Shaper: Monika Linton

Show aired on 19th September 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Soul Bossa Nova from Quincy Jones, a fantastically Latin way to start Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM with me, Elliot Moss. Good morning, thank you so much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul put alongside their equivalents in the world of business. My Business Shaper today I am very pleased to say is Monika Linton. She is the founder of Brindisa Limited, they are the people that bring in beautiful food from Spain and have been doing so since around 1988, as well as the co-founder of Brindisa Kitchens, Brindisa Tapas Kitchens. Six restaurants now strong, five in the UK and one outside in Barcelona. I am really looking forward to talking to Monika. I am also looking forward to hearing from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya, some words of advice for your business. And on top of that brilliant recipe for a great programme, you are also going to be hearing some brilliant music including Van Morrison, Miles Davis and this from Jacky Terrison.

Jacky Terrison with Kiff, a real mixture of influences which reflect his very varied background. Monika Linton is my Business Shaper today as I said, she is the founder of Brindisa Limited. They have been bringing in delicious Spanish food and I must declare right now I am a fan, studied Spanish myself and lived in Spain and in Mexico over the years so I can’t wait to get into the nitty gritty with you in a moment Monika and she is also the co-founder of Brindisa Tapas Kitchens and they have six restaurants now, five in the UK, one of which is possibly my favourite ever in Borough Market called Brindisa and one in Barcelona. Hola, buenos dias and thank you so much for joining us.

Monika Linton
Hola, buenos dias.

Elliott Moss
No we are not really going to do it in Spanish.

Monika Linton
I am really happy to be here. No we are going to speak in English but I am really happy to be here. Thank you very much.

Elliot Moss
It’s an absolute, I promise you it is going to be our pleasure. Now tell me about this, this crazy thing that started way back in the 80s. You’d studied I think Spanish related studies, Degree and things. You had apparently fifteen hundred quid that you put into the business at the beginning, how did it come about that you took your love of a culture and your love of a language and you translated that into a business?

Monika Linton
It came about really through studies as you said, as you recognised from school and University but then at the end of it all I just had found that Spanish was a language I could jump into and speak somehow comfortably, it just came together and so when I went to live in Spain after University to teach and just be in Spain because I didn’t start off with food, I decided to come back to England in the end and then bring some food with me. But the idea, the sort of seed if you like was the fact that my brother and I kind of swapped cities. And he had started off in the City in London and then he decided that he really wanted to go to Barcelona because the City wasn’t going to do it for him so he decided to go to Barcelona. Fantastic trading City in Europe, really up and coming and when he got there he started trading British products there and sending me Spanish stuff so Spanish cheeses and Spanish wines in those early days. That was around ’88 and really that’s how it got going.

Elliot Moss
And then so, okay so you started and that’s all fine but that sounds like a kind of a cute idea and it could have just been ‘oh it’s nice I’ve just got some cheese I’ll share it with the family’. When did you realise that there was a demand for the kind of quality and the unusualness and the specialityness if you like, if that is a word, of the food you were bringing in because at that time wine, global wine was become much more prevalent. When I grew up there was one wine and two and by the late ‘80s, early ‘90’s explosion but there wasn’t an explosion of Spanish food for a while.

Monika Linton
No, no that’s true and I think although we started, I started selling wine in Britain I found selling wine to the wine trade in the late ‘80s extremely difficult. I knew nothing about wine except that I enjoyed it. So that really didn’t work and so when my brother who had started taking Stilton over to Barcelona, started meeting Spanish cheese makers and cheese retailers, he said ‘well look why don’t we look at some cheese because obviously it goes really nicely with wine’. But as soon as I was given a box of cheese by him to consider as a sort of business opportunity I was completely in that box. I mean I just wanted to be, I wanted to know where the cheeses came from, I wanted to know who the farmer was that you know, farmed the animals that brought the milk that made the cheese etc., etc., and it would just somehow grab me far more than wine did at the time. So I then pitched really the range that we started off really, really quite high in terms of quality and when I started approaching retailers and restaurants in London, this was like 1989, 1990, they all just thought she was barmy. I mean these cheeses are really expensive, they are not going to work, nobody knows how to say their names, no one thinks they are going to ever remember that they exist or you know, in Spain I suppose people knew more about summer holidays than artisan cheese and estate olive oils but…

Elliot Moss
But?

