Q&A with Ben Olins, co-founder of Herb Lester
This way if you please. Herb Lester have just delivered new additions to their fantastic range of "witty, pretty, curious and opinionated" guides. We're working our way through London: A World of Eating and heading off into space with Out There, a guide to the solar system for tourists. High time we thought to talk to co-founder Ben Olins and find out a bit more about the wonderful world of Herb Lester.
Tell us a bit about the original inspiration behind Herb Lester?
We wanted to try to get back a sense of discovery for ourselves and for others. To find interesting places in the real world rather than just online, and then to share them.
We love the name, but who is Herb Lester?
You'd really need to ask him, but he just stepped out of the office.
Describe your typical working day?
Planning, writing, researching, emailing stockists, sending orders, making lists, talking about food. Fact-checking, sending invoices, paying bills, gazing out of the window at all the empty offices and new buildings going up.
Who or what couldn't you work without?
Pencil, paper, computers.
What do you like most about what you do?
Research – finding new places to visit. Working with talented, interesting people.
Tell us a bit more about the map-making process and how it's evolved since your first map?
The process is the same as it always was: it’s about a lot of research and then making
choices so that we end up with a list that feels representative of the city and that’s a good mixture of all the different aspects we enjoy. That's the hardest thing to get right. Then we work with a designer to make it look great and be usable.
What has been your proudest Herb Lester moment to date?
Any time someone tells us they used one of our guides and had a great time thanks to our recommendations feels fantastic.
What has been the most important lesson learned?
There’s always something else that can go wrong. Pubs are at their best at 4pm.
Who or what inspires you?
Margaret Howell. Bon Appetit magazine. The New Yorker. Garden & Gun magazine. Marimekko. Vitsoe. Osbert Lancaster. Kate Simon. Betty James. The A-Z.
Do you have a favourite Herb Lester map?
Maybe our first New York guide, How To Find Old New York – it was fun working with
Jim Datz and it felt like a huge step for us at the time. It's stood up well too, so far we've only had to replace one entry.
What is the Herb Lester team's guilty pleasure?
Unless it's something terrible like pulling the wings of butterflies, we try not to feel guilty about anything that gives us pleasure. There’s so much to feel bad about, but eating a couple of Jaffa Cakes isn't among them.
And finally, where will Herb Lester be taking us next?
We've already been to outer space, wasn’t that exciting enough?
Image of Ben Olins © Garson Byer