Penny Streeter on earning a Michelin Star

Earning a Michelin star so quickly at Restaurant Interlude was a major achievement.

What strategies did you implement for attracting top culinary talent and ensuring exceptional food, service and hospitality standards?

Penny Streeter: Attracting world-class talent like Chef Jean Delport was crucial for Restaurant Interlude’s rapid success. I worked with Jean in South Africa, where he was the executive chef in my Cape Town restaurant. He was attracted by the creative freedom and resources to craft an innovative, seasonal tasting menu showcasing the 240-acre Leonardslee estate and local Sussex suppliers. 

We implemented training programmes to instill impeccable service standards in our staff, who we often hire with limited experience and nurture through comprehensive instruction.

Ultimately, our relentless pursuit of quality in every aspect – from sourcing to plating – has been the driving force behind earning that coveted Michelin Star within just nine months of opening. And now we have won a Green Star for our environmental standards.

As an outsider entering the wine industry first in South Africa and now in Sussex, with your wine launch in June, how did you overcome any scepticism and quickly gain credibility and respect in that established sector?

Penny Streeter: Breaking into the wine world as an outsider was certainly daunting, but I approached it with the same tenacity that propelled my business success in medical staffing. At Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate, I immersed myself in every aspect of viticulture and winemaking, hiring an experienced winemaker, Johann Fourie, to guide me while I learned about the business. My philosophy has always been to surround myself with experts and empower them to excel.

Despite initial scepticism, the proof was in the bottle – Benguela Cove’s wines quickly earned numerous prestigious awards and accolades, from one of the leading Hermanus wine farms with some of the best South African wine. This, coupled with our unwavering commitment to exceptional hospitality and guest experiences, rapidly built our credibility in South Africa’s wine region.

As I launch my first Sussex sparkling wines from Leonardslee Family Vineyards in June, I’m applying those same principles –

investing in top viticultural talent, implementing sustainable practices, and ensuring every bottle and tasting experience delivers an uncompromising standard of excellence that commands respect in the wine world, and most importantly with wine lovers.

Hospitality requires impeccable customer service.

What processes do you have in place for training and empowering your staff to deliver outstanding experiences?

Penny Streeter: Providing exceptional guest experiences is paramount in hospitality, which is why I place immense emphasis on comprehensive staff training and empowerment. At my properties, we often hire individuals with limited prior experience and put them through rigorous training. This ensures they not only master technical skills like wine service or event coordination but also adopt our core values of luxury hospitality and attention to detail.

Staff are encouraged to take responsibility, offer feedback, and implement creative ideas to elevate guest experiences. Regular training reinforces our standards while incentives and recognition motivate teams to consistently go above and beyond.

Ultimately, our dedicated staff are the heart of our hospitality brand.

Marketing and building awareness were likely initial hurdles for your new hospitality ventures.

What promotional tactics proved most effective in attracting guests and establishing your brands?

Penny Streeter: As a newcomer to the hospitality industry, building brand awareness was indeed a significant challenge initially. However, I leveraged several strategic tactics that proved instrumental in attracting guests and establishing our properties as premier destinations.

First, I capitalised on my existing media presence and entrepreneurial profile to generate buzz around our launches through interviews, features, and collaborations. This early exposure piqued interest among discerning travellers and food/wine enthusiasts.

Secondly, I focused on delivering exceptional experiences from day one that would organically generate positive word-of-mouth and glowing reviews across platforms like Google.

Satisfied guests became our most powerful marketing assets.

Finally, investing in stunning visual assets – professional photography, videography, and an engaging social media presence – allowed us to effectively showcase the unique ambiance and offerings that set our luxury brands apart.

Chef Jean Delport at Restaurant Interlude

Expanding into multiple sectors like wine, dining, events and accommodations requires diverse operational expertise.

How did you acquire the necessary skills and knowledge?

Penny Streeter: Venturing into the hospitality realm required me to rapidly acquire a diverse skill set spanning various operational areas. My approach has been twofold – immersing myself in hands-on learning while simultaneously surrounding myself with seasoned experts in each domain.

For instance, when I acquired Benguela Cove vineyard, I spent months working alongside the viticulture and winemaking teams, absorbing every aspect of the business. I leave the technical side to them – they know what is expected of them and they share my sense of excitement when we get it right – which we usually do!

I am a fast learner and continuous knowledge acquisition has allowed me to develop a well-rounded, strategic understanding of this multidimensional industry.

Hospitality can be a capital-intensive business.

What funding and investment strategies allowed you to develop and grow your hospitality portfolio?

Penny Streeter: Developing and expanding my hospitality portfolio has required substantial capital investments. However, my approach has centred around strategic reinvestment of profits for each estate and venture.

Once operational, a significant portion of the profits from each property are reinvested into further enhancing offerings, expanding facilities, or acquiring new assets. This virtuous cycle of reinvesting profits has fueled sustainable growth. Every business I invest in must pay for itself.

Sustainability and environmental initiatives are priorities at Leonardslee and Benguela Cove. How do you balance those efforts with the demands of operating successful hospitality businesses?

