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After Hurtwood: Tammi Willis

Updated: Feb 7, 2019

So now we are going back to the 1990s to meet Tammi Willis who left Hurtwood with a passion for Jiu-jitsu and no clear idea where in the world she was headed. Some 25 years on Tammi is thriving: with two super-cool vegan eateries to her name, one in Myanmar and the other in Bankok, Tammi has certainly carved out a fulfilling world for herself, as I discover through a slightly glitchy Facetime interview. In spite of the challenge of a declining phone battery and an occasional frozen screen, Tammi comes across as passionate, excited and totally committed. She was also clearly weary after a long day in her Nourish Café: her early evening in Thailand equating to my 8am in Ewhurst. She is quite unbowed however, and once we had sorted out a reliable connection, it was intriguing to meet an ex student who has had such a diverse and geographically challenging path from Hurtwood.

First and foremost she positively buzzed with enthusiasm for her final couple of years in education at Hurtwood: the creativity, the wider possibilities, the encouragement (rather than pressure, she explains, to pursue her own passions). Which seems to be precisely what she has done. Her first focus was in the support mechanisms of theatre and performance, working for a while with Andy and Mike. Alongside this she earned her keep through bar and restaurant work, and moving gradually towards hospitality, it wasn’t long before she found herself involved in planning a nightclub and events venue.

The next couple of years provided experience, learning the less glamorous element of the trade, the business scaffolding, as well as the hands-on components of design and mood. Joined now in a fruitful partnership, Tammi soon found herself at the helm of a buzzing London nightclub venue: Ginglik took shape (ironically) in a building that had begun life as public toilets, and developed over the next few years into a jumping venue for music, stand-up comedy and finally (equally ironically) her beloved martial arts.

The club thrived over the next 10 years, with other Hurtwood students exercising their talents in the space, musically and creatively: Fabien Riggall running out an early version of what would ultimately become the mega-successful Secret Cinema (hopefully another ‘After Hurtwood’ interview).

So all things change. Time, health (painful hip surgery), travel (family in Malaysia – regular visits), a career shift (personal trainer / fitness industry / the old passion for the martial arts): all of these elements came together in a key moment. Visiting Myanmar – ‘beautiful, amazing’ – Tammi was persuaded to visit YanGon, the capital. She simply fell in love with the place, stayed on, and working as a manager in a law firm. She gradually developed both a knowledge of the country, its laws and indeed the gaps in the market, and found herself developing business partners – and yes, a new business. Nourish Café Asia was born, alongside YangonYoga House, and one year ago the second branch opened in Bangkok, connected to the Bangkok Fight Lab where Tammi continues to build on her skills both as business entrepreneur and an exponent of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. She is loving the challenge – and it is clearly not an easy one – of drawing together all her various skills in marketing and promotion in a more competitive field.

It is a real pleasure to hear the enthusiasm and joy which she takes in her world, from the menu-planning and blending of cuisines, to the costings and the challenges of the Asian world. Her advice to others with dreams of their own? Get into work – part-time or full – and start soaking up experience as soon as you can. Don’t go into anything mindlessly: at whatever level keep your eyes open, work with enthusiasm and purpose always, even at the least demanding tasks. Watch and learn: how do the managers work? What makes them effective or not? Learn from them.

Phew! Tammi is generous with her time and advice even after what must have been a long and hot day, I suggest. Indeed, Nourish Café Bangkok looks like an amazingly ‘cool’ construction of stainless steel functionality and hip intimacy; maybe it is with the icy British January in mind, but it looks very warm. Take a look at the Bangkok Fight Lab, and maybe a visit one day. Time for Tammi to go home and put her feet up, I suggest. She agrees. This is clearly a person very comfortably fulfilled in what she is doing, and not restlessly ambitious. Only when I push her will she add that perhaps one day she might like to franchise her idea of plant-based, healthy eating in more cafes, even perhaps outlets in the many airports around Asia where such food is rarely to be found. Sounds like a plan: sounds like Tammi has plenty more to offer the world.


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