Simon Kossoff, CEO of Carluccio’s, talks to JLife’s Kirsty Plowman about the restaurant brand’s new store in Trinity Leeds, his Jewish inspiration and appearing on the Channel 4 show Undercover Boss.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
I was an economic student at the University of York many years ago. My friends who graduated with me either went into accountancy or big company marketing and I didn’t fancy it. An aspect of university that I did enjoy was organising events so I actually ended up in Manchester at the Hollings Faculty (part of Manchester Metropolitan University) in the hope of going into event management. I began working in restaurants and so my career started.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The best parts are the people things – working with customers and the teams. For example, working with and training a brand new team and meeting the enthusiastic customers the restaurant welcomes. I also enjoy opening the new restaurants.
Why did you decide to be part of Channel 4’s Undercover Boss?
The production team have approached me several times over the years, but I never thought it would work. I didn’t think they would be able to disguise me and I didn’t see any value in it. This year, the team explained the value – I was convinced by the disguise process and was shown a variety of case studies which demonstrated the show would be good for the brand.
Over the last year Leeds city centre’s restaurant offering has substantially developed. How do you ensure Carluccio’s stands out from the crowd?
Without a doubt the centre of Leeds has welcomed many new restaurants and the whole area has significantly changed. We continue to do what we set out to do and do it right – serving great authentic Italian food and products. By concentrating on getting this right, it is great for our customers.
We have a relevant offering to customers visiting Trinity. We trade all day offering shoppers dining facilities in addition to the superb retail offering in the deli.
Why did you decide to open a second restaurant in the new Trinity Leeds shopping centre?
We already had the Greek Street store open in a busy part of town, but on seeing the plans for Trinity Leeds in 2008 it was clear this would be a great opportunity for the brand. We didn’t want to miss out and we knew there was always the risk of losing business in the Greek Street store. We’ve secured a high profile site in the Trinity centre and had to make the decision to open there.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own restaurant business?
I’d say go and experience it with someone else’s money. It’s very scary to open a restaurant – get hands on experience at someone else’s expense.
Has your Jewish faith and background influenced your career?
I’m not a practicing Jew, but from a young age I knew that food is such an important part of my culture – the big family meals got me into food. While the food that Carluccio’s produces is different, it is this aspect that has most affected my career and what I rely on now.