Small Talk

James Robson on Cartizze and making it in Mayfair

By Carina Perkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

"If you make sure the customer's first impression is superb and that they leave happy then you are onto a winner" - James Robson
"If you make sure the customer's first impression is superb and that they leave happy then you are onto a winner" - James Robson

Related tags: Mayfair

Investor and entrepreneur James Robson has established a portfolio of exclusive venues in London, including Mews of Mayfair, La Cave, Mayfair Pizza Co and his latest venture, Cartizze.  

So tell us more about your latest venture, Cartizze.

Cartizze has been created to give an area of calm and luxury within Lancashire Court. Mews of Mayfair Bar is fun and buzzy however quite often too busy for a relaxed conversation so we wanted to fashion an alternate bar with a different vibe for the increasing wealth of customers being attracted to adjacent New Bond Street.

Why a cocktail bar?

Quality cocktails have seen a huge resurgence in recent years particularly in East London. We endeavour to bring a little of the East End cocktail culture back to West which used to be the traditional home of the cocktail.

Why the focus on Mayfair?

I have had a slight obsession since we started here eight years ago. Maybe something to do with the Monopoly board and my mantra has always been to live East and work West. It has taken close to a decade to collect the five leases of our pedestrianised courtyard and we saw it as a unique situation to take control of a small street in Mayfair.

What is the key to a great food or drink business?

Frustratingly the food and drink is not necessarily the main priority. Team and atmosphere is the first key which is a combination of relentless attention to detail, design and training. Food and drink follows. We pride ourselves in the quality of our food and drink however I have to admit there are several busy places out there with questionable food but great design and atmosphere. I have seen many a great restaurant with superb food and service fail through lack of atmosphere.

What are the challenges of running four very different venues?

Everything! Five leases, four brands, nine front of house areas and five back of house make for an incredibly complex operation. I have to admit to being a dedicated control freak however fortunately we have a very calming GM who regularly controls the relentless challenges. The coming months will be the first year we have not expanded or refurbished so we are looking at simplifying the model to make it less dependent on ourselves.

Highlights of your career so far?

Making my parents proud of me although I feel I still have a lot of energy to establish brands and do not personally feel I have reached many highlights yet. Having created so many jobs in the last eight years creates a very satisfying feeling in a rather up and down economy.

Worst moments of your career so far?

Treading the tightrope of personnel issues. You become a target for unscrupulous claims once you reach a certain size and having Mayfair in your title attracts the lower class of claim lawyers. I am certainly not saying we are perfect and in some limited situations we have learnt by mistake. That being said a lot of our resources now go into protecting ourselves against the corrupt claims culture which would be much better spent on positive training, job creation and staff development.

Who has inspired you the most?

I started as a glass washer and it is our bar backs and kitchen porters who inspire me most with their relentless work ethic. They look at me in disbelief when I let them know I polished glasses for five years. We have a KP who has been with us since day one and I think if he was to leave it would be a sign to possibly sell up which is something that does not even enter my mind at present. We have given him several opportunities for promotion which he has always smiled at and declined saying he is happy where he is. We can all learn a lot from this and there have been several times I wish I had this outlook on life.

Any advice for keen hospitality entrepreneurs?

Start as young as you can and ignore the doubters. The ambition and partial ignorance of youth can let you take educated chances that you may not even consider once you have a wealth of experience. If I look back at all my major milestones or acquisitions I doubt I would risk many of them now with the experience I have let alone the thought of trying to get it passed by a board. Contradicting this it is never too young to start. I remember someone telling me entrepreneurs get nowhere if they have not started in their 20’s.Although I had tried endless times my first break did not come until I was in my early thirties.

Gut feeling is the best advice you can ever have so go with it. Take advice from shareholders but don’t always agree with them. Fundamentally if you make sure the customer's first impression is superb and that they leave happy then you are onto a winner. Sounds easy however there are numerous scenarios to trip you up along the way so a healthy dose of luck helps too.

I hear you are a keen runner. How do you fit running into a life in hospitality?

In our industry you have to force yourself to take breaks and this is my slightly unconventional way of doing so. I see marathons as down time and you have the benefit of seeing a city in full and trying various foods on visits. As a rule I try to run a minimum of five a year in differing countries and regions.

Any plans for the future?

I am looking into crowd funding opportunities to roll out one of our existing brands or to create another. Lancashire Court is in an almost forced consolidation period following our rapid expansion and refurbishment so I’m always open to offers and suggestions!

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