an FD and MD at the restaurant group, Ratnesh that I mentioned. So I got Heis Blackford and Ratnesh Baghdai and these two gentlemen, I call them have absolutely transformed my life in that they have taken on the business, they control the business. They watch it really closely. And 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 eight, nine key individuals across the two businesses, because we've got three directors in the restaurant business as well, 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 all sort of like Rush, rush rush. Do you know what I mean? 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 we all work together as we did with everybody else in the business but with these guys watching the key things. I felt so much safer.

Michael Tingsager::

Yet I guess also you are not alone.

Monika Linton::

No I am not Alone. Yeah,

Michael Tingsager::

And different thinking, looking at the problem finding different solutions that are probably better than when you don't if you're just trying to yourself to find the solution. Yeah. And you mentioned, you know, you mentioned Brexit and COVID 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 the people, I told it by the new period, the new face of all this?

Monika Linton::

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 issues with their staffing. For the wholesale business, in terms of 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 staggering. But it may be 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. 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.

And then now, things obviously are flowing. But we've now got January, we've got documents, new documentation, some suppliers didn't make it onto the lorry in July, we're going to have more certificates that have got to be approved with each shipment. I mean, you know, it's going back in time. Yeah, in terms of efficiencies, and it's going to be I think it will challenge the diversity of products that will be able to come into the country, not just from us, but from, you know, for the rest of the world, you know, rest of Europe, particularly, and the standards that we are working to, you know, a sort of a bit of a moving feast. So, you know, we've had to, you know, we've got a lot more costs, basically, the red tape that we wanted to say goodbye to is there in greater quantities and greater costs. And so, you know, that's, that's what's happening. So diversity and cost, or, you know, reduction in our diversity of range might be a consequence.

Michael Tingsager::

You mentioned the staffing crisis. There's for many right now, really a big focus on especially visiting in London, where there's really a huge demand for people just to keep open. Some people are opening days and what is what has been your way to manage that as you came back and turn on the light and open 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?

Monika Linton::

Yes, absolutely. 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 lockdown and so on, though, obviously redundancies and we had to, you know, lose people, which was heartbreaking. Then we worked on a smaller team during the eat-out, help-out phase leading up to Christmas, and we shorten 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. 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, looking for work with us to work with us. 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, and none of the ethics has changed. None of those sorts of values have changed. The aim of the business, the restaurant business, and Brindisa are 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 come through on both sides in a way that you know we've sustained it. We've sustained the period of COVID.

Michael Tingsager::

What has been, you know, if you take you as 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 COVID? And what has that been for you?

Monika Linton::

Well, I kind of touched on it just now. It's, it's just the utter joy of working with people that you can trust. I mean, it's just, it is the most 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 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, you know, people have had to come together in really dire circumstances, too, 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. 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 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.

Michael Tingsager::

I really like that, because it's like, also, we all know, is the hardest time no matter if it's in business in life, the people who stand with you, yeah, are the people that you can trust, whatever mountains, you're crawling up. Yeah. Because you never know the direction. No, but if you have the right people around you, you will find a way

Monika Linton::

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.

Michael Tingsager::

Talking about people and having the right people around you, but who has been most influential to you, the top three people has been most influential to you in on this amazing entrepreneurial journey you've been on?

Monika Linton::

Well, it's such a difficult, I find it quite a difficult question because obviously, Birindisa has had so many different phases. So when, when you asked 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. 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. One is, was Deborah Madison, now she's a chef in San Francisco, she, you know, I think she's retired and lives in Santa Fe, and I have stayed with her once, way back. I met her on a symposium when in Spain with it was Deborah Madison, Colin Spencer, who's a great writer, and Tim Lang, who's a professor of Food Policy at the City of London.

