For more than 20 years now, La Tasca restaurants have spread across the United Kingdom. The tapas equivalent to Pizza Express, they allowed customers to feel almost as if they were on holiday in Spain instead of stuck at home, for a reasonable price. By the late 2000s, however, the chain wasn't doing too well. After the company changed hands a couple of times, profits were down and the menu and the design of the restaurants hadn't changed since their inception. It was in 2011 that Simon Wilkinson was brought in to revitalise the company and make it competitive once again. Simon had a background in hospitality and knew the business, making him a good choice as CEO. His background, Simon says, gave him a good grounding in not only restaurant management but also gave him leadership skills too. "My background is in hotel management and my experience is in hotels," Simon says.
"I did a graduate management training program and when I completed that course I was appointed at a hotel on Park Lane. I worked there for just under five years and then I went on to run a hotel overseas. I returned to the UK four years later and worked for a company running a chain of pubs and restaurants. I then worked as a managing director and CEO of a collection of restaurant brands and I have been CEO of La Tasca for the past four and a half years. I had one role where I worked for a couple of different CEOs in a very short period of time, and I learned a lot about how not to be a CEO. I have learned from them and tried to put in practice how I liked to be managed when Im managing my team, incorporating what I've seen. I've learned from good and bad experiences from the way I have been managed."
When Simon came to La Tasca, it was in a precarious situation. Profits had been declining for some years, and the company needed a major turnaround. The business started 22 years ago, and grew through various different ownerships, up until around 2007, when it was sold to a business called Laurel Pub Company. By that time it had gone up to about 80 sites. In 2007, it became part of a very large pub company and in their four years of ownership it went through a very difficult time, in that it was way behind its competitors in terms of culture, food, experience, operation, and sales. It went through a liquidation and ownership changes where they didn't have the money to reinvest in the business.