I’m drinking coffee at a business meeting held in a trendy little space with monochrome flooring, timber panelling, and a colour palette of copper, green, and brass.
But when I look out the floor-to-ceiling windows, it isn’t the hipsters of Shoreditch or the creatives of Soho that I see, but the suits and tweed-clad men of St. James. Founded by Locket Hambro, whose family owns and runs iconic restaurants Wiltons and Franco’s, Locket’s is a café and wine bar that was intent on doing things differently. “For Locket's, we saw the need for a place for women to go after work and have a relaxed drink with friends,” explains Hambro. “St James is catered towards men and is full of members-only clubs and expensive hotels; there was a demand for relaxed, bar-style drinking that was accessible for everyone.”
Entrepreneurship runs in Hambro’s blood, and it’s clear that growing up in the hospitality industry coupled with her experience at her consulting company LOKATE LDN and as Director of Design and Development for restaurateur Juan Santa Cruz’s portfolio have given her a clear vision for what she wanted at Locket’s. For this Women Who Launch interview, I chat with Hambro about the business decision she made despite going against her family’s wishes and the dish that’s become a Locket’s staple.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned growing up in the hospitality business?
If you stay true to strong core values and principles, then you will stand the test of time.
Whilst coming from a family of entrepreneurs has its advantages, have you ever dealt with situations where you've decided not to take your family's advice?
The unisex loos were definitely disapproved of! We also had a predominantly female team in the design and development of Locket's. The music at Locket's is also more of a feature and part of the concept than Wiltons and Franco’s—all curated by my great friend and DJ Emma Shenkman.
As you mentioned, design plays a big role in the overall experience at Locket's. How did you incorporate your target audience into your design decisions?
We were able to see the demand for such a wine bar through our loyal following at Franco’s and by being part of the St. James community. We understood the need for an offering that fits in between expensive hotels bars and dingy pubs. We designed the space for women and Fran Hickman and her team, who did the interior design, met the brief brilliantly.
Hiring and retaining talent is a big challenge within hospitality right now. How have you ensured your team is constantly engaged and that you're attracting the best talent?
We have incredible management at Locket’s and a central team across the three restaurants who keep spirits high. Jason Phillips, our director, does a great job at keeping the team motivated—it’s been a tough 18 months, especially in the kitchen when staffing has been particularly low. However, the standard of service and food has never faltered with Jason capping covers so that the teams were not over stretched or exhausted. Over the holidays especially with the hundreds of cancellations across the three restaurants, it’s been hard to stay positive, but the staff are always smiling and we are hopeful for a fruitful new year.
If you weren't working in hospitality, what would your career path look like?
I would work in wildlife conservation. I work closely with ZSL and the London Zoo where I am Chairman of their Next Generation Committee.
Working in an industry that was particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, what was the biggest hurdle you faced over the past 18 months?
Staffing has been the biggest problem. Luckily we have a hugely loyal team thanks to incredible management.
Is there a dish on the menu that has become a Locket's staple?
Our pizzas have been a real hit—sitting on the terrace, summer or winter, with wine and pizza, you can’t beat it.
Do you have any advice for anyone who's considering launching a business in 2022?
Be a grafter, have initiative, and in my experience, have a good wingman.
When not at your restaurants, where can we find you wining and dining?
I have a small baby now so I don’t get out much! But if I do, it’s Maison Francois, set up by my great friend Frank O' Neill—a brilliant addition to St James.
Address: Smithson Plaza, 25 St James's St, St. James's, London SW1A 1HJ
Phone: 020 3005 3333
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