Charlie McVeigh is a serial entrepreneur and pub and restaurant operator.
You can probably count on one hand the number of Old Etonian ex-Daily Telegraph journalists who now make a living for themselves in hospitality. But that was the route Charlie McVeigh took on his way to becoming a pub and restaurant entrepreneur.
After taking a degree in English Literature at Edinburgh University, McVeigh had stints at the Telegraph and the European newspaper as a financial reporter, before ending up as a management consultant in Asia.
The consultancy work involved lots of travel, and after four years of it McVeigh decided it was no longer for him. He quit and sold his shares in the business back to the owner.
And then what did he do? “I did what anyone would do in that situation – when I got home I bought a nightclub,” he says. The nightclub in question was Woody’s in Notting Hill, which he decided to buy almost on a whim after he and a friend spent a night drinking and discussing the kind of nightclub they would like to see in the area they grew up in.
The next day, McVeigh called a friend of his father who happened to have a nightclub in Notting Hill for sale. “It was in quite a seedy area but it was a cool building – an old Victorian political club. It needed a lot of money spending on it,” McVeigh explains.
Together with his business partner he raised the money and opened the club in November 1999. “It was really white hot for about two years. We had amazing cocktails, amazing looking girls, the place was beautiful. But we made no money whatsoever.”
The money situation became so bad that McVeigh realised he wouldn’t be able to continue unless he made a radical change. So in one day he fired all his staff – most of whom he suspected of stealing, drug using or drug dealing – closed the restaurant, tightened up the food and beverage operation and reopened a week later. For the next two years, the club made money.
In the meantime, he opened a restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush called the Bush Bar & Grill and the Grand Union pub, which sat near Woody’s. “The pub was an amazing business but a pain to run,” McVeigh says. Although the business made plenty of money and acted as a funnel for club-goers earlier in the evening, it was close to an area notorious for crack dealing and prostitution. “Anywhere where there is crack dealing, you get crazy people. So you would get lunatics running into pubs with knives demanding a fiver out of the till. Which you would give them,” he adds.
So it was something of a relief to McVeigh, by now a family man, when he sold all three businesses in 2006-07.
That left him with a site in the Battersea area which he had bought in 2004 called Matilda’s. “We had this fantastic Italian woman chef – Liliana Tamberi – and we based it all around her. It was sort of like an Italian restaurant. But with beer. On a pub site. It was very confused.”
Despite that, the concept worked initially, until Tamberi got ill with cancer – which she fortunately survived. McVeigh considered selling the venue until he decided to rebrand it as the Westbridge in 2007, at about the same time as he launched Café Anglais with Rowley Leigh.
The Westbridge was a success and has now been rebranded again as a second Draft House – one of what McVeigh hopes will become a chain of upmarket pubs selling a wide-range of beer. The move follows the launch last year of his first Draft House in Northcote Road in Clapham.
HIGHS… “The opening party at Woody’s in 1999. The club capacity was 250 – we had 800 people in the building. All the toilets exploded and so many incredibly great people came.”
LOWS… “Any Interaction with Westminster City Council. I have never gone back there. They are a very scary bunch of people and there were a number of occasions at Woody’s when we thought that we were going to be closed.”
Family Married. One daughter, eight years old
Favourite holiday Exmoor or Sicily
Motto There’s only one way to do it and it’s the right way
Sell beer because beer is democratic. How much is the most expensive beer you can buy? It might be £10. How much is the most expensive wine?