by Ben Martin, The Daily Telegraph, January 11, 2015
Acclaimed chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin plan to shake-up the pub industry.
|Photo by Freeimages.com/Paul Pasieczny|
Opening a pub might seem an unlikely move for two Michelin-starred chefs best known for their award-winning French cuisine. But for brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin, there’s nothing unusual in their ambitious plans to launch a chain of inns.
“One thing we do know is pubs,” says Chris, sitting at a table in La Chapelle, their acclaimed restaurant nestling in the shadow of Royal Bank of Scotland’s offices in the City. With receding hair and a greying beard, Chris, dressed in jeans and a blue top, is obviously the elder of the siblings. Jeff, sitting next to him in his chef’s whites, with thick, black hair slicked back, cuts a more youthful figure.
Both brothers, Essex boys who have each won Michelin stars, reminisce fondly about their time in pubs as children, on their way back from family trips to the seaside. “We would stop off at the pub and we’d be in the back garden with a bag of crisps and a bottle of Coke,” recalls Jeff.
Later this month, after all those happy memories of scoffing Walkers in the sunshine as boys, they will get their first taste of running a pub for themselves when they launch their first site.
HOP, which is just around the corner of La Chapelle in Spitalfields Market, will became the flagship for the Galvin Pub Company when it opens its doors on January 26. Their second, the Green Man in Chelmsford, will start serving pints in the summer.
If all goes to plan, the brothers hope to have as many as 20 sites in five years’ time. It’s an ambitious target, especially considering they’re entering the pub business – long a hard-pressed industry – at a particularly difficult time.
Changing consumer habits have driven an explosion in coffee shops and led to branded casual dining chains such as Bill’s, Côte, and La Tasca springing up around the country. Faced with this trend, 13 pubs closed each week in the second half of 2014, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. It estimates there were 51,900 pubs in the UK in 2014, down from about 69,000 in 1980.
Tim Martin, founder of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, believes the trend of closures is only likely to accelerate.
In July, Martin was among the first businessmen to speak out against the increased costs associated with the new national living wage, warning that it “will threaten the future of many more pubs”.
However, Chris Galvin reckons it is only those inns that are not “fit for business” that will continue to disappear, and both brothers believe a good pub will survive.
As attitudes towards alcohol change, customers are focusing more on food. But meals are “notoriously bad in the average pub”, says Jeff. What the chefs want to create is a “pub de luxe” or, as Chris puts it, an inn that has “all the hallmarks of a great British pub but is underpinned by wonderful food”.
Certainly, ensuring their pubs offer tasty meals should be no problem for the Galvins. Over the course of their careers, they have worked with the luminaries of the food business, before launching a successful restaurant business of their own.
Chris traces his love of cooking both to the memories of the meals rustled up by his grandmother and to holidays in France as a boy. He got his first taste of the restaurant business when his father walked out, and he started earning money to help support the family.
“Our dad disappeared when I was 15. I got a job washing up in a restaurant,” says Chris. That local eaterie was the Old Log in Brentwood, run by Antony Worrall Thompson. An illustrious career in top kitchens followed, from The Ritz through to working with Sir Terence Conran and then going on to the Wolseley.
Jeff started off pot-washing in the same restaurant, before following his brother into the trade.
He, too, has cooked in the best restaurants and hotels, including The Savoy, at Chez Nico for Nico Ladenis, and for Marco Pierre White, who made him executive chef at L’Escargot.
But after years of working in other people’s businesses, in 2005 the brothers decided to strike out on their own. It was hugely risky, concedes Chris. Jeff adds: “We both had dream jobs, so we wouldn’t have left for anything other than to have our own restaurant.”
Acknowledging that they needed the guidance of a businessman to help them, the brothers partnered with financier Ken Sanker, “who was a friend and a customer”, says Chris, and opened their first restaurant, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe in Baker Street.
Powered by their French cuisine, the business has since flourished, expanding to encompass seven restaurants, including Galvin at Windows in the Hilton on Park Lane, Galvin Demoiselle in Harrods and The Pompadour in Edinburgh.
Despite their success, however, the recession still proved a tough time for the pair, who had just signed a 25-year lease for their third restaurant, La Chapelle, next to RBS, when the credit crunch hit.
“People had said, ‘you’ll be filled with RBS people’,” says Chris. “That was all our projected business.”
“It was almost like somebody had done it on purpose,” jokes Jeff of the crisis that erupted and led to the near- collapse of the bank that towers over the restaurant. Nevertheless, the brothers pressed on.
“I’m proud of us, because we could have said ‘let’s cut back and take the cheaper route’ when outfitting La Chapelle,” says Chris. “But all I remembered from the last two recessions was anything that’s quality survived, so we stuck to our guns.”
By the time the economy recovered, a new challenge had emerged.
“At the end of the recession we high-fived and said ‘thank God that’s over’, but all that’s happened is an explosion in restaurants that I’ve not seen in 40 years,” he says.
They both describe the environment as fiercely competitive, and it was partly because of a wave of copycats of their Café à Vin restaurant that they decided to spend more than £500,000 converting the site into HOP.
“It’s a good business that’s been growing enough,” Jeff says of Café à Vin. But the crowd in Spitalfields has changed. “It’s become a little younger and we wanted to appeal a bit to that market.”
Sky-high rents and freeholds in London meant it was also hard for the brothers to find another suitable site for a pub in the capital.
“For regular Joes like us, it was going to be difficult,” says Chris.
HOP, which will serve Pilsner Urquell imported from the Czech Republic and craft beers, pub dishes and takeaway hot dogs served with Maille French mustard, will be a “test site” for the pub business.
They aim to keep their food prices in the affordable range, with starters ranging from £4.50 to £10.
The Green Man in Chelmsford, a 700-year-old pub they bought last year and will spend about £2m doing up, will open next.
As if the pair are not busy enough, with the launch of two ventures in Dubai this year, they are planning then to expand further still.
“In 2017, we think we will want to buy a tranche of pubs,” says Chris, adding that it could be as few as two or as many as eight sites.
As the pubs business expands, some sites may be wholly owned by the brothers, and others may be run as joint ventures.
But while the types of ownership may differ, underlying the enterprise is a desire to reward the staff the Galvins have trained up through their businesses.
Warren Geraghty and Alex Piombino, group executive chef and general manager at Galvin Restaurants respectively, are working on the pub company with the brothers.
But the Galvins hope the inns will also provide opportunities for many of the younger members of staff in their businesses.
“Warren said, ‘What do we do with all these great people?’” recalls Chris of their decision to expand beyond restaurants.
The brothers clearly also have a desire to impart some of their business experience to the next generation of restaurateurs, which they will do through the pubs.
When the Galvins first decided to start their own restaurant, they almost struck an unfavourable deal on an unsuitable site in Fulham Road before Sanker advised against it. Chris says the brothers were initially “gullible” and they do not want their staff to make the same mistakes when they start their own businesses.
“We have a monthly P&L [profit and loss], we invite all the chefs and managers to come and feel the joys and pains of a P&L,” he says. “We don’t want anyone that works for us to go out like we did: innocent.”
This article was written by Ben Martin from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.