How I Got Here: Emma Reynolds

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Tonkotsu co founder Emma Reynolds discusses her career in restaurants

Related tags Tonkotsu Casual dining Multi-site Ramen R200 Emma Reynolds

The co-founder of ramen chain Tonkotsu on cost pressures, trusting your gut, and her first restaurant job.

Why hospitality?
I’ve always loved it since my first job in an Italian restaurant in Doncaster, aged 16. People and food, what’s not to love?

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
Trust your gut – that goes for eating and people!

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Primeur or Jolene.

What motivates you?
People, fear, and genuinely loving what we do at Tonkotsu.

What keeps you up at night?
My dog barking at foxes.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the hospitality business?
The owner of the first restaurant I worked in. She would sit with a Rothmans 100 cigarette on the go at all times, watching the 100-cover restaurant floor – and her husband! - from behind the cash register. Nothing ever got past her beady eyes.

What time do you wake up?

Coffee or tea?
A strong builders tea is essential before doing anything. Then coffee later in the morning.

How often do you check your email?
Too often!

How do you let off steam?
Hiit sessions and dancing to loud techno.

Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
The thing I cook the most is roast chicken. With a vegetarian wife, means I get leftovers for most of the week…

Typical Sunday?
Big dog walk, cooking a roast or in the Lady Mildmay, my local, for one.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Getting engaged and married within three months of meeting someone.

Favourite holiday destination?
Connemara, west of Ireland.

What are you currently reading?
An old Barbara Pim novel called Excellent Women.

What boxset are you currently watching?
Dopesick​ and Succession​.

What was your dream job growing up?
Rally driver.

What's been your best business decision?
Opening Tonkotsu!

And the worst?
Opening Anzu, a higher-end concept that didn’t work and was way too much on top of running six Tonkotsu restaurants with a very small management team!

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Find a place that shares your values, graft, get a mentor - it’s a very generous industry, contact someone you admire and ask them to spend some time with you, many will say yes!

If you could change one thing about the hospitality industry today, what would it be?
Working conditions have much improved in most places, which would have been the main issue until very recently. At the moment, it’s hard to get past the cost pressures facing the industry, it makes it very hard, and we’re already seeing the closure of any small independents which is such a shame and unnecessary.


Born in Doncaster, Reynolds studied a BSc in Microbiology at Newcastle University. Her first business was Tsuru, a small sushi and katsu operation, which she launched in 2007. Tsuru eventually closed, and in 2012 Reynolds launched Tonkotsu with Ken Yamada in London. The group has grown steadily since then and now has an estate of 14 restaurants spread across the capital, alongside outposts in Brighton and Birmingham.

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