Monika Linton
…I was just determined. I am a bit like a dog with a bone. I was not going to give up and I just carried on and I carried on and I carried on until I found doors did start opening and people started thinking ‘I’ve got to take Spain seriously’, I’m a, you know, a retailer in London, whether its Harrods or Fortnum’s or whoever it was, a speciality deli, or a chef with a menu – they couldn’t ignore Spain for much longer because it was going to become a member of the EU, it was going to become you know, the Olympics were due to be there and so on and things were happening in Spain so it was time people – the timing was really lucky.

Elliot Moss
And find out how that timing became not just lucky but also started to be precursor to a rather big and healthy business. Time for some music, this is Miles Davis with It Ain’t Necessarily So.

The unmistakeable sound of Miles Davis with It Ain’t Necessarily So. Monika Linton is my Business Shaper, she is as I said, the founder of Brindisa Limited. Beautiful food from Spain people and as you were hearing earlier, Monika started that journey in 1988, literally with a journey because she was over the other side in Spain and she is also the co-found of the restaurant business, Brindisa being one of the six restaurants now; five in the UK and one abroad. You were talking about you know, you are a dog with a bone and you said ‘I just pushed’ and eventually Harrods took it on and I imagine and the top chefs started to get word of it. I think I saw a quote about the food now in Brindisa which I imagine was kind of the penny that dropped back then, I think it was from Jeremy Lee, the head chef at Quo Vadis, Brindisa is that… and we are talking about the restaurant that elevated the bean, anchovies, hamon, myriad cheeses, et al to daily civilised life in a way I suppose you were doing that then for people in a different way because you were behind the scenes and you were providing the raw materials to sit there and be eaten. As it grew, what do you think were the reasons why you have been successful before you even got to the restaurant business? Did you have to man up and woman up, was it a much bigger team or was it always quite tight in those early years?

Monika Linton
In the early years it was quite tight and I think partly because we were an Anglo team and I was bilingual and then I started recruiting people to work with me who knew England very well and they knew what people enjoyed in Britain and were as determined as me to you know, get the message across to our fellow citizens, that gave us a really strong credibility. One of the earliest partners I had at that time was a chap called Scott Boden who had worked at Justin De Blank and so his understanding of quality food and his numeracy and his business understanding was invaluable at that time and then I also got a couple of other friends, James and Rudy who were both quite sort of characterful if you like and so we managed to get the message across to people in a way that they could really grasp in that we could place it in a British kitchen or on a British menu. So, and we weren’t too proud about it so if people didn’t want to necessarily… if they were a bit frightened of calling it a piquillo pepper when they were used to it being an Italian pepper on a menu, we would obviously try and get the press and we would try and encourage them that people will get to it eventually. They will understand it and some of the chefs of the time like Simon Hopkinson, Alistair Little, Roley, Mark Hicks, that generation were really looking outside of what was the norm to put these odd key ingredients onto their menus. So we had that collaboration with them that really worked to get the exposure those ingredients needed.

Elliot Moss
And if it hadn’t have gone any bigger than just that and it had remained a little business and it is not now a little business, its north of ten million turnover and all sorts of things going on. Would you have been okay with that or were you on a mission to not, you know, to, as you said, to reach people and help them understand the joys of Spanish food? I mean what I am really asking is was the business success a critical part to you of the passion that you have for food?

Monika Linton
Yes, my original training if you like was as a teacher so if you teach you need to communicate and so and obviously you try and introduce people to new experiences so that was completely behind my method if you like of selling. None of us in the early generation of Brindisa and even now, none of us are real sales people. We don’t really like to see that’s what we are doing. We are trying to bring people closer to something we truly enjoy and think this, you know, life is not the same without it.

