Steve Perez

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                                                          ‘If at first you
                                                        don’t succeed…’
                                                          Millionaire Steve Perez is perfectly at home sipping freshly
                                                              brewed coffee in the elegant but comfortable lounge of
                                                            Chesterfield’s four-star Casa hotel. And so he should be.
                                                          Not only does the hotel belong to him, but as Leonie Martin
                                                          discovers, it’s also the culmination of a long-held dream…

                                                                 TEVE PEREZ, often     Steve was born in            Chicken Kiev,” says Steve.
                                                                 referred to locally   Manchester in 1956 to a      “The restaurant was quite
                                                                 as ‘the VK man’       Spanish father and British   innovative in its day.”
                                                        still lives in his home town   mother. The family moved
                                                        of Chesterfield – albeit in    to Derbyshire when           While his father was
                                                        a regency-style mansion        Steve was a toddler and      building a successful
                                                                                       his father, Santiago, ran    business, Steve attended
                                                        at Walton. But behind
                                                                                       the Devonshire Arms at       school at Mount St Mary’s
                                                        his millionaire lifestyle,
                                                                                       Beeley for several years.    College. He achieved a
                                                        there’s a fascinating and
                                                                                       When Steve was nine,         respectable number of
                                                        topical back story. It’s a     his father took over the     GCSE passes, but by the
                                                        classic tale of an ordinary    Red Lion at Stanedge and     time sixth form arrived,
       Above: A family going places: Steve Perez        man who refused to give
       as a young child (standing in front of bonnet)                                  opened it as a restaurant.   he’d lost interest. “Jane
       with his family while his father Santiago        up on his dream, and a         “Those were the days         Eyre really didn’t do it
       was running the Devonshire Arms at Beeley.
                                                        lesson for our troubled        when people had never        for me,” he recalls, “I
                                                        economic times.                heard of Steak Diane, or     grew my hair, played

16 Reflections November 2011                                                                                           To advertise call 01246 550488
                                                                                                                        A new icon on the
                                                                                                                        Chesterfield townscape:
                                                                                                                        the distinctive
                                                                                                                        Casa Hotel.

                                       Above: The young entrepreneur:
                                       Steve Perez, selling beer to clubs
                                       and pubs from his old van in
                                       the eighties.

                                     guitar in a band and became                 ‘I decided university wasn’t for me…’
                                     a bit of a rebel.” At 16, his
                                     father asked about his career.
                                     “I said I wanted a record              Steve’s plan was to study hotel    in Sheffield – he was only
                                     shop with a café on top; my            management in Switzerland,         48.” This episode was clearly
                                     mother burst into tears.”              renowned for its top-class hotel   a watershed moment for the
                                                                            schools, but first he worked in    19-year-old Steve. Not only
                                     Was there anything at school           Barcelona, where his father had    had he lost a parent, but there
                                     he excelled in? “I was the cross       friends in the hotel business.     followed an acrimonious
                                     country captain for a while.”          “I actually went back there a      dispute with his late father’s
                                     But this alone wasn’t sufficient       couple of years ago,” he says.     business partner. He had
                                     to keep him in education.              “It was really strange being       to watch, powerless, while
                                     Deciding that university wasn’t        a guest in the same exclusive      the family business folded,
                                     for him, he left school at 18          hotel where I’d once been an       along with his future career.
                                     and worked in his father’s             employee serving food...”
                                     restaurant as a trainee chef                                              It was time to pick himself
                                     and waiter. “The cocktail bar          He returned home to the Red        up and look elsewhere. Steve
                                     was like being on stage, but           Lion six months later to the       moved to Leeds and joined
                                     the hours were difficult, as I         tragic news of his father’s        Tetley’s as a nightclub manager,
                                     was working for my father,             cancer diagnosis. “My father       but became frustrated when
                                     who pushed me hard.”                   died at Weston Park hospital       he was told that despite his

                                                                                                                 elegant: A view across part of
                                                                                                                 one of the Casa Hotel suites.

Visit                                                                                          17 Reflections November 2011
                                                                                day and I remember thinking,      for the latter – a decision that
                                                                                what am I going to do now?        would turn his life around.
                                                                                Fortunately, the bank didn’t
                                                                                declare me bankrupt, which        In 1997, Steve formed GBL
                                                                                would have stopped me             International, with a focus
                                                                                starting a new business.”         on owning his own brands.
                                                                                                                  He’d noticed the popularity of
                                                                                “I was now a failed               products such as Hooch and
                                                                                businessman. Money was really     Bacardi Breezer so came up
                                                                                tight,” he says. It was during    with something different - a
                                                                                this time that he managed         Vodka based product – and VK
                                                                                to purchase a small-holding       was born. VK proved to be a
                                                                                and began to grow his own         great success and the business
                                                                                vegetables and keep a few hens.   grew rapidly. Steve’s business
       Above: A great place to dine: The Cocina restaurant at the Casa Hotel.
                                                                                “I really enjoyed it – and was    took the title of the Sunday
     successful results, without a          time we were selling trendy         amazed how much money it          Times’ 3rd fastest-growing
     degree he would never progress         imported beers. Over 10 years       saved us.” One of his next big    UK company in 2003, and in
     to area manager. “I handed             I built up the business to sales    ideas was to set up a business    2005, the renamed Global
     in my notice and for a while           of £10m.” But in 1993, when         supplying prepared vegetables.    Brands turned over £72m.
     didn’t know what I was going           the law changed in terms of
     to do.” In 1983, at the age of         bringing alcohol into the UK,                                         Steve now leads a busy life
     27 he found himself living back        Steve was unable to compete            ‘At the age of 37,             with many interests outside
     with his mum in Chesterfield.          with much larger breweries.           it was back to the              his business. He is a successful
                                            Three years later, Global                                             rally driver, being the 2010
     This further setback in Steve’s        Beers folded. He nearly lost
                                                                                  drawing board…’                 BTRDA Rally Champion, and
     professional life clearly              all his personal property, too.                                       he competes all over the
     galvanised his entrepreneurial         “I kept my home by the skin         It was either that or ‘ready      world with his Kick Energy
     spirit. In 1986, he bought a           of my teeth but I had to hand       to drink’ products, where he      rally team. “I’ve always loved
     small van and began selling            over the keys to my BMW. I          had also spotted a gap in the     driving – ever since my teens
     beer to pubs and clubs. “In no         had to take the bus home that       market. In the event, he opted    when I used to come down


