An Interview with Charlie Gilkes

HOW MANY ESTABLISHMENTS DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE IN LONDON?

We currently have six establishments in London. Barts was opened in 2009 and became London’s first speakeasy cocktail bar, with a hidden location in Chelsea. Modelled on nightclubs in the 1920s during the Prohibition, when alcohol was outlawed in the United States and locals serving cocktails were somehow concealed from the public eye.

In 2010, we opened another club called Maggie’s, which is furnished along a 1980s style with several contemporary memorabilia on the wall. Accompanied by music and cocktails popular during the 1980s, this venue is also full of Margaret Thatcher’s famous elements such as Prime Ministerial speeches in the restrooms.

In 2011, we inaugurated a bar/pizzeria called Bunga Bunga with the aim of providing entertainment alongside meals. This restaurant and bar provides live entertainment every night in the form of karaoke singing contests.

In 2013, we opened our first West End establishment in Mayfair by opening Mr Fogg’s. Recreating the home of the imaginary character from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, Mr Fogg’s is a tearoom furnished in a Victorian style. Disco – an underground boîte drawing inspiration from the 1970s disco movement in Manhattan – was also opened around the same time.

Recently, we also launched a Brazilian beach-style bar at Cocobananas just in time for the World Cup in Battersea.

HOW MANY EMPLOYEES DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE?

In terms of employees, we currently count 150 employees across all our venues. Out of this total, 20 people are based permanently in our head office, whereas the rest work in our establishments.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE SUCH ORIGINAL THEMES?

I guess that our main intention is to stand out from the crowd and be regarded as both innovative and original in our work. We try to provide a unique range of locals and, at the same time, transit timeless concepts.

 

IS THERE A SPECIFIC ESTABLISHMENT THAT YOU PREFER MORE THAN ANY OTHER?

This is a difficult question because it is a bit like asking a father to choose his favourite child, although Mr Fogg’s is probably the user-friendliest place for me at the moment. Opening hours are more practicable for myself than nightclubs, and it is therefore easier for me to supervise. Barts is also special to me because it is the first establishment that we opened and will always have a special value for me.

ARE YOU PLANNING TO EXPAND IN THE FUTURE, POSSIBLY OUTSIDE LONDON?

We are currently planning to open a seventh venue in September by inaugurating a Wyoming style alpine bar saloon called Beaver Lodge. Our expansion plans remain pretty much focused on London at the moment, due its fantastic cosmopolitan character. We’d love to explore the opportunity of expanding abroad, but at the present time our principal focus remains in London.

HOW DID THE FINANCIAL CRISIS AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS?

When we first opened in 2009, there were circa 50 pubs closing each week throughout the UK and the mood was certainly not optimal. We tried to create places where people could escape from the worries and which was not an exclusive club reserved for members only. Membership policy was awarded on a loyalty basis down the line, but we made it clear we wanted a place where access was universal.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO UNDERTAKE THIS VENTURE IN THE RESTAURANT SECTOR?

It is actually something that I thought about, while promoting other people’s places during my previous job. I wanted to combine different aspects of what I love – such as travel, people, and food – together into one job and that is what basically pushed me to start. I dare say it’s been all right so far.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO INDIVIDUALS WISHING TO START A BUSINESS IN THIS SECTOR?

It is important to know your targets and the market in which you wish to operate and to clearly understand your product; otherwise it will be difficult for your customers to understand it. Standing out from the crowd also makes the difference, as I said earlier; create your own niche ands carve out the part of the industry you represent. In addition, don’t be afraid to evolve your business constantly and hire people with high skills.