Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville have already made a solid success of their restaurant Café Football, but now they are reuniting with the Class of ‘92 to branch out into Hotel Football, a £23m project being built in the shadow of Old Trafford stadium. Janet Harmer catches up with Messrs Giggs, Butt, Scholes and the Neville brothers
The camaraderie is apparent from the moment the five of them come together for this interview. Alongside the gentle ribbing and jokey asides, there is an obvious, deep sense of trust between Ryan Giggs, the Neville brothers (Gary and Phil), Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt.
It was announced last July that Giggs and Gary Neville would be teaming up with Stuart Procter, former general manager of London's five-star Stafford hotel, to launch two brands - Café Football and Hotel Football - under the umbrella of their new company, GG Hospitality.
At the time the jury was undecided as to whether these would be tacky, themed sporting ventures or serious businesses.
Since then, the 120-seat Café Football launched in Westfield Stratford in London in December to great success with customers and critics alike. Around 250 covers - each spending an average of £18.48 - are served on weekdays and up to 400 on Saturdays and Sundays.
Jay Rayner, writing in The Observer, dispelled any thought that this venture has not undergone significant research and forethought. He described the food as "shockingly good", and enthused that the sausage roll, filled with pulled pork shoulder and black pudding with fennel seeds, is "a glorious thing that I want to adopt as my third child".
When it came to the inaugural Hotel Football, which is located next to Old Trafford stadium, Giggs and Gary Neville, both directors and shareholders of GG Hospitality, decided they wanted to get Phil Neville, Scholes and Butt on board. "We are not only former teammates, but also best friends," says Giggs.
Neville adds: "Ryan and I are now looking forward to another new challenge, working with our former teammates again to create something special near to the stadium we all love."
The fact that the 133-bedroom hotel is going to be home to the Old Trafford Supporters' Club (OTSC) has been a major reason why Phil Neville, Scholes and Butt have got involved in the project.
"We're all finishing our football careers and we were keen to give something back to our fans through the supporters' club," says Phil Neville.
"It is a great project and something we are all very excited about," adds Butt. "We're all very close and like one big family - being in business is the next step."
While Giggs and Gary Neville have been involved every step of the way in the development of both Café Football and Hotel Football and have had an input nto menu tastings and the design of the bedrooms, the contribution from Phil Neville, Scholes and Butt will be focused on their physical presence in the hotel
as often as possible, with at least one of them always present on match days.
Procter, managing director of GG Hospitality, says OTSC will be at the heart of the first Hotel Football and that is why the directors wanted it to be located where it is - on what was previously derelict land within the shadow of Old Trafford.
"We will be able to host up to 1,500 on match days, including 500 in OTSC, where people will be able to share great moments of Manchester United's history with the Class of '92," he explains. "It is about supporting the local community."
Scholes adds: "I was really keen to get involved - the hotel is our chance to create something special for the fans."
The location, of course, is a prime one that goes way beyond the membership of the OTSC. Not only does the Old Trafford stadium attract a capacity of 80,000 on match days, but its museum also welcomes 300,000 people annually - a figure that is expected to grow to 500,000. There is also an increasingly large business community nearby, with the BBC and ITV at MediaCity just five minutes away.
So with an eager audience ready and waiting to come through the doors, what can guests expect to experience once the hotel opens in the autumn? On the food and beverage side, the hotel will be home to the second Café Football, a 185- cover space with a menu created by Brendan Fyldes, the group's executive chef, and Michael Wignall, the two-Michelin-starred chef at Pennyhill Park in Surrey, who is a consultant to the group.
"The food concept will be the same as in London, where we have now moved on to our second menu," says Procter. "We found that our best-selling dish was the Boss burger at £13.95, which uses dry-aged beef, Scotch bonnet chillis, pulled pork, lime aÁ¯oli and Asian slaw."
Hence, the burger range has been enhanced with the introduction of the Special One, featuring chargrilled chicken piri piri, red onion, baby gem and goats' cheese at £12.95.
There is also a meat-free version, the Stanley (named after Sir Stanley Matthews, a vegetarian), which combines chickpeas, coriander and cumin with baby gem and guacamole for £9.95.
There is also a new selection of lighter desserts with a football twist, such as the magic sponge, featuring lemon custard ice-cream and meringue (£5.95).
During the day, food for delegates attending meetings and conferences in one of 11 events spaces - ranging in capacity from six to 500 - will be served as a rolling offer from a caféstyle buffet called the Players' Lounge on the first floor.
"It means there will be always food available, no matter what time a meeting breaks," says Stewart Davies, the general manager who has joined the hotel from the samerole at the DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester.