18 Reflections November 2011                                                                                               To advertise call 01246 550488
to Chesterfield car auctions         idea, from the outset, was to
for a burger, a Bovril and to        build a hotel which would be
buy myself an old banger.”           both luxurious and stylish, and
                                     which the local community
He’s been a member of Matlock        and businesses would use for
Motor Club for many years and        both pleasure and corporate
used to take part in rallies as      functions.” Steve takes an
a co-driver/navigator before         active role in the running
moving behind the wheel              of the hotel and restaurant.
himself. His eleven-year-old         Last year, the hotel won the
son, Sebastian, looks like he’ll     most innovative building in
be following in his father’s         Chesterfield award and has
footsteps. “He’s a petrol head,”     created over 100 jobs - filled
says Steve, “he loves anything       mainly by local people.
                                                                             Above: Relaxing at his home in Walton – Steve Perez.
with an engine!” Steve pilots
his own helicopter to and from       All the meat for Casa’s               are really valuable – it’s when       from being the person that
rallies all over the country.        restaurant, Cocina, is sourced        you develop your personality,         drives the Transit van and the
“It saves time,” he explains,        from Walton Lodge Farm, as            create your interests and             fork-lift to being the kind of
“but I have to take a test           well as the latest seasonal           develop your relationships.           person who can trust other
every year for my licence.”          vegetables. On Sundays, Steve         It’s also when your sense             people to get on with things.
                                     is in his element as head chef at     of determination is set.
Just as he’s been able to            home – cooking an enormous                                                  “For those brave enough to
combine his love of motor            Sunday roast for family and           “The determination to keep            take the leap, this is a good
sports with the drinks business,     friends. “I love the cooking –        going and to win is essential.        time to start a business,” says
Steve now blends his passion         but I don’t do the washing up!”       You can’t expect to work nine         Steve, draining his coffee cup
for fresh food with his acumen                                             to five. You have to work             and casting an approving
in the hospitality industry. In      So what keeps Steve in                hard to create opportunity            gaze across the foyer of this
late 2010, his dream of building     Chesterfield? “On top of              for yourself. You also have           latest, and much prized,
Chesterfield’s first four-star       my family connections,                to be able to metamorphose            addition to his empire.
hotel came to fruition. “The

                                       ‘Chesterfield has                     It’s true – Casa has the comfiest beds!
                                        a lot going for it                   Casa Hotel has taken the coveted ‘Comfiest Bed’ title
                                       – and everything                      in the annual Best Kept Secret Awards by the discount
                                         I need for the                      hotels specialist,

                                       businesses I run.’                    The judge said: “Casa Hotel’s reviews were
                                                                             glowing for the beds (and the hotel in general) – the fact that
                                                                             they’re King Size was an added bonus!”
                                     Chesterfield has everything
                                                                             Steve Perez said: “Our Hypnos beds are always the hot
                                     I need for the businesses I
                                                                             topic of conversation at breakfast time and we constantly
                                     run. Fantastic road and rail
                                                                             receive positive comments about it being the best night’s
                                     networks – London is only
                                                                             sleep our guests have ever had. To have an official award to
                                     one hour fifty minutes away.
                                                                             celebrate that Casa has the best beds in the UK is a fantastic
                                     I also like the fact that living
                                                                             achievement and one I hope will bring many more visitors
                                     at Walton, I’m virtually in the
                                                                             through the door to try them out.”
                                     countryside yet still only five
                                     minutes from a supermarket.”            As well as the UK’s top beds, the 96 deluxe bedrooms at Casa
                                                                             each features air conditioning, rainshowers, flatscreen TV,
                                     “Since opening the hotel,               Wifi, floor-to-ceiling windows, laptop safes and minibars.
                                     I’ve also been impressed by
                                     the range of local businesses
                                     on the doorstep – from the
                                     pharmaceutical industry to oil
                                     exploration. The old firms such
                                     as Robinson’s and the Tube
                                     Works may have gone, but the
                                     town still has a lot going for it.”

                                     Does he have any pearls
                                     of wisdom for budding
                                     entrepreneurs? “Get some
                                     experience in a trade and then
                                     stick with what you know.
                                     The years between 18 and 23

Visit                                                                                             19 Reflections November 2011

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