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Meet Bonnie Shearston of Pollen in Echo Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bonnie Shearston.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My business partner, Tom Sanceau, and I moved from England to Australia in 2008. We had both worked in hospitality from a young age, Tom washing dishes in a local restaurant after school, and I started out changing bed sheets in a youth hostel in Newquay… As unexciting as our first experiences of the hospitality world were, something about this industry grabbed hold of us.

Working our way up through the nitty-gritty jobs, Tom became the director of a large restaurant and catering group in London. I found myself spending the spending a summer in Ibiza setting up and running a new bar. and then, for the winter months, running a boutique hotel in the French Alps. This is where I met Tom and our journey towards The HappyFat Group began.

The HappyFat Group is the umbrella for the ventures and collaborations of Tom and I. The group has cemented its reputation in Australia with a range of diverse, award-winning venues ranging from small bars to restaurants and pubs. Opening our first business together in 2010, eight years later, we are have just launched our sixth venue, and our first overseas venture, here in Los Angeles.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this industry that could honestly say they have had a smooth road.

There are so many variables and risks involved in the hospitality industry. Staying on point with trends, consumer demands, competitive pricing and surging market prices is a daily challenge. When we first moved to Australia, Tom and I struggled to get anyone to take us seriously, simply getting leasing agents to call us back was a challenge. They were not interested in two young kids from the UK. Once we had opened our first venue and built our reputation, this became a lot easier and is definitely not a problem now.

Over the years we have run into situations involving tricky legislation and red tape, dishonest business partners and greedy landlords but these are all lessons that have been learned and all [part of the process that helps you grow and evolve as a business.

A big challenge in this industry is that you have to build a team of reliable, trustworthy, hardworking staff that understand your vision and want to help you grow your business and this can be difficult. Though I must say, Tom and I have been pretty fortunate with our staff, minus a couple of small hiccups along the way.

Most recently, moving to LA and having to learn a whole new set of rules, laws and protocols, and understanding the number of different permits and taxes here has been very challenging. I think I’m getting my head around it now though, haha.

Please tell us about Pollen.
Our company, The HappyFat Group, is a group of restaurants and bars. Each venue has been very individual in its style and offering, ranging from small cocktail & wine bars to large fine dining restaurants, laneway burger bars and gastro pubs. Tom and I have been fortunate enough to pick up numerous accolades for our venues but our proudest moment would have been being awarded the ‘Young Entrepreneurs of the Year’ award in 2015/16.

I think what sets us apart from others is our desire to be hands-on operators and we like to lead by example, This has been rather challenging in LA so far, as our current visa situation does not allow us to manage and operate the venue. We are both very much looking forward to being able to get in there and get our hands dirty with our lovely staff.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Hmmm… I’ve always been a bit of a rascal so I’d have to say running around Hampstead Heath with my best friends, climbing trees and throwing water bombs and eggs at unassuming passersby, classic games of knock down ginger, Super Soaker fights all through summer, and generally being a bit of a terror, I was the only girl in the group so I generally got away with everything a lot more than the boys!

We would sometimes go up on to the Heath with our families on weekend and take enormous picnics and all the bat and ball sports. We would be up there for hours kicking a football around, eating ham sandwiches stuffed with crisps, pork pies and picking fresh blackberries. Looking back on it, it was all very Enid Blyton.

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Image Credit:
Max Milla

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