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Whats the big idea?

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Words: Robbie Bargh
Artwork: Yann Le Bec

In previous volumes we have shared stories from our wider Ozone family and their journey through to opening their coffee shop, restaurant and dream projects. The insights have inspired us to go a little more in-depth with industry experts to understand how the planning and preparation have such a huge influence on the final outcome. In this issue, Robbie Bargh of Gorgeous Group speaks of ‘the big idea’ from concept, through to designing your signature dish - and creating something magical along.

What do you do? A question I get asked pretty much every day! I make a difference, I am a dream creator, I help people tell stories. How? Through restaurants, bars, cafés, through eating and drinking! It’s not rocket science I know, but it is important in the grand scheme of things. Choosing where to go out for a bite to eat (and part with your hard earned cash) is no easy feat. In major western cities such as London, you could argue that there are too many restaurants. The high street for the main part is uniform and predictable. But it is our job to make sure we make a difference when it comes to telling, eating and drinking stories. We are reaching a critical milestone when it comes to hospitality – supply is saturated and demand for engaging emotional eating and drinking has never been greater (as is the need for great people). At Gorgeous Group, we are constantly being challenged to realise dreams that are critically successful, live up to the hype but at the same time, be sure that they are commercially sound.

How I came into this business was purely by chance – I had run, operated and been involved in some successful restaurants and bars around the globe. I was hungry to learn and was drawn to ground breaking, or what you would say today, pretty disruptive projects. Around 2000, I came back to London and found myself in a city that was going through a gigantic evolution when it came to hospitality. So I set up Gorgeous Group with the simple objective to make a living and make a difference.

People come to me every day – some with an idea, others with a hunch and then there are those with nothing – just a passion. I have to take what they have and try to make a difference. There are those who want the Wagamama or Dishoom – there are others who just want to add value to what they do today and then there are those who have no choice but to change what they have – raise their game or else they risk becoming irrelevant. And of course, a crazy few who ‘just have to do it’ – it’s in their veins.

I was fortunate to work with Alan Yau, firstly as a Wagamama team member, back in the 90’s (in the days of Bloomsbury and Lexington Street) and then later as a consultant working on the global brand Hakkasan. I learnt from him that the great idea is often not enough, you need to have perseverance, to be focused, to have a plan but also take risks and make mistakes. Actually, these were not mistakes but part of the learning curve – you have to go on if you are to succeed and create something that truly does make a difference. Working with clients, I try to help them on that journey – by getting them to understand the big idea and then helping them go through the different stages in helping them to realise the big idea. When it comes to learning from mistakes, times are tough and often these lessons need to happen as you go along – you trip up, but you get back up and get on with it. When it comes to the plan – you have to have one, no matter how great the idea is – in the cold light of the day it has to make money. There are arguments in hotel boardrooms, investment houses or with accountants up and down the land on what the acceptable % profit should be, but guess what – smell the coffee! You need to make enough bottom line profit to justify the emotional roller coaster you go through, in order to deliver great eating and drinking experiences – that is the bottom line.

The big idea

It will cost money to create. Whatever you think you need, start by doubling it (tough right!). The perfect location (do your research – pound up and down the streets morning, noon and night!) and find the best architect or interior designer for you. Talk to friends, contacts, people in the business. Our industry is full of folk who will happily share with you their experiences (good and bad) when it comes to opening a restaurant. All I will say is that for the professionals you work with; architects, interiors, kitchen designers, lighting – go with your gut and listen for recommendations. But there needs to be a chemistry and let them get on with it. You are hiring them for their expertise – so listen to them. Make sure someone (not you) is managing the budget and allow for contingency in cash and in time, working capital!

The business plan

Daunting, but you need one. Know who your audience are; where will they come from, how many covers do you expect to do for breakfast, lunch and dinner, spend per head, liquor and food split, your headcount? Your payroll, your food and drink cost, what do you need to spend on marketing to bring in that business. Do your homework – get your working capital in place. When you open your business, you need to spend the first three months (wishful thinking) working on the top line (I am not saying forget about the bottom line  – but it’s not your main focus). You and your team need to spend time building that top line. You can focus on the bottom line when there is stability and growth going in the right direction!

Your menu

(because this is what you will be famous for). When working on the pre-opening stage of Dishoom St. Martins Lane, testing dishes at Borough Market with the great London public was a brilliant way of knowing which dishes would work. Tourists, market traders, locals and visitors all contributed in helping to decide what dishes would be a hit! Also, not a bad way to start building that social media! Coffee, cocktails, house pours, how many wines, what do you want to pour by the glass, how big should the glass be? Do we need to do that many natural wines, do we need a green juice, what milks do we need – what should we do about decaf? How will we do room service coffee, what ice machine do we need, how many gins?  Many a drinks list has been created for projects around the globe in our Gorgeous bar at GG HQ in Shoreditch.

Why?

Questions – always come back to what’s your story, who is the audience? How will we create something that people will talk about, write about, be famous for and generate sales.

People

So here’s the deal. We have reached a milestone today when it comes to people. Great talent is getting harder to find, Brexit or no Brexit, the next generation of hospitality professionals will want more than a decent living wage. If we want to make a difference, then we need to create a culture that people want to belong to. How can we expect people to look after guests and bring our stories to life if they themselves are not looked after. I look at the guys who do this well, Hawksmoor, Nandos, Living Ventures and Dishoom – they hire smart, they pay well, they create a place where people want to belong, they invest in training, development, and they give back. Hospitality still has a long way to go when it comes to being respected as a professional career, but believe me, we all have a responsibility to make a difference when it comes to people.

The best places that we love and respect usually have an owner/operator in the kitchen or on the floor, whereupon the story they are telling is first hand, in real time, with all the passion and conviction they can pull together to make every service, every shift as amazing as possible.

Storytelling

Is what we do in restaurants and bars, we transport you from normal dull hum drum to a world where you can be whoever you want to be or indeed you can be no one at all.  Dishoom is a love letter to Bombay, every restaurant telling a different story – think chapters in an epic blockbuster, whether this be crazy Carnaby, 1930’s deco and jazz, or 1920’s Victoria terminus. The point is, every menu is the same (except one super star dish signature to that location) but every location manages to evoke a sense of place whether you are in Kings Cross, St Andrews Square, Edinburgh or just off Kensington High Street – there is always a buzz. Dishoom isn’t an indian restaurant chain, it’s a game changer of a brand that just happens to tell incredible stories whilst making a huge difference – it’s quite possibly one of the best restaurants out there whose primary focus is bringing people and cultures together. Why else would you queue up for up to an hour for a table on a freezing February night, or rock up at 8am for the desert island dish.

What ever your idea, you need to have the stamina, passion and the perseverance to take it from a light bulb moment through to a tangible and emotional eating and drinking experience. It’s not rocket science – its people eating and drinking and having fun. But hey, remember you can do that at home – our job is to take guests on a journey and transport them somewhere special. Make a difference.