Newcastle’s Hard Rock Café is officially open! We meet one of the maestros behind the magic, Tanya Hugo
We managed to get a sneak peek into the Quayside café before it opened its doors to the public this week – and nabbed a chat with Hard Rock International’s Director of Operations in Europe & Africa, Tanya Hugo
‘I’ve worked in restaurants my entire life,’ explains Tanya Hugo, Director of Operations in Europe & Africa for Hard Rock International.
‘I’ve never done anything else, I would never do anything else. Somebody once said to me: If you could live your life again and choose a different career path, what would you do? And I just said, exactly what I’ve done.’
We can’t exactly blame her. Chatting over a burger and a cocktail in Hard Rock’s latest multi-million-pound café – on Newcastle’s glorious Quayside, no less – it seems to us that Tanya’s got it pretty good.
Founded in London almost 50 years ago (its their birthday in June), Hard Rock boasts a legendary chain of cafés, hotels, casinos and resorts across the globe – all of which famously make classic music memorabilia and live performances centre-stage. As Director of Operations Europe & Africa, Tanya is in charge of more than 50 of them, across the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia.
‘It’s quite unusual being a woman in an executive role, right?’ she says. ‘I’m the only woman on the operations team. But my colleagues have always respected me and my bosses really believe in me. They’ve allowed me the freedom to do what I think is right, within brand guidelines, and to innovate constantly and always think of better ways to do business. Even more so now, with COVID. Everyone has been forced to reinvent themselves to a certain extent and look at different ways of maintaining the hospitality industry. But with new challenges come new opportunities.’
Spoken like a true boss. But managing 50 units across three continents is no mean feat! How the heck does she keep on top of it all?
‘I would say I’m naturally organised,’ says Tanya. ‘But I do have a lot of checklists! And I keep a very old-fashioned diary where I physically write everything down, because otherwise it would be impossible for me to remember everything! But you just need to set up systems that work for yourself. Especially now, in this digital world we live in. Instead of travelling to do audits and check on brand compliance, for example, I’ve been looking into doing virtual walkthroughs for all of the units in the region. So it’s definitely beneficial to always be looking at things differently and challenging existing practices.’
And while it’s undoubtedly a role that has its pressures, as we look about in awe around the transformed Guildhall building, Tanya can’t help but gush about her employer and the work she gets to do day in, day out.
‘It’s a brand with the most incredible personality,’ she tells us. ‘If I look at other casual dining restaurants, I don’t think there’s another brand out there that has the character and the culture that we have. You can talk with people anywhere in the world and you’ll always find someone who loves Hard Rock.
‘It’s also a brand that really invests in its people. They’re constantly trying to help us develop and maximise our potential. And I love how music plays such a huge part in the brand’s DNA. Because music is so emotional, everybody has some kind of connection a certain style of music or to certain songs. So working for a brand that allows you to be who you want to be, that invests in your development, that focuses on creating and maintaining such a strong culture and, on top of that, a brand that brings that live music element into the mix? Hard Rock really is one of the most incredible brands to work for.’
Secured by local healthcare entrepreneurs David and Penny Tilly, Newcastle’s Hard Rock Café promises to be a huge coup for tourism in the region and has oodles of Geordie charm – whether that be from the local artists who have donated memorabilia for its walls, or the local delicacies which have inspired its menu (we’re looking at you, Whey Aye Burger). But having seen her fair share of Hard Rock openings in plenty of exotic locations around the world, how does the North East’s outpost compare with the likes of Paris, Barcelona and Johannesburg?
‘This café, I have to say, has to be one of my favourites,’ Tanya admits. ‘The team here is amazing. It’s a really beautiful café. Our team in the US curated the memorabilia to be displayed here and they really tried to pay homage to the region. So, when you visit here, you’ll see items from Sting, who was born in Wallsend; Mark Knopfler, who was born in Glasgow but moved to Newcastle when he was about 7 years old; and (one of my favourites) pieces donated by Bryan Ferry, who was born in Washington. We’ve really tried to embrace the city and its heritage.’
And while these pieces from our local legends really did make this little slice of the Hard Rock pie feel like home, we were also really impressed to see memorabilia displayed by huge international artists in the café – think dresses worn by Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift and Aretha Franklin, a guitar signed by all of AC/DC and another played by Slash (of Guns N’ Roses fame), and even a love letter written by the late, great Amy Winehouse.
But it’s not just the music memorabilia that’s in the spotlight here – that food isn’t half bad, either. Top highlights on the US-inspired menu are undoubtedly the Black Angus steak burgers for which Hard Rock is famous. But our favourite? Newcastle’s own culinary creation, of course. The black and white Whey Aye Burger comes with Northumberland cheese, Newcastle Brown Ale onion compote, horseradish cream with a spring onion, cheddar cheese and pease pudding beignet, all served in a toasted charcoal and sesame seed bun. Now that’s paying homage to the region!
And there are plenty of bangin’ bevs to wash everything down with, too. Along with a selection of bottled beers and wines, you can enjoy a range of boozy milkshakes and signature cocktails here, including the Hurricane – a 1940s New Orleans classic, comprised of Bacardi Superior Rum, a blend of orange, mango, pineapple juice and grenadine, and finished with a float of Captain Morgan Dark Rum and Amaretto. Which, funnily enough, is what Tanya orders next.
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Or check it out for yourself: Hard Rock Café Newcastle, The Guildhall, Sandhill, Quayside, Newcastle NE1 3AF