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Through The Keyhole with our General Manager, Simon Drake

Art & Culture Art & Culture House News Wild Card 28/07/2022

We sat down with General Manager Simon Drake to discuss his vision for The Other House, his dream guest, and how he met our Head Chef in Bermuda…

How did you start working in hospitality?

I remember as a child, my godfather drove this fabulous Bentley, and as a 10-year-old I was thoroughly impressed when he used to take me out around our neighbourhood – I was the envy of my school friends. I asked him how I could get a car like that, and his answer was simple: work hard. His reply always stuck with me, and as he had worked in hotels his whole life, I suppose the seed was planted.

However, the beginnings of my career were far less glamorous than the glossy exterior of a luxury car – I started out as a pot washer, but it wasn’t long before I was promoted to a chef role. I swiftly realised that I wanted more interaction with people than I could get in the kitchen, so I started working part time in the Front of House team at Marriott International. Eventually I went full time, working in food and beverage and restaurant management to gain a more well-rounded experience, then I worked my way up from there.

Your career took you to the Caribbean. What was island life like?

I spun a globe and landed on Bermuda. I didn’t know anything about it, but within eight days I’d flown out to accept a job with an eco resort. It was way ahead of its time with these stunning cabanas over the water with Perspex floors. I worked closely with the owners at the time, the Douglas family – as in the actors Kirk and Michael Douglas. A real ‘pinch me’ moment was fly fishing with Kirk and former US president Barack Obama.

Bermuda was also the location of another fortuitous meeting, my first encounter with our now-Head Chef Gary White. One evening, we were hosting a large group who were quite particular, but we’d run out of a key ingredient. I rang around the resorts in the vicinity to ask for help and eventually, my calls were answered by the chef at the resort across the bay. I took one of our speedboats and raced over the bay to meet him on the beach with our emergency supplies – it was a real James Bond moment! We became friends and I’d swim across the bay to his resort. We’d even wake up at the crack of dawn to catch lobster from the protected halo reef between our respective resorts and Gary would cook them for us that evening – perfection. He’s an absolute superstar. Years later, we worked together at Conrad Hotels & Resorts and now we are together again at The Other House.

Besides where to catch the best lobster, the most important lesson I learnt from my time in Bermuda was about work ethos, which was different to anything I had experienced before. Jobs were so abundant that companies really had to impress their employees to retain them, rather than the other way round. This has stuck with me and we’re cultivating a similar ethos at The Other House.

What motivated you to work for The Other House?

I’m driven by the people around me, particularly our founder, Naomi Heaton.

During the pandemic, I thought the UK hospitality industry would struggle to recover so I decided to move to France. I’d had my home valued, chosen pet goats to keep in France, and my other half had planned to resign that week. I’d even put my name down to adopt a lovely llama named Barry, but ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be – I still keep tabs on him though, and he’s now happily installed at a farm in Wales.

But my dreams of Barry and my goat herd were put on hold the moment I received a call from the owner of a very distinguished voice – Naomi. In just one conversation she inspired me with her passion, her vision, her complete understanding of what she wants and her ability to work with investors. When she asked me to join her in developing a Residents’ Club – The Other House – I was sold. We knew this was a perfect match in the space of five minutes and I started six days later.

What can people look forward to when they visit The Other House?

We are doing something totally different at The Other House, it really is a UK-first, and as such there’s been a huge amount of thought and input into every little detail as we’re building something special from the ground up, not simply refurbishing an old concept.

We’re more flexible than corporate hotel chains, in fact we are so much more than a hotel and are breaking away from norms. We’re not stuffy either – no one is going to put a napkin on your lap in our restaurant.

And we want you to be able to stay your way, so we’ve developed our state-of-the-art Other House App to allow you to do just that. We are ahead of the game in terms of technology, so you can check the app to see when the gym is quiet or order a drink through it and have it delivered to your table. We’ve also partnered with the Ruuby beauty app so you can book massages, manicures, and blow-dries in your room.

Everything is built around experiences. Our cocktail bar, The Owl and Monkey, is the place to people-watch and be seen. My dream guest would be the actor Keanu Reeves. I used to love chatting to him over margaritas!

Our goal is to be a sustainable business, and one example of this is how we have streamlined food service at our street café, The Other Kitchen. At breakfast for example, there’s no buffet, and we will have a limited menu to avoid waste. When a particular dish runs out, it’s gone – so you have to move quickly.

As well as our amazing bars and café, we also have incredible wellness and wellbeing facilities where our Wellness Concierge can guide you through your bespoke wellness journey. Our studios will host a variety of group and individual sessions such as reiki, gong baths and shamanic journeys streamed live from Tulum in Mexico.

How are you building a team that will transform Naomi’s vision into reality?

Naomi has a clear vision of what The Other House should look and feel like, and the type of services we will operate.

It’s down to me to make it happen. I’ve been given a blank canvas on recruitment. We don’t want to just attract and employ the traditional hotelier, we’re also looking for the black sheep – those who stand out from the crowd, who do things differently and who can help bring our radical concept to life.

I’m driven by wanting to make a name for the business. I have bought into the concept of the brand, and so has everyone on our team. People from major hospitality brands are applying to join us. They recognise that we’re disruptors and know that we will stay ahead of the curve.