The main banqueting space, with views over both Old Trafford and the city, will become one of the largest hotel banqueting spaces in Manchester, seating up to 330 for dinner. However, the event space that is expected to attract the greatest attention will be the rooftop terrace, complete with five-a-side football pitch (see panel on page 23).
Royal approval Meanwhile, when it comes to the bedrooms, Procter wants to offer the best night's sleep in Manchester for £80-£150. "We have commissioned bespoke beds from Hypnos [holders of a royal warrant]," he says. "If they are good enough for the Queen, they are good enough for us."
There are a large number of interconnectingrooms, as it is important to all the investors that the hotel is family-friendly. Complimentary Wi-Fi and mini-bars packed with bespoke chocolates and classic retro sweets will be standard throughout.
The modular-style bathrooms are being made in Milan by Bath Systems and will be installed as whole units, including the taps and tiles. Baths will be included in 21 executive rooms and large walk-in showers in the other 112 bedrooms.
Design-wise, Procter and the lads never intended the beautiful game to have a garish impact on the hotel - instead, the football inference is subtle and humorous. Chevrons edge the linen in the largely black and white bedrooms, which are enlivened with splashes of yellow, mint or green, and the Do Not
Disturb signs - with the messages "Dreaming of Victory", "Talking Tactics", or "Extra Time" - are aimed to make the guests smile.
"We wanted to create a hotel that was fun, engaging, surprising," says Procter. "Having started with a blank sheet three years ago with Ryan and Gary, it is fantastic to see where we are today."
Looking ahead, Procter and the footballers want to ensure the first Hotel Football - like Café Football - delivers first before expansion.
However, he has no doubts that growth is on the cards: "We believe there is huge potential to take this on a journey through Britain first and then definitely global," he says.
Stewart Davies, as general manager, will head the 200-strong team at Hotel Football. He will be supported by director of sales Katie Garrahy, recruited from Apex Hotels; director of marketing Louise Kemp from Living Ventures; and restaurant manager Stephen Connon, currently assistant manager at Café Football in London.
"We are working with Trafford College on apprentice opportunities for up to five chefs and front-of-house staff," says Davies. "They will also provide extra staff on match days and as hosts."
Ten staff will also come via Springboard, the charity that provides work opportunities for disadvantaged young people. Ryan Giggs, a new supporter of the charity, and his colleagues are particularly keen to give young people in Manchester a step on the career ladder.
"It is very important to all of us that the hotel provides opportunities for young people,"says Phil Neville. "We are grateful for the start in life we were given by Manchester United at the age of 16 and we now want to be able to offer something similar for youngsters who are looking to be the leaders and managers of the future."
There is certainly no shortage of people keen to work at the hotel. Three jobs - for a revenue manager, operations manager and head of talent - received 100 applicants each. One job that won't be advertised will befor an executive chef. Instead, the hotel will employ two head chefs - one each for Café Football and banqueting.
"Café Football is not a typical hotel restaurant. It has a very different culture, so it is important we employ someone with a restaurant background there, while we have a chef with a strong banqueting CV looking after events," explains Stuart Procter.
THE ROOFTOP FOOTBALL PITCH
Nowhere is the Class of '92's involvement in the hotel more apparent than on the five-a-side football pitch on the open-air 11th floor. Keen to
show off the uniqueness of the space, the five former teammates broke off from the interview to enjoy a kick-around with the builders - who couldn't quite believe their luck - the results of which have been captured on video.
Known as Heaven, the space will be used for children's parties and corporate team-building occasions, as well as an events space for weddings and dinners for up to 120 guests.
"On match days it will be used as part of hospitality packages for barbecues, when ribs and pulled pork will be served to around 200 people," says Stuart Procter.
Enjoying panoramic views over the city and nearby football stadium, the only downside could be the vagaries of the Manchester weather. Fortunately, the retractable roof will take care of that.
Directors Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville
Managing director (GG Hospitality) Stuart Procter
General manager Stewart Davies
Executive chef (GG Hospitality) Brendan Fyldes
Consultant chef Michael Wignall
Restaurant Café Football with 185 seats
Event space 11 rooms, with capacity range of six to 500
Opening date Autumn 2014
THE CLASS OF '92
The five partners in Hotel Football are frequently referred to as the Class of '92 because that was the year when Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, together with David Beckham, were members of the team that won the FA Youth Cup for Manchester United.
A 2013 documentary, The Class of '92, followed the rise of the young footballers' careers up to the unprecedented treblewinning season of 1998-1999.
Their most recent footballing collaboration came when Giggs was appointed interim manager of Manchester United on 22 April and invited Phil Neville, Scholes and Butt to support him in coaching roles.
The announcement of the involvement of the five former teammates in Hotel Football comes two months after it was confirmed that they had together agreed a deal to buy the non-league football club Salford City.
"Working together on so many fronts is the perfect scenario," says Butt.