For Tom Sanceau, a career in hospitality was less about following a passion than giving in to full-blown sensory assault.
Along with business partner Bonnie Shearston, Sanceau is the co-owner of Italian diner Coppa Spuntino, and Brooklyn-themed laneway bar Red Hook. Their previous ventures, Public, and London Fields, proved so successful they were sold to investors in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
It wasn’t always this way. “I started washing dishes in an Indian restaurant at 15,” says Sanceau. “It was the most amazing experience, walking into this busy, bustling environment, with people frantically chopping onions. It was sensory overload. I became a waiter there and worked my way up. I trained to be an apprentice chef and although I didn’t complete it I’ve always worked in restaurants. I’ve done pretty much every job in hospitality there is.”
Sanceau says he’s constantly energised by the creative challenges associated with running a hospitality business. “I love coming up with new ideas and venue design,” he says. “As well as working with our head chef, tweaking dishes and turning it into an experience for the customer. Seeing the expression on their face when they see the food on their plates.”
Shearston earned her hospitality stripes working at Match Bar Group, whose acclaimed cocktail bars span London, Melbourne and Ibiza. She says she loves the bustle of service.
“I love it when the customers are happy and having fun and the staff are buzzing and having a good time,” says Shearston. “At Coppa, we have an enormous amount of wines and staff love being able to share them in a non-invasive way with customers. For me, it’s all about the day-to-day operation, the customer interaction. It’s great when it’s a bit chaotic but you can keep your head above water and keep everything running smoothly.”
Despite the long hours and financial sacrifices associated with launching a restaurant, Shearston is most excited by the thrill of a new venue.
“For me, there’s nothing more exhilarating,” she says. “Coming up with a new concept, finding a site, trying to get it off the ground and making it work in the first six months. We’ve only got two places at the moment, but last year we opened three in 15 months, which was really full-on. We had four operations open last year, including London Fields and Public. Tom and I are exhausted.”
Luckily, passion for the industry is an all-important elixir – even during the toughest hurdles and longest weeks. “I love Monday mornings, where you have to review the previous week and work with our staff in achieving goals,” says Sanceau. He says as well as making customers happy, staff retention is a high priority. “Restaurants are difficult beasts, with many moving parts,” he says. “It’s all about ensuring our customers are happy, making sure our staff are being looked after. If you don’t have passion, it’s reflected to your customers and staff.”
A love for hospitality is critical, but so is a willingness to create and learn on the fly. “Bonnie and I have always enjoyed coming up with new and original ideas,” says Sanceau. “Every one of our menus has been different to previous ones. There’s always so many new and exciting things happening within the industry. For example, dealing with UberEATS is a huge challenge, you have to make sure it gets to the consumer and is presented as well as if they were dining in. In hospitality, every day is different. Every day something new will come up.”
This article is presented in partnership with Hostplus, superannuation you can take with you throughout your career.