EP’s Unusual Hospitality Stories
The first in the new series for 2019:
Michael Gottlieb is a renowned restaurateur who would have been a music man had he not had a natural flair for hospitality. Despite achievements he does not class himself as having an abundance of passion for restaurants, he simply enjoys them, and the hunger that drives him is towards business success.
Serendipity is the word Michael uses to describe his journey. There have been highs as well as lows, but music has always been closely intertwined and this is where Michael clearly gets excited. He lights up when he describes the experiences of the 1980s and setting up renowned Smollensky’s but also taking that passion throughout his many experiences.
“We’re all on a trajectory” is how Michael describes the journey’s people go on during their life. The relaxed restaurateur is known for his knack of turning previously successful restaurants around when they enter difficult times. “My trajectory has been strongly linked to what I would now call an independent attitude, and along the ride I’ve always kept trying and haven’t known when to quit.” He adds.
Along this route, one of the driving forces for Michael has been music, whether the sounds in the restaurants or listening to music at home, there has been a constant beat and melody in his life.
After London Business School Michael worked in marketing for Ann Summers in the early days of the now globally recognised brand; “the ultimate hospitality?” he jokes; the travel industry; briefly in the gambling sector in casinos, as Head of Marketing for Hertz Car Rental and all before entering restaurants through The Chicago Pizza Pie Factory.
“I got fired a lot during these times and I put that down to my independent attitude again. Some may argue that these may be seen as failures, but I don’t believe that’s true, you’ve not failed or succeeded, you’ve just kept trying during the ups and downs.”
Michael was heading up marketing for Hertz across Europe, the Middle East and Africa when he was fired at the car rental company. He speaks with pride that he caused mass turbulence internationally in the business. “They know how I felt at the time, and I must point out they have cleaned up their act a lot since, but I felt it was one step away from organised crime. In those days it was unfair to consumers and there was almost a secret book where the aim was to charge as much as possible to the customer. It was all big bills for small bumps and that just didn’t sit right with me.”
This is fine example of the calm and confident Michael Gottlieb who sticks to his principles. Often when one meets Michael, they feel find someone with an aura of self-confidence. However Michael openly admits that despite this belief in doing what’s right, he doesn’t actually have a solid plan he’s sticking to. He explains, “When I originally went to The Chicago Pizza Pie Factory they only had one restaurant in Hanover Square. On my first day I descended the stairs into the basement where the restaurant was located and was hit by that morning restaurant smell which I’ve never liked and asked myself ‘what am I doing here?’” The opportunity had come by chance after American marketing man and restaurateur Bob Payton placed an advert in the Daily Telegraph. Michael applied and following unsatisfying experiences in the travel industry, and despite having no experience in restaurants persuaded Bob that he was a quick learner and thus stepped into hospitality.
Michael went from General Manager of the one site to being granted an 8% equity position in the business after the first year and helped grow the business into five units. He describes this time, “I wasn’t passionate about the business, but I found something I was good at. I enjoyed getting to know the names of everyone I was working with and believe I have the knack of knowing what makes people tick.” This lack of passion towards work isn’t in regard for not working, Michael obviously worked very hard, but likens his attitude to “business being business” and that desire for success can be driven in other ways.