Now 29, Tom Adams started Pitt Cue from a trailer on London’s South Bank at 22, selling barbequed pork and burgers to queues gathering hours before the hatches went up. Acclaimed Pitt Cue restaurants in Soho, then Shoreditch followed for the entrepreneurial chef.
In 2016 Tom also embraced a new challenge with the launch of Coombeshead Farm, an isolated hotel restaurant In Cornwall as a joint venture with award-winning New York chef April Bloomfield, again to much critical acclaim. In 2017 The Observer Food Monthly Awards voted him Young Chef of the Year at The National Restaurant Awards, which recognises the Top 100 restaurants in the UK voted for by chefs, restaurateurs and food critics, placed Coombeshead Farm at number 18 a year after opening.
When has the fear of failure driven you?
“Opening the farm has been the most nerve-wracking experience, absolutely petrifying. I went to every high street bank to try and find funding. I moved out of London. I put it all on the line with a personal guarantee and a remortgage on my family’s farm. The thought of it failing was impossible.
“There are moments when I’ve thought I’m sacking this all off, but you’ve just got to keep going. Failure would feel personal - and I’ve have nowhere to live!”
It’s unusual, to go from a huge feted restaurant in London to a farm in Cornwall. Why did you make the move?
“It’s something I had wanted to do for a few years. I was never satisfied with what we were doing in London. The restaurant was very popular and we had a lot of repeat customers but in my gut, I knew it wasn’t what was really driving me. What I was most interested in was basically the amazing supply chain and produce coming from Cornwall.
“I wanted to do something where you can have roots, have longevity, create something, rather than what I saw around me in London. It’s very difficult to stick to one thing in London and have longevity. You have to expand. I wanted to do something I could hand down and build long-term relationships with suppliers, rather than set up for five years and sell it on.
“It was about wanting to put my heart and soul into something, day in day out, knowing that what you’re doing can outlast you. I wanted to be on the doorstep of these amazing farmers, toiling in a sustainable way.”
Have you always been keen to succeed?
“My parents aren’t entrepreneurial in any way but they both instilled in us a work ethic from a really early age. My mum Jenny’s like the Duracell bunny. Now I’m a big believer in if you want something, you have to work for it. You don’t get anything without hard graft, without putting the hours in.
“We start at 7 in the morning and finish at 1 in the morning. We close in January because that’s the only time we can afford for a small team to take holiday or even be ill. I’m going to Sri Lanka for three weeks, the first holiday in years. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself. My brain never stops.
“I think it’s really important to bring the best of yourself to work each day. I’ve got to be the first one in. I know that’s very much a kitchen mentality. But I think it’s important to be the standard bearer.”
Do you set yourself high standards?
“Maintaining standards is absolutely vital. That’s why it’s important to be around people who have very high standards because they keep pulling you up if you slip down.”
Are you intolerant of mediocrity?
“Yes, but at the same time you want to be liked by your staff, you want to be part of a team - so it’s a balancing act between being ruthless about standards and trying to be a nice guy, especially down on the farm with only six of us there. It’s a very different dynamic from working in a restaurant in London; now I’m driven by fear of losing a member of staff!”
You were only 22 and have admitted to “winging it” when you started Pitt Cue. What would you counsel yourself now?
“Stick to your guns and follow your gut instinct. Don’t be swayed by other people. When I started out, I was massively under experienced with no management experience. In those early years people come into your world and have a big impact. With hindsight I can see some things weren’t really my decision but someone else talking in my ear.
“When you’re starting a business, you have a little unpolished diamond and you’ve got to make sure the people shining it with you are the right people. I’d also say take your time - now I get a huge thrill by little things like being able to afford cast iron radiators in the bedrooms or new tables in the restaurant.”
Do you think fear makes you work harder?
“Yes, it’s the only way to stay on your toes. When you’re starting out, you’ve got to feel fear - but you can’t let it suffocate you.
“If you’re fearless, you can get complacent and that’s something you can’t afford to be in hospitality where it’s such an up and down industry.”
How can you reframe failure as a positive?
“Knowing failure is the only way you can know success. Failure gives you the strength to get back up and aim for better. There are certain things you can categorically say feel great like when a customer sends an email saying “We had a great time and we’ll be back next year”.
“I think it would be really dangerous to sit back and say we’re really content with what we’ve done. Ultimately if you’re content, you’ve become complacent.”
Tom Adams is part of THE AMEX FEAR-LESS SERIES which celebrates the achievements of the nation’s rising stars through their own unique and inspirational stories. Tom joins five other British influencers who talk candidly about their personal path to achieving their potential and the bumps in the road they encountered along the way. You can read more of their stories here.
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