From my early teens, I knew I wanted to be a chef so I went to City College Norwich hotel school for two years but quickly decided cooking was my least favourite section and I preferred the front of house and management side of the industry.
Once qualified, aged 18 I packed my bags and moved to Crawley and started as a supervisor in a Danish restaurant at Gatwick airport, a far cry from my sleepy chilled Norfolk upbringing.
Following my year at Gatwick, I joined a contract catering company as their youngest ever manager and worked across Surrey, Sussex and Essex, in various sites overseeing corporate catering events, executive dining and workplace restaurants, it was 1993 and a young female in the industry as a manager aged just 19 was not the norm – challenging was one way to describe the issues that arose from older male colleagues but this made me want to prove my ability more.
I loved the busy pace but once married with a young family, I decided I wanted to return to my Norfolk roots and spent the next eight years working in a variety of positions within the pub, restaurant, hotel and conference industry followed by two years at a small stately home as a wedding and events manager. By this time, I was a single mother of two girls, working full time, unsociable hours with chaotic childcare arrangements. It was time I did my own thing. I thought working for myself, running my own pub restaurant would be easier to manage, after all, I had the experience, right?
In 2007, I purchased a 20-year lease on a very rural mid-Norfolk derelict pub, moved upstairs with my two children and with help from various friends and family in all trades such as flooring, plumbing, carpentry, etc. I reopened a fully refitted and refurbished pub-restaurant one month after receiving the keys and never felt so scared in all my life – and the recession was about to hit.
I had never run my own business, never dealt with cesspits or blocked drains, I felt like every day I ‘winged’ it. I learnt that when dealing with something out of my comfort zone in a male-dominated industry, you had to speak convincingly, as if you had a masters degree in the workings of septic tanks so I wasn’t ripped off – luckily my new locals became very good friends and sources of advice and were very protective of me. I was incredibly grateful that, for a few pints and the offer of a bacon roll, many helped me do jobs on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
The first two years taught me how incredibly resilient and independent I was. Twelve years on I am happily remarried and we have two very busy pubs, which we both work in full time. It’s definitely a career that you have to love, or you just wouldn’t do the hours, commit to a lack of social life and constant staffing issues – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.