Inspirational and driven, entrepreneur Jillian MacLean is rapidly expanding her young company, Drake & Morgan, to be the envy of the bar-restaurant sector.
Operating within the recession
If you’re worried about the impact of spending cuts on the consumer economy and live in fear of a double-dip, take a trip down to Gresham Street one Friday evening. Despite being just six months old, The Anthologist is full to bursting with London’s office workers spending their wages – not exactly with abandon, but certainly with a view to eating and drinking aplenty in a unique yet accessible environment.
Recent speculation in the industry suggests the multi-faceted site has been turning over between £80k and £100k a week, and MacLean confirms the veracity of those figures. “We’re 100 per cent ahead of plan,” she adds, which is no mean feat in anyone’s budgetary book.
Combine that with the parallel success of the company’s two existing outlets – The Refinery in Bermondsey and The Parlour in Canary Wharf – and you wonder what her secret is.
How Drake & Morgan sites operate
The bar-restaurants, which generally work on a 70:30 wet/dry split, are individually designed, but share some common characteristics. All house a multitude of different eating and drinking areas, each with its own style and furnishings. The same menu is served across the business from open-plan kitchens with a fresh seafood counter to the fore, while quirky presentational touches abound, such as fish and chips served in safety-deposit boxes and bottled beer presented in wheelbarrows for pre-booked parties.
Cocktails, mocktails and an impressively broad by-the-glass wine list lead the drinks offer, and service is speedy, but extremely friendly. Plus, crucially, all the sites seem to possess that unmistakable but indefinable atmospheric buzz.
The menu majors on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, with lots of sharing plates and quick-turnaround snacky dishes such as flatbread boards and gourmet burgers, as well as breakfast and brunch options. D&M is even considering extending evening food into the night at The Anthologist, as many customers are coming in for dinner at 10pm or later.
Drake & Morgan's food focus
“Design is one thing, but it’s the innovation and evolution of the drinks and food offer that really counts,” says MacLean, adding that they refresh the menu four times a year. As a self-confessed foodie, she is also proud of the local supplier base that she’s worked hard to establish: cheese from Neal’s Yard, bread from the Flour Station, meat from Allen’s of Mayfair, fish from Knight’s and oils from Danilo.
“The whole premise was about provenance, great value and freshness, so everything is made fresh on site.”
The keen pricing, with starters averaging around £6 and mains £9, is based on long-term deals with suppliers; MacLean claims the food side of the business maintains a 70 per cent margin. What’s more, the kitchen turns around main courses in six to eight minutes, aided by the QSR ConnectSmart system from the US, which automatically sends each order from front-of-house to the kitchen, breaks it down, and passes the relevant dish info to the right station at the right time to ensure the entire table’s food is ready simultaneously.
“When we installed it, only Wahaca and Jamie’s Italian were using the system here,” says MacLean. “I put it into The Parlour despite much resistance from the executive chef, but he’s been completely converted. I think it’s going to be massive in volume catering in the UK. It’s like driving an automatic car after driving a manual – you wonder why you ever bothered with the old way.”
On reaching their target market
“We investigate the neighbourhood we want to open in and understand what customers want in that area. They are looking for a fresh, independent bar with a touch of individuality. As a customer myself, when I went to an All Bar One or a Pitcher & Piano, I found they were a bit passé. But then if I went to a D&D restaurant, it was a bit too formal.
“I thought we should create something in between that felt effortless and casual. The service style is quite relaxed and very friendly – we hire nice, like-minded people and we treat them well. And on top of that, I hope the quality of the food is better than you’d expect at the price point we offer.”
MacLean's work ethic
“I’m a bit fast and furious,” admits MacLean. “It’s the Presbyterian work ethic in me. But I love this industry and I love developing new concepts. By having my own business, I’ve also been able to introduce a whole bunch of ‘softer’ programmes in the background – getting involved with back-to-work schemes for the long-term unemployed, community projects and the like – which has been really satisfying for me personally.”
The future of Drake & Morgan
The company aims to open two new sites early next year, one in central London likely to be called The Drift. The stated aim is to grow to a total of 10 sites over the next two to three years, sticking firmly to the City and West End.
“We’ve got really clear site criteria: we like office occupancy above us and we generally like new developments in central London. We now have a good pipeline of sites to choose from,” says MacLean.
But how will she avoid the all-too-frequent compromise in quality as D&M grows beyond a few sites?
“I think a lot of businesses go wrong when they get a head office and have lots of people sitting there. With us, the head office is really just me and the finance director – and I don’t see that changing. We have set the company up so that all the specialist functions are out-sourced. Then we have great general managers on site.”
The simple corporate structure allows the team to be customer focused, without worrying unduly about the peripheral problems that inevitably crop up. In keeping with her forward looking nature, MacLean already has half an eye looking beyond D&M.
“We are a ‘buy, build and exit’ business,” she says frankly. “We will look to sell in 2012 or 2013. I’ve lots of ideas for new stuff. I’d like to try unusual and iconic spaces after this. I think reclamation yards should have bars, plus I’d like to do something more foodie as well.”