And Deborah was just incredible because she hadn't really appreciated how and 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. I've 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, I could listen to Tim all day, every day of 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, it just like he's just got so much knowledge. He just said to me, you know, that time, just stick in your niche. Monika just stays in your niche. Don't just don't leave it to stay there and specialize because the world's big and it's gonna get bigger. So just stay in your place. And those were two very important early on I'm influencers if you'd like and, and the other one I had to go back to that circle of friends of Ari, Randolph and Annita, who founded Monmouth Coffee, Randolph Hudson, who founded Neal's Yard dairy. And who then introduced me to Ari. And then I saw Ari's business and I just, you know, that circle of friends. It's just so productive and so positive and so transparent. And so, there's so much energy in their exchange that I was just overwhelmed by that. And it's sort of, you know, the way Brindisa Not a 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 businesses. So it's a sort of connectivity that I really enjoyed. And it took if I didn't know if, in the early chapter in the book I explained about my grandpa, my Oppa in Malawi, and how he taught the Malawians how to grow rice and then he set up, 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 didn't know that crossing over of channels. And, you know, I just trading, if you like facilitating service and trade, which Zingerman's does, and, you know, obviously, in Michigan, and I just thought Anita and Randolph, two businesses were so different yet so aligned in their thinking, and their approach to business. So they've been, and they're 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.

Michael Tingsager::

Very counterintuitive way of thinking business is still in the world we live in today where it will be more relevant, I think, in the years to come. And I said it many times people have, you know, looked into these businesses a lot to learn for them and yours as well. Because you're, you're tapping into the way they do things.

Monika Linton::

I mean, family, I mean, it family are obviously unbelievably important. And I do in the introduction of my book, I mentioned family quite a lot. Because my Oppa was inspirational. And my other granddad was inspirational, too. But, but, you know, the family has just been an absolute rock for me all the way through. So my parent's 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 management is key. You know, my mum's family had this sort of great journey from Germany to Africa and whatever, so that, you know, they come up, 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. It's just part of my DNA. I mean, the world is our home. Yeah. You know,

Michael Tingsager::

How do you keep on showing up every day? And playing the best game? Being Pro?

Monika Linton::

Yeah, no, it's quiet it's a fun way to, to say it actually being pro. Well, one of the things on one of the practical things I've done, as I've, you know, a few years ago, had 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. So I plan three days and try to contain it that 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, you know, so that's the way of staying Pro for me. Because I can't I do over-commit and I do tend to say yes to pretty much everything. So that's one thing. 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 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 and doing Pilates. I do quite a lot of 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. I Um, and ah, one of the other things that changed one of my colleagues years ago, sort of, you know, wanting, I think you just get a PA, you know, are two things actually said two things. One is you need a car that works. And you need a PA, you're not gonna 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 been, 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 like, out of my sort of voice sometimes accelerate at a pace that I can't keep up with. So that's, that's brilliant for me.

Michael Tingsager::

I've been in dialogue with your assistant, Eva, and she's been brilliant. You know,

Monika Linton::

She's incredible. Yeah,

Michael Tingsager::

I would hire her.

Monika Linton::

Yeah, you're not having her. So? Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I don't know if state this is staying Pro or not really. But I have two incredible children. The 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. They just sent me Yeah. Which is brilliant.

Michael Tingsager::

Yeah. And you need all these elements. You talk about how you manage things, time, and so on. But you also need your base in a way to feel grounded and know, how successful you are in business. Okay. What? What top three pieces of advice would you give to follow leaders out there that's, that's listening in here and save money cameras have some golden tips to what we should be doing to move our businesses or make them better? What would your top three pieces of advice be?

Monika Linton::

Well, I, you know, one of the first ones I thought of, which is one I struggled with the most really is the focus. Because, you know, there's so much lovely food out there, you know, but, you know, you have to focus. And when we had to restructure when there was the recession in 2008 and 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. And so that's when I signed up to do the visioning course, and I've sent myself over to Michigan on my own.

And you know, that helped me refocus. And so guiding principles, Mission values, 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 can have that focus is what you need to be able to keep going otherwise you, you will spread yourself too thin. 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 so I would just say to people, again, it's a bit like staying focused, but it's really fine to say no, to, to opportunities, or to, you know, whatever it might be another product or another service from, you know, outside.

