We had no idea what we were doing when we first started in the restaurant business. I was working part time at the first Pierre Victoire while studying in Edinburgh in the early 1990s when I noticed brochures offering franchises in the company. I jumped at the chance, persuaded my schoolfriend John Whitehead to quit his job and we opened our first restaurant together in Nottingham in 1994. When Pierre Victoire folded a few years later, we negotiated to save our restaurants – we had two by that point – and rebranded as Bistrot Pierre in 2005. I just enjoyed making people happy. Serving great food in a relaxed environment and seeing the delight on people’s faces just made all the hard work worth it. That’s what’s kept me in the restaurant business all these years. Regularly visiting France for menu inspiration has also been a great perk, of course.
Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
Hiring the right people is essential. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked alongside a great team of people who have been just as passionate about food as John and myself. Surrounding yourself with a committed and talented team who are willing to go above and beyond to create new flavours, stunning restaurants and a positive working environment is what everyone should strive to develop at the start of their careers.
What do you do in your spare time?
Most of my spare time is spent taking my kids from A to B. I’m also a keen squash player and play three to four times a week. Living in Nottingham, we are blessed with the opportunity to watch incredible sport right on our doorstep. I have a season ticket for Nottingham Forest and love going to watch football with the kids. We also enjoy T20 cricket at Trent Bridge and Friday evenings are often spent watching Nottingham Rugby. Family holidays are very important to me, and we are all keen skiers. Drinking decent wine is one of my pleasures, particularly new world Cab Savs and Burgundy white!
What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)?
Nando’s! I have immense respect for a simple brand that is well executed. Rarely do I experience anything other than good, smiling staff every time I visit and that goes a long way. Living Ventures - and all that it has spawned - has always been a company that oozes hospitality and fun. Everything that the late Tim Bacon put his hand to was something that I admired and enjoyed experiencing. We have Gusto and The Botanist in West Bridgford, Nottingham. In the city, we also have The Alchemist and they all seem to rock.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants?
I have no idea! I’ve been very fortunate to have had a career doing something I love. I know I would not have been a good employee, so no doubt something else for myself.
What motivates you?
Serving the highest quality French cooking in a classic bistrot setting for our diners has always been my motivation. Some of our customers have been dining with us since we opened 25 years ago. We know some of our Nottingham and Derby diners by name and they have a real affiliation with the brand, having been on our journey with us since the beginning. They’re part of our story and they really motivate us to keep innovating our menus, opening beautiful new sites and delivering great service.
Where was your last holiday?
Rock in Cornwall. We rent the same house [every year/every time we visit?], just up from the estuary and with our rib on the water, it’s an active holiday on the water with the kids. In the winter, we love skiing and have spent most of our time in France, though Austria last Christmas was a nice change and we hope to get to Italy this season.
Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
As clichéd as it sounds, working with my best friend and sharing this journey with him has been amazing. We balance each other out perfectly and having someone I trust by my side has been invaluable. We couldn’t have done it without each other.
What keeps you up at night?
Poor customer feedback via the various channels – I still take it very personally. We’ve always embraced the likes of TripAdvisor, because they give a good reflection of how a restaurant stands in its market. Everyone is in the same boat and exposed to the same hostile feedback - as well as the good - at times. It’s just difficult to separate yourself from it at times and of course, you could receive 100 good comments, but the one negative remark will play on your mind for days; it’s human nature.
Worst business decision?
Not listening to my gut feelings enough and being talked out of some amazing sites. I think the instances where I have followed instinct, have been when I have seen some of the best results and contrastingly allowed myself to be talked out of/into stuff that I don’t think I would have initially.
Best business decision?
Following our organic growth strategy for as long as we have done and opening coastal sites have also been a real success. We now follow this model, opening in areas where we know our diners are – Plymouth, Torquay, Weston Super Mare or Mumbles – and opening restaurants that are truly spectacular.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m not a great reader of books, but read a newspaper daily.
What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
In order to succeed in the restaurant business, you need to be able to think creatively and be willing to adapt to changing customer trends. This is what we look for in our team members. At Bistrot Pierre, we also look for people who are hard-working, passionate and are genuinely excited about food.
If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
That’s a difficult one. I would like to see a better understanding of our industry as the serious profession it is. There are so many opportunities with some great companies and organisations now. Society’s view of the restaurant industry is changing, but not fast enough and the industry is still struggling with recruitment, particularly in the kitchens.
CV to date
Born: Hemel Hempstead,1967
Education: Studied business organisation and completed a post-grad Diploma in marketing at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
1991-94: Waiter at Pierre Victoire, Edinburgh
1994-2018: Founder and operator of Bistrot Pierre
2019-present: Non-exec, Bistrot Pierre