Women Making Moves Interviews April Jackson
Three Little Birds is the spot to indulge in the best of all things Jamaican. April Jackson decided to open a boutique restaurant and rum bar to celebrate her island’s cuisine, music and talent, whilst giving guests the opportunity to escape as they journey to the Caribbean.
Where are you based? London
Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Many people will remember you BBC One’s primetime business show The Apprentice. Following your departure from the show, you went on to open your own successful Jamaican restaurant in trendy Brixton. Can you tell me how you made that transition to open your own restaurant business?
Before applying for The Apprentice I knew that I was going to open a restaurant someday even though the plan wasn’t entirely clear. However, after filming and taking a short much needed holiday. I was determined to capitalise on my “five minutes of fame” and worked very hard to open Three Little Birds the day before my last episode aired on television, despite not having any experience in hospitality.
What were the struggles you went through when opening your first restaurant, were you familiar with the restaurant industry beforehand?
To be honest the struggles I faced before opening my restaurant were manageable; it is maintaining the business which is far more challenging mainly due to the high turnover of staff that is common in this industry. Before I opened I experienced difficulties getting my alcohol license, I had squatters claim my property, delays caused by the builders and challenges communicating my structural ideas and design concepts as I have no formal experience in architecture or interior design.
How do you keep focused?
Recently I have asked myself why do I work 18-hour days and take on stress that has made me physically ill as I do not have a family to support or a lavish lifestyle to fund. Truth is I truly believe I was born to be an entrepreneur; whether it was the hospitality industry or another field, growing up with my dad who continues to run successful
businesses paved the way for me and his example continues to keep me driven, whilst the support from him and my loved ones keeps me focused when the times are tough.
How did you finance your restaurant business?
I have been blessed to be able to have my dad believe in me and provide the funds for my restaurant without asking any questions.
Did you make any mistakes when starting your restaurant business?
I have made and continue to make countless mistakes, probably too many to list. I am always looking at ways to improve the operations and also my style of management. Some mistakes that spring to mind are:
- Before I opened I took reservations for large bookings on the weekends, without securing a deposit and sending a formal booking policy because I wasn’t sure how busy we were going to be and I ended up regretting it.
- I have promoted people to a level of incompetence, hoping that they would find more responsibility rewarding and therefore be encouraged to stay with a business that could provide them with opportunities to grow. In the end the both the business and the employee suffer.
- I take everything far too personally than I should. Sometimes I feel it is necessary to detach yourself from the business and staff in order to minimize stress, benefit from a bird's eye view and keep your passion alive rather than getting completely bogged down with day-to- day operations.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the food industry and open their own restaurant?
I would advise anyone who is considering opening his or her own
restaurant to create at least one solid friendship with someone who already owns a restaurant or runs a hospitality business.
Whether you have a question about sourcing sushi grade seabass for your opening, need to know the best manufacturer of ice makers, want a second opinion on how to deal with a customer complaint or just need to share horror stories, having an experienced ear is invaluable.
In addition, take some serious time to think about whether your desire to open a restaurant is fuelled by something more than your love of hosting dinner
parties because this journey is by far the most difficult thing I have ever done and can often feel quite isolating.
There has been literal blood, sweat and tears along the way, so if you are only thinking about the glamorous aspect of this business you may want to think again. However, if you are ready for the challenges do not let anything get in
For someone not familiar with Jamaican food visiting your restaurant for the very first time, what would be your recommended dish on your menu?
Our menu is not traditional although we do feature a few Jamaican staples. I would recommend curry goat for a first-timer, it is by far our bestseller and is suitable for “spice virgins” or “pepper lovers” because it is full of flavour and served with rice and peas.
What were the best words of wisdom you received when you started your restaurant business?
Whenever I questioned whether I was ready to open my own restaurant my dad would always say, “Just do it. Build it and they shall come.”
Who inspires you?
My dad is forever my biggest inspiration. He built his businesses from nothing; he has had a journey of personal and professional ups and downs but he always remains a positive light to everyone around him. I would never be who I am today without him as his hard work has afforded me limitless opportunities for which I am extremely grateful. He has seen me at my best and at my worst, yet his love and support is unwavering. It is only with this unconditional love and impeccable example that I am empowered to take risks needed to pursue success.
Most restaurant businesses don’t make it passed the first year of trading. What has kept you going to succeed beyond the first year and have a successful restaurant/rum kitchen in one of London’s top trendy area’s to dine Brixton?
One down, hopefully a whole heap more to go! I am very lucky to have had many loyal repeat customers from the day we opened Three Little Birds. I’d like to think that customers keep coming back because we offer tasty food and delicious rum cocktails featured on our seasonal menu, combined with our warm service. At Three Little Birds, we definitely have succeeded in creating a distinctive atmosphere that many have described as a perfect blend of the old and new Brixton.
What has been a business highlight for you in your journey?
I have enjoyed many moments on my journey thus far from celebrating very busy nights and crazy bank holiday Mondays, being honoured with a surprise complimentary reviews from the likes of Time Out Magazine, to being able to go home to Jamaica and have my team hold down the fort in my absence. However, I would like to think that the journey has just begun and therefore my business highlights have yet to come.
From the Lenique Louis collection, what is your favourite piece of jewellery?
Many of the Lenique Louis collections reminds me of home with the textures inspired by Coral reef. I can’t get enough the beach when I’m home and the Red Garnet Reef Ring is bold but dignified.