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Profile: Stuart Gillies, managing director, Gordon Ramsay Group

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Profile: Stuart Gillies, managing director, Gordon Ramsay Group
Written by:

Gordon Ramsay Group is enjoying multiple new openings, including the latest – London House in Battersea – as well as buying Aubergine, the site that made Ramsay famous. Managing director Stuart Gillies tells Neil Gerrard his theories on how to create a successful restaurant


We have seen a small flurry of openings from Gordon Ramsay Group, most recently with the announcement that you are taking on what was Aubergine. Do you have plans for more?
We are in conversations with six to nine projects globally, and we have just signed a site in Hong Kong, which will be our first in South-east Asia. Some projects are well advanced and some are in the early stages.


The signing of the new site [Aubergine] is very exciting for us as a group. The restaurant at 11 Park Walk is steeped in history and it’s so nice to be back in there, bringing together everything we’ve learned along the way.


We have been quiet in the past few years. We wanted to tidy our house up, get our structure in order, make sure the business is delivering above and beyond, and then, if we do it right, everything will just slot together and that is really what we are focusing on.


In the last year we had great results [the group reported EBITDA – earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation – of just under £4.9m in 2012, up from £2.5m in 2011]. Next year, in August, our year end, we will hit around the £5m-plus mark. But again, that figure is very subjective and depends on whether we want to put more into the business.


What about openings in the UK?
Yes, there are some on the horizon. We have one more new project in London this year – guaranteed – and probably two to three internationally. An important thing to say is that when we develop these new sites we don’t just have a launch team who descend, stand around, take the credit and then disappear. We genuinely work as a team and we have people who drift in and out and make sure it is really on the money.


Why did Gordon Ramsay Group choose Battersea for its most recent restaurant, London House?
Gordon used to pass London House a lot because he lives in Wandsworth. He is always curious, and he happened to see that it looked closed and wasn’t trading. So we made a few calls and got hold of the agent.


We signed the deal very quickly [with 
Mitchells & Butlers for the lease]. When we looked at it we asked ourselves, what does 
the market need and want in Battersea? 
We always thought we wouldn’t go mid-
market – we wouldn’t do something like Bread Street Kitchen.



That’s interesting, because some critics have already commented that London House recalls Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants of old and has a 1990s feel. Is this what you were aiming for?
I wouldn’t disagree. When you open a new 
restaurant, nothing is a guaranteed winner, 
so you take your best guess, put it together in its greatest form, pay attention to detail and develop the concept. So we knew that Bread Street, being in the City, had to be loud, brash and multi-faceted.


For Union Street Café we looked at Borough, which is very urban and regenerating and a large part of the area is a building site. We thought, there’s a market there that sells amazing produce – let’s do a menu from the market and change it every day. For London House we looked at the area and thought that what Battersea lacks is something high-end.


What qualities does London House head chef Anna Haugh-Kelly have that convinced you and Ramsay she was the right person?
We knew we wanted the food to be modern European, but polished – rather than being just about the ingredients. We had about four or five chefs who came to us to do a cook-off and Anna’s was the best. I think what was nice was that she embraced the whole ethos of the ingredients and light cooking –  she didn’t try to smother the flavours. Everything was very cleanly presented, beautiful, delicate.


Is the lack of Gordon Ramsay’s name on openings like London House, Bread Street Kitchen, Union Street Café and the Savoy Grill an acknowledgement that he has lots of other commitments, whether they are TV or his interests abroad?
Gordon has this amazing history and a legacy that is never going to go away. Whatever the public thinks, and whatever the hospitality industry thinks – love him or hate him – Gordon did some amazing things and has produced some amazing talent. What he does brilliantly well is developing and inspiring.


But I think it is simple – if you are going to put a name on there, people expect that person to be there, which is fair enough. In the 1990s and 2000s it was all about chefs and their profile. You had to talk about the chef and their food because London had such a bad reputation and we had to try twice as hard as anyone else to get recognition.


In the past few years it has changed and people expect amazing food. Now, if the food is not amazing it is a big problem, but if the cocktails aren’t amazing that is also a big problem – or if the design is not correct or the music isn’t right. I know they are the basics of hospitality, but they take a lot of work.