So the other one was to nurture your people and just love your people. You need your people, and they need you. I mean, it's a two-way street. 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 noticed. Yeah, so naturally or people It's 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 to everybody. Everybody signs it, you know, if it's Brindisa is an anniversary, I try and get you to know, a doughnut, a really nice doughnut for everybody. I mean, those things, those are little things but you know, I have to do those things for myself. And so we'll do it for everybody. And that's it. No, yeah. So I would say focus. Remember to say no. and nurture your people would be my three things apart from looking at the numbers, which I'm really bad at doing.

Michael Tingsager::

But that's also focused. Yeah, numbers make you focus.

Monika Linton::

Yeah, absolutely.

Michael Tingsager::

Because yeah, I totally agree with that. I really liked the nothing, because that's one of the hardest things to do when even you know, great opportunities come up. And I only say no, at that moment. I, I have had like, two years now have I called a stop doing into that? 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 standard I want to follow through on that's the thing, and then it starts to as you come back to it starts to impact your performance.

Monika Linton::

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 necessary. I'm not saying I'm the best at these,

Michael Tingsager::

But you're practising.

Monika Linton::

Yeah.

Michael Tingsager::

That's, that's as important as well. Is there any way that you know, if you just take quick advice at the end here and anywhere way of saying no, in a good way? Have you learned to say no, in a good way? Because often people feel that step thing is saying no, in a good way, that's how

Monika Linton::

I think it's important to validate the person's offer. And say, That's a great idea, or that's very generous of you to think of us need 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, and sort of validate it and be appreciative of it and say, it just doesn't suit us. Yeah, as a business because we're whatever, going in a different direction, or whatever it is.

Michael Tingsager::

That's really good advice. I always ask this, in the end, what is the one question you would have liked me to ask you, but I didn't? And what would you have answered?

Monika Linton::

Yeah. Well, I would, I would say, the question I would have liked to have been one of the ones I would have liked to have been asked would have been, why are small producers so important to Brindisa, or artisans and producers?

And, because that is sort of where we started out. And that's our heritage. And, and the reasons why they are important to us is that because it sort of goes against the grain to want to sell less. Yeah, you know, but these producers, many of them are in rural communities, in Spain, and Spain is 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 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 peppers, or whatever it might be. Those producers are not highly recognised.

So the craft and the skill that the people have that make these products are is really a high-level skill, you know, they do it by hand, whether it's picking saffron by hand, and then you know, it's all they all sit in a, you know, around a table and they chat as they do it. The ladies are brilliant at it. They've got stained fingers from doing it for so many hours. But you know, the exchange of stories is community as well as skill, and it holds neighbourhoods and communities together. So I just think it just raises the quality of people's work, being able to work like that in a less mechanised or totally unrecognized environment. And we need to keep that going for as long as possible and preserve the skills. So that's why we love those products. They're harder to sell than industrial products or commoditised products.

Michael Tingsager::

Yeah. And it's counterintuitive again, that normally you don't get as a business case. You think that's a bad business idea. But yeah, it doesn't have to be. And that was a great question.

Monika Linton::

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

Michael Tingsager::

Yeah. Where can people find out more about you and the business? Online? Where can people go and look, we'll put some links in the show notes as well, so people can find you guys.

Monika Linton::

Well, either websites for brindisa.com or brindisakitchens.com, or even parleo.com are all there. And I can be found emails get forwarded to me, straightaway. I'm on LinkedIn. I'm not particularly good at managing LinkedIn, but I'm there. I'm on Facebook. I'm on Instagram was Brindisa Monica, I'm very happy to get direct messages from Instagram. And Eva Andres is very good at helping put people in touch with me as well.

Michael Tingsager::

Good. Good, good. Thank you so much, Monica. That's been an absolutely incredible conversation. Thank you for sharing all these things about your journey, but also the business and how you do things.

Monika Linton::

Yeah, thank you so much. It was great. We could have talked for hours. But um, you know, thank you very much indeed. It was very nice of you to invite me.