Elliot Moss
You’ve just made it sound simple, it is all about education and maybe it just is. Much more coming up from my Business Shaper, Monika. That is after the latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that neatly inter-sliced into the sandwich that is Jazz Shapers, some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya for your business.

This is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning 9.00am sharp, I hope you are there, you get to hopefully listen to me interviewing someone who is a shaper in the world of business and I have had some fabulous ones over the last four years. If you have missed any iTunes is your destination, if you are travelling in the near future, British Airways is your destination if you want to hear more and CityAm.com to boot. Monika Linton is my Business Shaper today and she is the woman not from Delmonte but from Brindisa. I’ve always wanted to say that, sorry, I just did. We have been talking about Spanish food and the fact that sales Monika over the last, it’s been now almost twenty years, isn’t predicated on just flogging, it’s predicated on passion, it’s predicated on education. As you watched your business grow from 1988 when you founded it and you move now into the early 2000s, obviously you opened a shop as well. Beyond the shop you then got yourself to a restaurant. Why? How? Because not everyone would have done that. You are a wholesale business, you sit behind things. What made you want to do your own thing on that front?

Monika Linton
Well I just had known right from the beginning that Spanish food was kind of a niche. I mean there is an awful lot of people in Britain who never have to buy any Spanish food at all so I wanted to make sure that rather than us going beyond the Spanish borders, we found a way of selling these amazing foods in lots of different formats if you like. So that’s really why going from the warehouse we set up the shop. We actually had warehouse days where people came in to our warehouse to buy retail from our warehouse. Then that turned into the shop at Borough Market that people know. The restaurants was like my next way of getting this message out to our customer base and to the public that Spanish food can really work. I mean commercially and in terms of having a good time Spain was kind of, lifestyle is the wrong word and I don’t like that word but it’s the sort of… I wanted to put it all on a plate in a place where the atmosphere and just bring it all together and just help people feel more and more comfortable eating and drinking Spanish wines and eating our foods.

Elliot Moss
You hadn’t run a restaurant before?

Monika Linton
No, no I mean I had no idea how to run a restaurant. I mean I had worked in a restaurant way back, one of my first jobs was in a kitchen on the Costa Brava in a little village called Balgur but I had never really been in a restaurant business properly. So no I had no idea how to do it but I just… originally that site on Borough Market was in fact offered to me as a shop but the predecessor had actually got an A3 license already set up on it so I was given the opportunity to turn it into a restaurant and I thought ‘oh Holy Moses I don’t know how to do that, I’ve got to find someone who is going to help me’, so that’s really when I called in through Mark Hicks. He introduced me to Ratnesh Bagdai who has been one of his partners for many years and worked with him for many years and he just looked at the site and said, ‘this business could work’ you know, ‘how do you want me to help you?’ and I said, ‘well jump on board’.

Elliot Moss
Here we go. Jump on board and we will see what happens. Fantastic and you made it sound very simple and of course it is thirteen years later and it isn’t simple but therein lies your own secret. Time for some music, this is Sérgio Mendes with Mas que nada.

That was Mas que nada, Sérgio Mendes, Latin. We are not sure whether it is Brazilian or a bit of Spanish in there but we liked it do we thought we would add it in because we are talking to Monika Linton and Monika is all things Spanish. Well you are today anyway even though you are speaking English to me. So the restaurant kicks off. If you have not been inside the restaurant and you have a chance to, it is in Borough Market. The one I am talking about which as I said, genuinely my all-time number one restaurant favourite ever. It is incredibly friendly, everyone seems to speak Spanish in there which is always nice, the staff, the foods amazing, you get served cold sherry which is nice, I mean there is a real… there’s a buzz and there’s a sense that people are passionate. How do you keep that passion for the product for the food when you are actually delivering it every day and you have been doing that for over ten years now? What’s the secret for that to ensuring that those people on the front line deliver the passion that you have in your heart?

