During her ten-year tenure at the steakhouse group, Louisa Richards has been critical player in setting the tone for culture and standards at new openings in London and beyond, CEO Will Beckett explains
One of the few people at Hawksmoor to have true autonomy, London restaurant director Louisa Richards has become a highly valued member of the company’s UK board and senior management team.
Yet when she first joined the company, it took her a little while to find her feet. She had previously worked with Living Ventures, but also some less reputable operators, practising “class old school hospitality”.
“Often in those kind of places, if you’re really good, you’re the kind of person that holds it all together, and you feel good about that,” CEO Will Beckett explains, speaking as part of his nomination of Richards for the Rising Star category at the MCA Hospitality Awards.
“Then she came to Hawksmoor, which is much nicer, but everybody seems to be quite good, and she struggled a little bit to find her place.”
Despite this, she soon found her rhythm as openings manager in Manchester in 2015, a crucial point in the group’s journey, as it made its mark outside the capital.
This would be where Richards, with her local knowledge and insight, would really flourish.
“We really wanted it to feel like a local restaurant,” Beckett says. “She was very successful there, she helped turn it into Manchester’s premier restaurant, meaning a blend between quality and volume.”
After Manchester, she went on to open Edinburgh, finding a niche in setting the tone of how Hawksmoor should open in new cities.
According to Beckett, this is the “perennial challenge” for a predominantly London operator, with its successes in British cities helping inform even bigger moves like New York.
“You have to work out what is the right balance between Hawksmoor culture and local culture.”
In fact, not only did Manchester change Hawksmoor, Beckett believes Hawksmoor also helped change Manchester.
“If you think about Manchester now and what works and how people think about hospitality, they looked to Hawksmoor quite a lot for inspiration in Manchester.”
One thing Richards brought from Living Ventures was Tim bacon’s relentless focus on “customers’ eyes”.
To this day, she’s very focused on rolling 20-day NPS, and has spearheaded and embedded that as a key forward-looking metric at the business.
After three or four years, Richards missed London, and came back to run Air Street, which until Wood Wharf opened was Hawksmoor’s biggest restaurant, and is still its highest grossing in the UK.
A 255-cover bar-restaurant, with 125 staff, and comfortably turning over in excess of £10m a year, Beckett describes it as “big job” and one where Richards continued to show her mettle.
Since then, she started taking on more responsibility as a kind of super general manager, looking after other sites, and starting to mentor new managers.
With nearly all new GMs promoted from within, Richards became a key figure in helping bring on new talent in the business.
As well as helping support women in the business, she sought mentoring from the group’s chair, Karen Jones.
Over time, Richards’ role developed in London restaurant director, where she is responsible for all seven London restaurants, with all of general managers reporting into her.
To put that business unit into perspective, the London restaurants turn over up to £60 million and employ 800 people.
Her role touches almost every area of the business, including operations, finance, customer, brand, marketing, and product.
As a generalist, she either spearheads initiatives herself or works with specialists to implement ideas into restaurants.
“She’s got that air traffic control view over what is happening in that £60m business at any one time.”
As Hawksmoor has grown, Richards has continued to adapt and contribute to new areas.
“Over the course of Hawksmoor’s history, there have been very good people who like it as it is, who have had trouble adapting as the scale has increased and aspects of company change.
“She hasn’t been one of those people. She’s one of those people who liked it as it is, is fiercely protective of the things that are important, but is constantly ready to reinvent and do new things and be open to new experiences and skillsets.”
She has also been afforded increasing independence.
“My journey over the last few years has been to think about how the business needs to change from a small one city, quite personal business, to a business which will turn over more than £100m this year.
“To let to let people with the right skill set lead in their areas, and work together on how the structure of that will that work.
“She is definitively one of a few people in the company based in London, who have genuine autonomy.
“There are there are people in the business that you have to give an awful lot of autonomy and trust.”
This article is part of a series profiling finalists in the Rising Star category at the MCA Hospitality Awards