When city boy restaurateur Andreas Antona came to Brum 30 years ago, it was ‘a bit provincial’. Now, he says, it’s an international business powerhouse – but there’s still work to be done!
Please introduce yourself
I am Andreas Antona, a chef of 40 years experience and also a restaurateur. I’m a Greek Cypriot from West London who moved to the Midlands in the mid-1980s with my wife Alison who’s from the area. I’m a city boy and Kenilworth is about as rural as I’m prepared to get. I love the area and love Birmingham. Oh, and I’m a geek – I think you have to be a bit of a geek to commit the passion and energy to make something really successful.
What does your company do?
We own some top restaurants in the area. I was head chef at the Plough & Harrow before I opened Simpsons in Kenilworth in 1993 where we were awarded our first Michelin star. Ten years ago I opened the new Simpsons in Edgbaston and we were the first restaurant in Birmingham to be awarded a Michelin star. We also own the Cross in Kenilworth and look after the food side of the Pure Bar and Kitchen behind Colmore Row. I’ve sold a few businesses along the way, including the original Simpsons and Beef.
Is Brum a good place to do business?
It’s a fantastic place to do business – a vibrant city and business powerhouse with people who have a great sense of humour. It was a bit provincial 30 years ago but now it’s grown into a truly international city. The development of areas like Broad Street, the ICC and the Bullring was the catalyst, but the core was always there with discerning people, prepared to spend money for the right kind of quality and variety.
What are your biggest gripes with it?
My biggest and only gripe is with the parking situation at Birmingham Airport. Charging a quid to pick someone up is just a cheap way to raise a bit of extra money. It does Birmingham no favours in enhancing our international image. It’s the gateway to the region for goodness sake!
How do you feel your clients see the city?
They’re always pleasantly surprised. To be fair, Simpsons is in an especially lovely part of Birmingham but they can see it’s a great city and community.
Does Birmingham offer any particular advantages as a destination for business?
It’s got a very strong internal infrastructure. You’ve got easy access to some of the finest accountants, solicitors and bankers giving the best advice and access to international markets. There are some great forward-thinking organisations here doing terrific things to promote the city.
What should our priorities be as a city?
Investing in the regeneration of other areas like Digbeth. It’s also incredibly important to give something back and pass on knowledge and a legacy to the next generation. I’m very proud to be a governor at University College Birmingham where we help improve young people’s lives.
If you had £1bn to spend on improving Brum what would you do with it?
Provide a truly world class and integrated travel system – how great would it be to have a tram or underground system that connected up all areas like Warwick, Stratford, Solihull and Walsall with the centre of Birmingham!