My Biggest Mistake: A date with Saddam

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The Independent Online
From nine, Natalie Rebeiz-Nielsen was part of her father's company, Caviar House, helping at weekends to pack and label jars and boxes of caviar. After leaving school, she qualified as a jeweller in Copenhagen, but joined her father as his assistant and toured the caviar markets of the world. Today, aged 36, she is director of Caviar House's UK operations, which have an annual turnover of pounds 13m. She has co-written her second book `Caviar, the Definitive Guide'.

MY BIGGEST mistake was opening Caviar House's first Seafood Bar just as the Gulf War started in 1990. I opened in Heathrow Terminal 4 the day Saddam Hussein entered Kuwait. It left me with absolutely zilch passengers. People were too frightened to travel and all we could see at the airport were soldiers with guns, and tanks outside - it was scary. The passenger throughput went from millions to what seemed like zero. I could not believe people had stopped travelling because of the war; business is business and if you have to go to New York to do a deal, you go. But companies stopped sending employees abroad.

What was a winning point was that the airport, who were very good landlords, sat down with each of us and said, "OK, money is not coming in as it should, so let's have a chat about the rent for these couple of months." If they had not done that, more businesses would have closed.

But the Seafood Bar project paid out well in the end. Almost a decade later, the Seafood Bars are growing from strength to strength. People want to eat something nice, not suicidal chicken. I spend most of my time in the car, travelling from one airport to another. Caviar House (UK) has six shops and four seafood bars at Heathrow, outlets at Gatwick, a shop at London City and the Piccadilly flagship store and restaurant. But I think the original Seafood Bar is still the best.

Another mistake was sad because a project failed. I tried to manage a business on the other side of the world and found it impossible. We had opened a Seafood Bar at Toronto airport. But without me there, and not having the volume of customers we expected, we had to close after 18 months.

I learnt a lot from these mistakes. They gave me an insight on running things properly and the knowhow for the other Seafood Bars. These mistakes turned out well.

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Emma Tobias