Overall ranking: 100 (NEW ENTRY)
Restaurateur ranking: 25 (NEW ENTRY)
Will Beckett and Huw Gott – Snapshot
Will Beckett and Huw Gott are the co-owners of the Underdog Group, which owns and operates four Hawksmoor steak restaurants in London. The group’s turnover for 2011 was £10.6m, up from £3.7m in 2010
Will Beckett and Huw Gott – Career guide
Friends since the age of 11, Beckett and Gott first teamed up to open Shoreditch bar the Redchurch, in London in 2003. Beckett was studying for a masters in modern history at UCL at the time while Gott had managed to convince a friend to part with £100,000 to set up a business and, needing help, asked Beckett to assist. The pair formed the Underdog Group in the process and the Redchurch soon became a popular local haunt in east London.
Initially scared by the prospect of doing food, the pair were tempted into a full F&B offering at their next site, Green and Red, also in Shoreditch, following a trip to Mexico together. On their return they found authentic Mexican food hard to come by in London so decided to do it themselves, opening the bar and cantina in 2005. Next came gastropub the Marquess Tavern in London’s Islington in 2006, before the pair launched the restaurant with which they were to become synonymous – Hawksmoor, which opened in London’s Spitalfields later that year.
This was followed up by a second site in London’s Seven Dials in 2010 and Guildhall in 2011 – during which time the group jettisoned Redchurch, Green and Red and the Marquess to concentrate on Hawksmoor – before the pair added a 60-cover bar to their Spitalfields site and a fourth restaurant in London’s Piccadilly in 2012.
Will Beckett and Huw Gott – what we think
Despite their relative youth (both are in their late thirties) Beckett and Gott have achieved a lot in the capital’s restaurant and bar scene, opening seven sites in just under a decade. While much of this success is down to the quality of their offerings, the pair were also cautious not to over-stretch themselves in those early years and starting off with a relatively modest operation allowed them the scope to learn on the job: “The great thing about Redchurch is we got to make a load of mistakes on a business that could handle it,” Gott told Caterer and Hotelkeeper in 2012.
Despite the popularity of their first three ventures – with Green & Red picked up the Evening Standard Best Bar award and the Marquess won Time Out’s gastropub of the year in 2007 – it wasn’t until they opened the first Hawksmoor that the company turned a profit, once the pair had taken out a modest salary.
Initial reviews for Hawksmoor were positive but not sensational, yet as word of mouth began to spread about the restaurant’s charcoal-grilled, grass-fed North Yorkshire steak, old-fashioned cocktails and unashamedly British persona, so it began to pack out. By the time the Seven Dials site opened, a recession-weary public were hankering after comforting, unflashy steak restaurants and Hawksmoor in particular – with its elegant, gentleman’s club interiors and buzzy vibes – seemed to capture the zeitgeist. “When we opened our second site something went ballistic,” said Beckett. “Suddenly you had to book seven weeks in advance. Something changed and it became a real destination restaurant.” The third and fourth sites have both been equally well-received, with the week-long soft opening for Air Street, their most recent, booking out in four minutes.
With the Hawksmoor empire currently sitting at four sites, it remains to be seen how many the capital can handle – Beckett insists on gauging demand for their latest site before considering the next. In the meantime, the pair are determined to ward off any complacency that might creep in: “There’s a trend with restaurants that everything gets worse with the more sites you open – standards, food, even interiors. Compromises get made. We spend the majority of our time now trying to avoid that.”
As well as proving very capable restaurateurs, the pair have also become highly regarded employers, and take pride in their position of 36th in the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For 2012 list.
Hawksmoor: The return of the steakhouse >>