Monika Linton
Difficult, difficult to pin it down to one thing but I think, I believe it’s the integrity of the food. So people really believe that they are delivering some of the greatest food to their customers that day, that should never change and that’s really what if you like the heritage of Brindisa with its twenty five years of bringing those foods in and trusting who we are buying from, that translates on to the plate for the waiters to deliver to the table for the customers. I think it’s having a business where we endeavour and I think we succeed most of the time to really really respect our colleagues, respect each other and give each other inspiration, motivation, energy, you know, we’ve, we do quite a lot of trips to Spain, we make sure people understand where the food is coming from. We have recently started doing that more and more. I think that is really important within a business for people, there is a lot of Spanish and note everybody speaks perfect English front of house in Brindisa Tapas Kitchens.

Elliot Moss
That’s quite nice though isn’t it I think. So there is something kind of…

Monika Linton
But it gives it an atmosphere, it makes people feel like they know they are not there necessarily in Spain but that they are close to Spain.

Elliot Moss
You get food you haven’t ordered, it’s great. I am just joking. That hasn’t happened once quickly to add.

Monika Linton
We do, I mean I would love to be a language teacher for Brindisa Tapas Kitchens actually. It might be what I have to do in my retirement but the… I think that just adds a lot of… the chemistry is good.

Elliot Moss
Yeah.

Monika Linton
So they really, nearly everybody who comes to work in Brindisa, whether it’s the restaurants or the shops, they say they are so proud of the food they are serving and I think that’s a really important element of it all and each restaurant we have done is slightly different so it is not just an off-pat copy so that also stimulates intellectually I think a lot of the staff as well.

Elliot Moss
And you thought you were just eating food you see but you weren’t, you were actually having a proper experience and that is how Monika has pulled it together. Final chat coming up with her later plus we will play a track from Van Morrison, that’s coming up after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

Van Morrison with Moon Dance. Monika is with me just for a few more precious minutes and we have been talking about all sorts of things which it’s never enough when you think about I imagine, at least for me, you know, you have been in business now thirty years almost, twenty seven years, something like that and here we go, we have talked quickly about the rise of food and the wholesale business, we’ve talked about your restaurant business and that ability for you to capture the passion and the experience through your team which I have asked you about. As you look forward now, what’s the next few years going to be? Is it more restaurant openings, is it a consolidation? What kind of ambition do you have for the education if you like of us here in the UK?

Monika Linton
Well the future for us isn’t going to be hundreds of Spanish restaurants all over Britain, that’s not something that’s going to really hit the spot as far as I am concerned and for most of my colleagues, we really, we believe in quality over quantity so we want to, we’ve got a couple of really good opportunities coming up for new sites maybe in the next few years. We are not going to rush at them. We want to consolidate what we started because each of our restaurants is slightly different. There’s… it’s not like you can just say it’s all done… so we have to keep refreshing what’s going on in those restaurants. We’ve got Barcelona that is almost like a sort of source of inspiration and a school if you like for our London site so I want to make sure that our teams and we have got to a point where we can actually have that cultural exchange between the two cities, actually flowing which we haven’t really started yet because that is quite a new restaurant for us. The wholesale business is just going to keep tracking on with what it’s doing. It’s doing really well so we are going to keep doing foods but we are not going to just go and find more and more weird ingredients that people don’t necessarily need, we want to do better cheese ranges, do our hams better, just keep trying to do what we are doing better and I have got a book that has been in waiting for an awfully long time…

Elliot Moss
I have heard about this. Yes.

Monika Linton
…which will hopefully come about. The incubation period is very very long but hopefully it will…

Elliot Moss
It needs cooking properly right? Something like that. Sorry about that. But yeah, but that’s exciting as well because it’s nice I imagine to capture some of those as you said to me, you are not a chef, but you have been around Spanish food for a long time and you are very passionate about it, you’ve curated it for the British public…

Monika Linton
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…if you will and I think, I mean I personally would love that book. It strikes me that you are kind of a, not the unintentional entrepreneur but you are very much an educative entrepreneur in the sense that that’s informed your mission. Do people ask you to come and talk to them about how you’ve, how you’ve made this business and are they struck by the difference because it strikes me you are different in the way that you have done it.

