Helen Hall, Director at Peckham Cellars, is a determined and innovative leader who is on a mission to transform the hospitality industry. With exceptional abilities combined with focus, engagement, and curiosity, Helen is a passionate leader who leads by example and believes in creating her success. Having gone through the thick and thin of the industry, she relates to the struggle people in the hospitality industry go through. Eager to make lives easier for everyone in the industry, she makes significant efforts and pursues her goals with unparalleled commitment. With determination and diligence as her tools to stay ahead in the business world, Helen cultivates the qualities of a dynamic leader who has led her organization to some stellar achievements. With an attitude of thinking big and winning big, Helen has a clear vision for her life, her organization and is indeed an inspiration for many.
We at Aspioneer got into conversation with Helen to learn more about her journey and how to stay ahead of the curve.
Aspioneer (A): Tell us a bit about your organization, your role, and the core purpose behind its establishment?
Helen (H): “Peckham Cellars. We opened in November 2019 and I am one of three directors of the business. We started Peckham Cellars with the mission of being a fun and accessible place to come and enjoy excellent wine and food. I wanted to create the perfect dining and drinking experience, where everything was considered down to the last detail. We felt the industry could seem quite exclusive with language that could seem purposefully obfuscated. We set out to change this and make the world of the wine less daunting and more accessible to our guests.”
(A): How did you step into the hospitality industry?
(H): “I have been working in the hospitality industry since my early twenties. As is the story for many people, I sort of fell into when I left university and started working in a bar to make money while I figured out what I was going to do with my life, and I just loved it. My first management job was for a hospitality group with a number of clubs and restaurants in London. These were my most formative years in teaching me the best and worst ways to manage people. The directors were tough people to work for and it was in some ways quite a grueling period in my career, but they also taught me the meaning of true hospitality, how to create an outstanding atmosphere and offer the kind of relaxed yet attentive service that Peckham Cellars is now famous for. Right off the bat they threw me in at the deep end and allowed me to work on the openings of two of their sites from the build through to opening. I worked on the design of the interior and was given lots of autonomy and freedom to make my mark on the businesses. This taught me the benefit of allowing your staff to step up and shine if you have faith in them and push them beyond their experience. Something which has stayed with me to this day is how I manage the team at Peckham Cellars. To sum up, my time working in the hospitality industry has been a mixed bag, to say the least with many experiences ranging from impeccable to terrible, but they have included all the classic tropes of poor pay, long hours, and underappreciation. I love the industry and I think it’s a completely undervalued area of the economy and society that people don’t properly appreciate and often take for granted. Thankfully this is changing in some part due to the pandemic and people appreciating what they lost when all hospitality had to close.”
My advice is ‘Just do it!’ For so long hospitality has not been taken seriously as a career option and seen as work that is temporary or part-time while you work on your ‘real’ career, but it’s an amazing, fun, and fulfilling option for a career. Since the pandemic and leaving the EU employers are now having to offer competitive rates of pay and incentives to work in the industry. Now more than ever is a great time to be in hospitality.
(A): How are you improving the hospitality industry?
(H): “We set out to try and set right some of the issues we had experienced working for other people over the years. We are a living wage employer, we don’t use minimum hour’s contracts for any of our staff and none of our staff works more than 50 hours per week. We allow our staff autonomy and creative freedom and allow them space to give us feedback and feel included in the way the business is run. What drives me is providing an experience that is truly excellent and providing employment that is fair and sustainable, where employees feel motivated and fulfilled.”
(A): What is your modus operandi to stay ahead of the competition?
(H): “We are constantly evolving, responding to feedback, and striving to stay original and relevant. We have a really strong events program that spans wine tastings, guest supper club events, and live DJ nights. We change our menu regularly. As a neighborhood restaurant, you have the same people all the time so it’s important to keep things fresh and interesting for them. It also makes the job much more exciting and fulfilling for our chefs. This is the same for our wine list – it’s constantly changing and evolving and seeks to push people to try new things. We try and avoid having too many of the most well-known grape varieties on our ‘by the glass list and instead select wines from lesser-known regions and grape varieties. Our staff receives regular training in the wines so they can advise guests on what they want to drink based on what their normal drinking habits are. Although we stock natural wines and in some ways, it’s a philosophy we get behind we don’t identify as completely ‘natural’. We prefer to focus on small-scale producers and most of our collection is organic or bio-dynamic. These winemakers really care about their product and their impact on the environment which for us is the most important thing – alongside the fact that they taste good! We hand select every wine that comes on to our list and would never stock something just because it’s considered ‘cool’. We have to believe in every wine we stock.”
(A): Do you believe women have made strides in your industry?
(H): “I definitely wouldn’t say women have broken the glass ceiling in the hospitality industry. Although we are gradually starting to see more women in high profile jobs in hospitality I don’t think they would be nearly in equal numbers to men and there are still areas, such as kitchens, where there is a vast amount of work to be done. The pressures of working in restaurants and bars in front of the house and kitchen positions are not easy to maintain with the pressures of family life. Often hospitality businesses cannot or won’t offer benefits that would make it possible for women to manage to needs of having children. On top of this attitudes in the kitchens often run along the lines of women not being tough enough for certain jobs, which is why you often see the pastry sections staffed by women as this is seen as an easier and less high-pressure area of the kitchen. There is a lot of work to be done for women to see hospitality as a viable career option and not to feel held back by traditional attitudes.”
(A): Who do you derive your inspiration from? What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to start a career in the hospitality industry?
(H): “Both my mother and mother-in-law are strong role models for me. My mum has encouraged me to be fiercely independent and hard-working. She taught me that hard work pays off and that trying your best at something and giving your all are the most important things regardless of the outcome. My mother-in-law was a single mother to my partner and she has not only brought up a wonderful son but has built an amazing career for herself and is a highly respected member of her community.
My advice is ‘Just do it!’ For so long hospitality has not been taken seriously as a career option and seen as work that is temporary or part-time while you work on your ‘real’ career, but it’s an amazing, fun, and fulfilling option for a career. Since the pandemic and leaving the EU employers are now having to offer competitive rates of pay and incentives to work in the industry. Now more than ever is a great time to be in hospitality.”
(A): How do you unwind? What makes you lose the track of time? Also please tell our readers what are you currently focusing on?
(H): “Unsurprisingly I love going out for dinner! It’s great to see what other operators are doing and I just love being in a busy bustling restaurant sampling delicious food and wine. I cook a lot. I went to cookery school and have spent time working in kitchens and I find the experience of cooking a relaxing and fulfilling activity. Other than that I read a lot and am very active and exercise in some way – normally running or cycling most days. Our focus now is to find a suitable site to open another restaurant/wine bar and give our delivery business a proper home – we are currently running it out of a self-storage unit which is less than ideal! We have spent the last two years establishing a solid reputation and brand and now we want to take this to other areas of London.”