Small Talk

Alexander Salussolia on Silk & Grain, market niches and nurturing future talent

Managing director of Glendola Leisure Alexander Salussolia joined the company in 1992 as an area manager, before becoming its managing director in 2000.

Managing director of Glendola Leisure Alexander Salussolia joined the company in 1992 as an area manager, before becoming its managing director in 2000. The company is about to open its first venture in the City of London, restaurant and aged cocktail concept Silk & Grain.

Can you tell us more about the work you did with your most recent venture Silk & Grain?

Innovation has always been at the heart of all Glendola leisure's greatest success stories, from creating the first Irish Super Pub in London with Waxy O'Connor's to opening Rainforest Cafe and creating the largest family restaurant in the UK.

Silk & Grain comes out of our desire to operate in the City of London for the first time, so innovation was the order of the day when we had the opportunity to acquire the site. The Holy Grail for us is to find a unique point of difference in the market place which will resonate with the potential customer base. To that end we studied carefully what the previous business on that site had appealed to and identified the gaps in the day offering.

I love talent mining within my business as I have really a fantastic team and always make time to talk - and more importantly listen - to the brainstorming that goes on every day to stretch and improve our existing businesses. Out of one of these conversations came the idea of barrel ageing liqueurs to explore creating cocktails with better flavour profiles. The more I thought of this idea and the dynamics associated with the site we had acquired, it became obvious the City was the place to create the first bar in the world to dedicate itself to a full barrel aged cocktail menu. Then came the process of putting the right people together to create the menu and the concept positioning that offer’s innovation and creativity in the product as well as the design.

Do you have any other expansion plans in the works?

Absolutely. In Carlton Hotels, our sister business, we are currently working on a 4-star new build hotel in Edinburgh, and that's in addition to our planning fight to convert a Edinburgh Church into a Waxy O'Connors. I'm particularly choosy about new site selection so although hardly a week goes by without me considering new site opportunities, though only a few come up to scratch. I'm very positive about our latest offerings such as Gordon Street Coffee and Alston Bar & Beef. I know further site opportunities will come on the back of these.

How do you go about choosing which sites to acquire?

It's all about finding a location with good customer demographics and exploiting a gap not being catered for, or innovating in such a way that you create a new niche in the market to exploit. Understanding density of competition, the historic reputation of an area, changes in infrastructure looking forward and a gut feel from walking around an area and studying the potential customers all go into the mix. 

What does your typical day at Glendola Leisure involve?

I really don't have a typical day, although I have commonality in my routines. Typically I get up around 5.30 to 6am and review and update a list of what I want to achieve or follow up. The next hour or two is spent mostly through email, following up my action list in order that I can focus on the meetings I have scheduled for that day.

I see my role as two fold. Firstly it is to manage the managers within the business and set best practice and governance, and secondly to create leadership that stretches and grows my team whilst creating a shared vision for the future. My day ends when it ends but very rarely at standard office hours. There's always a business to visit to see trading, a networking dinner to attend or a new potential location to scope out.

How did you become involved in the industry?

By the time I left school I knew I wanted to be a hotel manager. To this end I went on and studied at Westminster Hotel School and Cornell University in the US. That led to a management graduate position within Hilton Hotels and the rest is history.

How did you get to where you are now?

In a moment of weakness and a lot of hard work! I took the gamble to leave the hotel business for an area manager role with Glendola Leisure and have just loved the speed and passion of the retail side of the business.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Nuturing future talent and seeing my protégés take on more responsibility in running my business.

What do you love about working in hospitality?

All of it. No other business exposes you in the same way to people, customers, authorities, property, legals and professionals from grass roots up.

Who in the industry inspires you?

My father (Glendola Leisure’s founder and chairman Peter Salussolia).

What advice would you give to those starting out in the industry?

Do it all, get the broadest exposure to the widest possible styles of businesses after getting a good technical education. Embrace and apply yourself to the worst job experiences as you will undoubtedly learn the most from these.

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