The owner of the restaurant in Cardiff who converted into a chimney sweep on lockdown
Hundreds or more likely thousands of people shook hands with Simon Howard.
For around 25 years, Simon ran three of Cardiff’s most popular restaurants around the turn of the century.
But now those who shake hands with Simon might see their fortunes change. He’s changed his profession and is a chimney sweep, and legend has it that if you shake the hand of a chimney sweep you will have a good deal of luck.
Although, obviously, Simon hasn’t been able to shake hands with anyone since changing careers.
Simon came to Cardiff in the early 1980s as part of his hospitality training. He loved her so much that he never left her.
After a few years he took a job with the Martinez family.
They were, and still are, a big name in the Cardiff food scene. But at the time, they were building a small empire on St Marys Street with Le Monde, La Brasseries and Champers.
Simon rose through the ranks and ran Le Monde in its heyday, the restaurant serving 1,000 meals a day during the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
Le Monde was one of the city’s most popular restaurants, attracting many celebrities, Simon remembers one night when footballer Alan Shearer had dinner with TV chef Ainsley Harriot. Another unusual celebrity couple who dined together were football commentator John Motson and Sue Johnson of the Royle family.
“We had a really fun time. I remember her [Sue Johnson] was taking sambuca and she spilled it on her hand, so when she lit it she was waving the flames from her hands! It was good, great fun, it was a great environment.
“We’ve always been very low-key. So nobody ever got angry. It’s 20 years later, so I can say a little bit more, but at the time I wouldn’t.”
By his own admission, Simon often didn’t recognize some famous people, especially the well-known rugby players who dined there. According to Simon, this was beneficial because it meant that all people were treated the same and that they liked it.
On returning, the restaurant had a strict no jeans policy. The story has already been told but she had wrongly identified Neil Jenkins as the rugby player in question. Simon won’t say who it was but says Mr. Jenkins is in the clear.
“What happened was that a journalist came in from London and he was wearing jeans,” says Simon.
“It was a Friday noon and we were very busy. I said unfortunately we don’t allow jeans but we had a little chat and a little laughing about it and I said don’t you worry and i have him sat a quiet table and told him not to get up.So anyway, there you have it, about 20 minutes later the rugby players show up and he was wearing a pair of jeans.
At the turn of the century, Simon was part of a group that bought the restaurant and with the ambition of making Le Monde a national chain. But a few years ago, Simon felt it was time to retire from the business and he sold his share of the business. He then sought to use his industry experience to help others and start a consulting business.
His business was doing well and in February 2020, one job was drawing to a close while another was about to start. Then the pandemic struck and the work was gone. The future of the restaurant looked bleak and only got darker as the lockdown followed the lockdown.
“Anything new in the pipeline has fizzled out,” says Simon.
“I was like, okay, I have to re-evaluate what I’m doing here. And it was just a chance meeting with friends from West Wales, who mentioned a friend of theirs who was sweeping the fireplace.
“He’s a retired police officer from Pembrokeshire. And so I contacted this guy and we had a conversation. I asked him what was like what was involved and then he very kindly allowed me to drop by. time with him when he came and went to work to see what it was like. ”
Right away, Simon felt it was something he could not only do, but something he would be good at. He didn’t want to be sitting behind a computer.
“It suited me well as a restaurant leader, it worked with my social skills and my particular skills,” he said.
“I’m neat, tidy, and neat. I pride myself on being able to have a conversation with just about anyone. I love animals, like people, and I love to move around, and have always been very involved with my work. “
Simon signed up for a course with the Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweepers, at a time when the first confinement had eased and the second had not started. He followed this up with a rotary mechanical sweeping course, a method of mechanical sweeping more modern than the others.
Simon then returned with the Pembrokeshire chimney sweep to make sure he felt he had made the right decision. Then he decided to go.
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“I used up some savings that I had and invested in a small van and all the necessary equipment, which is your rods, your brushes, your vacuum cleaner, you know, dust sheets. and all kinds of things, ”he says.
“It’s a pretty expensive kit. I invested around £ 8,000 in equipment and training courses, but thought about investing in myself.
“It’s a long-term role. I live in Barry and the Vale of Glamorgan and there are a lot of suitable houses with wood stoves. They are very popular now. And I think this could be something for me. keep me employed as opposed to scratching to work in the hospitality industry. “
It also saw Simon embrace social media to promote the business, which he hadn’t used much before.
The business started last October and has grown every week. He is aware that this is a fairly seasonal job, but in the summer there are pre-installation scans and working with installers, so he has plans. In addition, if the opportunity arises, he could take on consulting positions for local restaurants.
“I have many years of experience behind me that can be invaluable to anyone, especially people starting a small business,” he says.
However, switching to his own chimney sweep business was a decision he was very happy to make.
“There’s something quite quaint and traditional about it,” says Simon.
“You ask homeowners, especially if they have kids, to make a wish when the brush comes out the top. And it’s very lucky to shake hands with a chimney sweep apparently.
“Chimney sweeps were considered a lucky charm. They were invited to weddings and New Year’s Eve parties to shake hands with guests. I could have a top hat and a tailcoat and go to weddings in the summer! “