Penny Streeter: Sustainability is not just a buzzword for me, but a core philosophy deeply woven into how we operate. However, truly sustainable practices must also be economically viable to ensure the long-term success of the business.

At Leonardslee and Benguela Cove, we’ve implemented a range of environmental initiatives – from renewable energy sources and water conservation to protecting biodiversity and minimising waste. But these aren’t just token efforts; they are carefully designed to enhance operational efficiencies and deliver cost savings over time.

Moreover, our sustainability credentials resonate with conscientious guests, attracting a loyal clientele who appreciate our commitment to environmental stewardship. This translates into a premium pricing position and increased revenue streams. Restaurant Interlude has just won its first Michelin Green Star and that has created a lot of interest, for example.

At Benguela Cove in Hermanus, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) has awarded us the top award for excellence. It is for exceptional commitment to the conservation of threatened habitat in South Africa’s Succulent Karoo and the Cape Floral Kingdom and for outstanding dedication to environmentally responsible wine farming practices. We’re very proud of that.

We tie this in with our eco-boat cruises on the lagoon, with includes wine tasting with seeing the rare birds and other species – it all works very well together. 

As an entrepreneur overseeing a growing hospitality group, how do you divide your time and responsibilities across the different business areas?

Penny Streeter: Overseeing multiple hospitality verticals spanning wineries, restaurants, events, and accommodation certainly demands good time management and delegation. My approach centres around empowering talented professionals to run day-to-day operations within their respective domains.

For instance, at Benguela Cove, I have an experienced winemaker and his team overseeing the entire viticulture and production process, while a separate hospitality director manages guest experiences like tastings and tours. Similarly, Restaurant Interlude is helmed by chef Jean and estate general manager Adam Streeter, my son, who ensure flawless culinary and service execution.

My role is to provide strategic oversight, set the overarching vision and standards, and make key decisions around areas like capital allocation, marketing, and long-term growth plans. 

I remain very much hands-on and time management is critical – I divide my schedule across our different properties, spending focused periods with each team. Frequent operational reviews with department heads allow me to address any challenges proactively.

What is your biggest challenge currently in your hospitality businesses and how are you dealing with it?

One of the biggest challenges we are grappling with currently is an exciting one: the imminent launch of our Leonardslee Family Vineyards and the first wines from our West Sussex estate.

While the English wine industry has seen remarkable growth, it remains a highly competitive landscape dominated by established players and prestigious estates.

As a relative newcomer, building brand recognition and credibility for our Leonardslee label will be paramount. We are taking a multi-pronged approach to tackle this head-on. First, we have invested heavily in top viticultural expertise and state-of-the-art winemaking facilities, led by our managing director for the UK wine business, Barry Anderson. 

Secondly, we are leveraging the brand equity and hospitality expertise we’ve cultivated through our successful restaurant, overnight accommodation and gardens launches – and of course the successful UK launch of our Benguela Cove wines. The Leonardslee name is already associated with exceptional guest experiences. We will be heavily promoting wine tastings, tours, and immersive experiences at the estate to directly introduce visitors to our wines.

By delivering a remarkable product backed by compelling storytelling and hospitality experiences, we aim to rapidly establish our wines as a prestigious new entry in the English wine scene.

What advice would you give other women looking to launch their own hospitality ventures, in terms of perseverance, vision, team building and delivering on their brand promise?

Penny Streeter: To any woman aspiring to make her mark in the hospitality world, my first piece of advice would be to cultivate an unwavering perseverance and resilience.

This industry demands grit, as you’ll inevitably face setbacks, naysayers, and an array of operational challenges. Develop a thick skin, maintain your conviction, and persist relentlessly in pursuit of your vision.

Speaking of vision, clearly define the exceptional guest experience and brand ethos you want to create from the outset. Craft a differentiated identity that resonates emotionally and aesthetically. But don’t just talk the talk – obsess over every detail to deliver on that promise through your product, service standards, and marketing.

Team building is also critical. Hospitality is a supremely personal endeavour, so invest in attracting and nurturing a team that embodies your values. Don’t be afraid to hire for attitude over experience and provide comprehensive training to mould your dream team. Foster an entrepreneurial culture where staff feel empowered to innovate and own the guest experience.

Finally, understand that building a great hospitality brand takes time and consistency. Don’t cut corners or compromise your standards for short-term gains. Stay true to your vision, continually refine and elevate your offerings, and steadfastly deliver exceptional experiences that turn guests into lifelong brand ambassadors.


Photo credits: Felicity Cranshaw and Expozure Photography. 



Create an account to make applying for jobs quick and easy.

(It will also be quicker to post a job if you have to recruit too.)

Once you have an account you can:

  1. Set up notifications for the kind of job *you* are looking for.
  2. Add your contact details to make applying for jobs quick and easy.
  3. Upload different versions of your CV.
  4. Be ready for when that perfect job shows up.
  5. (Post a job)

As a recruiter you can use your account to post jobs, receive applications, and keep an eye on what everyone else is doing;

Join the Tip Jar - Receive the latest Brighton & Sussex Hospitality News

Impress your future interviewers by signing up to our fortnightly newsletter, Tip Jar. It’s full of up-to-date industry news, interviews and expert advice, to keep you in the know and prepared.