Ali Burgess: Luck breeds happiness

Shay Waterworth finds how the twists and turns of a charmed life led to Ali Burgess’ current success


IT IS OFTEN SAID YOU earn your luck, and Happiness Forgets creator Ali Burgess is a big advocate of this.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve just been lucky. I’ve been in the right place at the right time, but I worked super hard and I think that rewards your luck.”

Born on the outskirts of London, Burgess’s life could make a good Hollywood script.

“During college, work in a fish and chip shop was my first step into hospitality industry,” says Burgess.

“I really enjoyed the interaction so I did that for two years, but it all changed when I failed college. I was told to go out and get a full-time job and my parents didn’t want me working in a fish and chip shop. So I did the next best thing and got a job in a bar.”

Instead of starting as a bar back, he learned how to run and manage a bar, not make drinks.

“Years before I picked up a cocktail shaker I learned how to run a business,” he says.

Two years later, aged 20, he moved to a Bar Med and spent a further four years learning how to manage high street student bars and survive late nights in a much bigger venue.

His big break was the deputy manager role at Mook in London’s Notting Hill, where he became general manager a year later.

“I just remember thinking ‘holy crap, I’m responsible for running this business. It’s great’. Our profits boomed and that’s also where I got my first taste of making cocktails.”

Burgess’ next bit of luck came from an unlikely situation. Mook’s parent company was bought out, leaving him with a healthy redundancy. But the real bit of fortune was that it happened at the same time his then-girlfriend’s visa ran out.

“I was 28 with some spare cash so when she had to move back to the US, I said ‘see you in a month baby’.”

Burgess then spent three months unemployed in the Big Apple.

He puts his next big career move down to being in the right place at the right time. “One New Year’s Eve I met Sasha Petraske in Little Branch, just across the road from my flat. I probably came over as drunken idiot, but he told me Audrey Saunders was hiring for Pegu Club.”

Two days later, Burgess went to her home. Saunders wasn’t there but he gave his CV to Julie Reiner. When he eventually met Saunders, he presented a copy of Class magazine from 2003, which had reviewed one of the bars he worked at in London.

“Audrey was amazing. She let me work in Pegu Club with Naren Young. I thought I knew everything because I was from London, but I realised I knew fuck all.

“At this point I didn’t need an education in management – I needed an education in making drinks.