Owner, Miss Maud Swedish Pastry Houses and Smörgåsbord Restaurant, Perth, and named a Lifetime Achiever by R&CA in 2006.
“I look back and think I must have been mad. But it was absolutely clear opportunity was abundant. I could see what could be done. It was calling me.
“Sweden is a very cold country and very dark. So inside the homes there is a much higher demand on warmth, not just heating, but bringing life inside. Flowers, candles and food looking very beautiful are important. That’s what I’ve brought to Miss Maud. Our vision is warm, friendly and graceful, but not five-star or elegant—that’s a forbidden word. Our customers should feel at home.
“There is nothing I’d have liked to have known when I started out—having the experiences and personal knowledge allowed me to find solutions to problems my way. Not knowing has helped us to set our path differently from other restaurants and create our own uniqueness.
“The experience of the customers drives us. We started very small, a pastry shop with 40 seats and a window into the kitchen. We were so busy. That’s when I knew we could expand.
“I’ve always talked the same language. So those who came to love the pastry house loved the restaurant and then the hotel. The presentation and atmosphere is the same. And it’s still the same 36 years later.
“At the start, quality control is simple—you’re there all the time to ensure it. But when you open in different locations, you have to manage quality via others. That’s when I had to learn to document things. Now I have close to 500 staff, so the whole system has to work.
“My belief is that everyone wants to do a good job, and everyone wants to go through work believing they have achieved something valued. If you feel good, your intelligence is valued and your style is valued, you give value. We’ve coined the term ‘intrapreneurs’, which is the development of the company internally.
“I’m proud so many in my group have been with us so long—25 years is no problem here. Some executive chefs started with us as apprentices. It’s not just that they feel valued; they are valued.
“We had a great problem: how do you explain the quality you want to achieve? One day I walked into a place and the chef and the waitress were arguing. The chef was saying ‘this steak is good’ and the waitress was saying ‘it’s not good enough’. They couldn’t meet. So I asked ‘is this steak gorgeous?’ The chef said ‘no’. So that’s been our quality control for 25 years now. Everyone knows what gorgeous is.
“Then there’s the strawberry, which to us symbolises improvement. In all our stores we’ve placed a book. If staff see a problem they can jot a solution in and the manager can implement it. We’ve got 3,000 strawberries. It’s about making something happen, not just measuring it. We have strawberry circles, too. We get together and we ask one question: ‘what is it that stops you doing a better job?’ We normally get around 50 problems floated up. Then we prioritise what the group thinks is most important. Then we work on it. It can take 10, 12 meetings. But then we close the circle and drink pink champagne with strawberries and cream.
“But really, if things aren’t working, it’s simple. Stop doing it. If your customers don’t want it, that’s it.
“We don’t have complaints, we have CLOs—customer-led opportunities.
“Blame isn’t allowed here. We have 40,000 customers a week; serving that many, of course, there are instances when it doesn’t work as it should. But we do always believe things can be improved.
“It’s still a journey, and I learn every day.”