Monika Linton
Yes I do think I am a sort of accidental entrepreneur really but I would never, it would never have worked without the people around me who have got you know, complimentary skills because I kind of, you know, I am a sort of spontaneous person, I get very… I love people, people just completely drive me and so it is the people and the food but that can’t make a business work. I mean there is so many other, so much infrastructure you need, there’s so much science behind all the figures. You have to be able to manage all of that and one of the things I have insisted on all the time is to make sure that I have that expertise in the business and if we haven’t got it in the business, we buy it in and we get it when we need it because I know what I can’t do and I think that’s you know, that’s something that one has to recognise and that, so people like Scott, Ratnesh, my current directors, Heath and Alberto and my sales team, I mean everybody in the business brings a really really big part of, you know, they own part of the success that we are living and we want to maintain.

Elliot Moss
Well look listen you are having a good time, you are bringing good things to this country. You are now exporting and have gone back to Spain, a kind of a reverse takeover. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you, thank you and some great advice in there as well. Just before I let you tootle off, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Monika Linton
My song choice is Dorothy Masuka, Five Bells and the reason I chose it is, well I was born in Africa along with my brothers and sisters. We spent a lot of years in Africa so we were brought up to the sound of Miriam MaKeber, Jimmy Cliff, lots and lots and lots of African music, Highlife, West African Highlife and Dorothy was, her songs were introduced to me by one of my kind of African friends called Tara and Dorothy’s own story is incredible of migration and trying to you know, with South Africa and all the issues at the time and I just think her music and her voice are unbelievable. So I chose it really in honour of our African connections really.

Elliot Moss
Well thank you so much and here it is. It is Five Bells from Dorothy Masuka.

That was Five Bells by Dorothy Masuka, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Monika Linton. A person that really believed in education as a way to sell something and boy has she done that with Spanish food in this country. Someone who is absolutely passionate about it and that passion has helped her build her business and really humble, someone who said ‘you know what, it’s been the people around me that have helped me build this business’ and it is the joy of working with Spanish people as part of it as well. All good stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next 9.00am next Saturday here on Jazz FM. In the meantime though stay with us because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Monika Linton is the Founder of Brindisa Ltd and Co-Founder of its sister company, Brindisa Tapas Kitchens Ltd. Brindisa is an importer, wholesaler and retailer of Spanish foods; while Brindisa Tapas Kitchens is a group of Spanish restaurants in London and Barcelona. She maintains a hands-on approach in both companies, as Managing Director of Brindisa and Brindisa Tapas Kitchens. The name Brindisa comes from the Spanish word, “brindis”, the act of raising your glass, so both companies are a celebration of Spanish food.

Monika’s love of foreign foods and culture was inspired from an early age in her birthplace, Africa. The exotic sights, sounds and smells of the local markets fascinated her throughout her early childhood and teens and were a stark contrast to life back at home in the U.K. She has now been running her import, wholesale and retail company for 27 years, and her restaurant business for 12 years.  She lives in South London with her partner Rupert, their teenage son and daughter and their family dog.

Follow Monika on Twitter @monikabrindisa

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“I found selling wine to the wine trade in the late 80’s extremely difficult. I knew nothing about wine except that I enjoyed it.”

“I am a bit like a dog with a bone.”

“When I started approaching retailers and restaurants in London, they all thought I was barmy. I mean, these cheeses are really expensive, they are not going to work, nobody knows how to say their names.”

“My original training was as a teacher, so if you teach you need to communicate….that was completely behind my method of selling.”

“I mean, there are an awful lot of people in Britain who never have to buy any Spanish food at all.”

“I was given the opportunity to turn it into a restaurant and I thought, ‘oh Holy Moses I don’t know how to do that, I’ve got to find someone who is going to help me’…”

…nearly everybody who comes to work in Brindisa, whether it’s the restaurants or the shops, say they are so proud of the food they are serving.”

“We are not going to just go and find more and more weird ingredients that people don’t necessarily need.”

“I think I am a sort of accidental entrepreneur, really”