All stories
October 4, 2022

The Specials | Nick Mash from The Mash Inn

Nick Mash is the owner of The Mash Inn, an award-winning "restaurant with rooms” in the Chiltern Hills. Discover his story here.
October 4, 2022

The Specials is an ongoing series of interviews with the unsung heroes of hospitality — from managers, waiters and sommeliers to dishwashers, farmers and foragers.  

Nick Mash is the owner of The Mash Inn, an award-winning "restaurant with rooms” in the Chiltern Hills. He previously owned two acclaimed London gastro-pubs, The Salisbury and The Chamberlayne.

Hospitality is in my veins. It’s all I've ever done. I’ve had spots as a used-car dealer and various other things where friends’ dads would give me jobs, but the reality was it was always within me. My family has been farming since the 1850s and my father was a wholesaler greengrocer who supplied the best of the best. When he died, he was supplying chefs who had 83 Michelin stars between them.

My father played a pivotal role in my career choice. We were very close and my fondest early memories are of going to Covent Garden market with him. He employed guys straight out of prison to work as drivers, packers or loaders — amazing characters but frightening. He got mugged three or four times a year. So I went from working in the wholesale market, with all that hullabaloo, to getting in my dad’s car at the end of the day and stopping off at the hotel kitchens of the Ritz and the Savoy and entering this completely different world.

A pub in Primrose Hill was a game-changer for me. I left school early and ended up in London, working as a deliveryman for restaurants. I liked to speak to the chefs and one of the places I loved to visit was The Landsdowne. It was fairly rundown but super-cool: bare bones, basic wooden furniture, blackboards and a menu that changed with every service. It took pubs to a different level within an eating environment. It was so seductive. I ate there everyday after work and ended up working in the kitchen for three years.

I returned to front of house at the first pub I renovated. I bought it for peanuts. Every window was smashed in. We didn’t have much money but we got it going and it was a big hit. On Friday and Saturday nights, I’d have to go into the street to look for the posh cars because we’d get calls from people saying “We couldn't find you last night” and I was like, “You could, it’s just that you didn't want to get out the car!”

I find the constant human interaction of the industry fascinating. You never know who’s going to come through the door. It might be Lord and Lady this, a rockstar, or a trendy couple from Hackney. My daughter has started working at a restaurant in Notting Hill and I can see the change in her in just a few shifts because she suddenly has a much broader outlook on how humans behave.

I'm kind of a failed artist. I always wanted to be an artist — and The Mash Inn came to me like a canvas would to a painter. I’d been through a rough time and had left the industry with no money. I had to get back on my feet and needed an exercise, so I started to paint the canvas, as it were. Starting over again was extremely stressful but extremely exciting. My father drove me on. He was like, “Come on, Nick, you know you can do this. You’re all right at this. Stick to what you know.”

I wanted to put a stake in the ground with how The Mash Inn operates. We’re not open seven days a week. I don't need that energy in my business. We do Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday lunch and Saturday evening, with guests checking out on Sunday morning. It seems very healthy and gets my guys down to 48 hours in the kitchen, which is rare for the industry, but is hopefully becoming less so. We’ve got to the point where we can charge a certain price for the experience we offer guests and not only do the figures add up but everyone gets a better lifestyle.

The industry is changing but we've got a long way to go still. If you’re employing a chef for 48 hours but you're making him do 78 hours and he only gets paid for 48 hours, that's not running a business, that's running a hell hole. You can't pretend you're a profitable business, making money, if you're not paying people properly.

You have to be passionate to work in this industry. I’ve see guys come into my kitchens and, within seconds, I’ve been like, “Dude, if you don't come to work and absolutely love what you do and want to pick up the knife, you can’t be here. It's not good for you.”

Leadership is about leading by example. At the end of a Saturday shift, I like being on my own, sweeping and mopping the floor. I’ve always operated like that. I learned it from my dad. Even though he ran a huge wholesale supply business, you'd often see him with a broom in his hand, sweeping the warehouse floor. You have to do that. If you're behind the bar serving your customers, if you’re on the floor clearing a table, your team will watch and learn from you. But if you're not there as an owner-operator, pouring the beers and putting food on the table with your team, then to walk in every couple of weeks and say, “You're fantastic”, it’s just bullshit.

My advice for restaurateurs is simple: keep it good and build it slowly. Do so with a plan in mind about how you’re going to get a pension out of it all. And never forget how lucky you are to have anyone walk through your doors. We never forget that. It’s something I talk about a lot and am genuinely so appreciative of.

As told to Superb. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.

Keep exploring

Stay in touch
Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest stories and insights from the new generation of restaurateurs directly in your inbox