With that in mind, are you conscious of the need to evolve some of the more established restaurants within the group?
We constantly refresh it. If you start with 
Royal Hospital Road, which is the easiest example as a three-star restaurant, there is a phenomenal talent in the kitchen with Clare [Smyth, chef-patron], who is committed and loyal and taking on more and more.


Gordon and I are getting older and there is more talent coming through. Clare deserves to run that business, so we made her a partner. It is called Restaurant Gordon Ramsay because it is always going to be called that, but what Clare does is continue the legacy.


You refurbished several sites last year. How much did you spend?
We reinvested £1.4m last year back into the company, into Royal Hospital Road and the York and Albany. The Narrow is closed at the moment and we are refurbishing it – we’re changing the whole feel. It is a lovely place on the Thames, so we are moving away from it being just a pub to more of a boat house – very clean, very fresh. We are going to have tablecloths with a nice light and airy room and a modern British/European menu.


As a business you had a good run at Claridge’s, but the contract ended in February last year after 12 years. Would you like to do another restaurant in a hotel?
That was an era when that deal worked for the company because the company had no funds and it was quite a simple shared investment. It suits the company less now.


The reason why we have a site like the one in Borough or London House is because there is more value. It is an independent lease and we got a great deal on the rent.


Hotel deals are iconic, but a lot of cost comes with it. They always make good profit, but they are a lot of work and good luck to anyone who does that.


When you are leasing a space from a hotel you are beholden to the hotel a bit. But we have great relationships with them and we get on very well – obviously we have in the Marriott at the moment with Maze and the Maze Grill, and we have the Savoy.


We would rather have an independent lease as that has more value, and we would rather put more money up front initially as that has a better return down the line.


However, it doesn’t mean that we won’t look at those opportunities.


And what do you think about Simon Rogan going into Claridge’s?
Simon is a talented chef, that’s for sure. He has a following and he did really well at Roganic [Rogan’s pop-up in Marylebone]. It’s a big room, Claridge’s. I suppose it depends what they do with it, because it is open seven days a week for 14 services. We know how much work goes into keeping it running.


How will it be received? I don’t know. Will the hotel be happy with the level of income? I don’t know, to be honest, but it is an iconic hotel and he is a talented guy who deserves success.


We made a fortune out of that space over those 10 or so years – I think the total turnover was something like £90m; it was insane. But we also paid a lot of rent. I think we paid about £19m, so it was a pretty good investment for the hotel.
We will always be happy that Claridge’s allowed us to do other things. It is a great site, but we would rather have an independent site in Mayfair with a 15-20 year lease that we completely manage. It will come at some point. Not this year, but it will come – guaranteed.


You have said that the allegations over Gordon Ramsay Holdings’ tax affairs are not your concern, but has this changed now that you are managing director. How much of a distraction is this for you in running the business?
It is very different because I run the company, and anything to do with finance or operations falls into my lap. We have a really good team around our new finance director, who came on board last year, but there are some issues that are never going to be fixed overnight. In the historic running of the company there were some questionable decisions made by the senior management team, but that has been highlighted and we have held our hands up to it.


But it still potentially becomes your problem, even though it was the old management?
Sure, but what do you do? We have said we have nothing to hide. We run our business really cleanly and, as far as we are concerned, we are whiter than white. But there is some history that casts a shadow on us as a company. However, we are a new management team, we operate differently now, and we would say the same to HMRC or anyone.


POTTED HISTORY: STUART GILLIES


Stuart Gillies and Gordon Ramsay first met when they were young commis chefs in London. “I was at the Royal Garden and Gordon was at the May Fair InterContinental and we used to socialise together,” recalls Gillies.


While Ramsay went on to work under Marco Pierre White at Harveys, Gillies preferred to travel, working in Rome and Sweden, and backpacking in South America, before working for Daniel Boulud in New York.


Periods at Le Caprice and Teatro followed, before he rejoined Ramsay to help open Angela Hartnett’s restaurant at the Connaught in 2002.


Gillies then went on to open Boxwood Café for the company in 2003, and ran it until it closed in April 2010, as well as Plane Food in Heathrow Terminal 5, and the Savoy Grill.


Ten years after he joined Gordon Ramsay Holdings (now Gordon Ramsay Group) he was made managing director of the company and has headed the openings of both Bread Street Kitchen in One New Change in London and Union Street Café near Borough Market.


He lives in south London and has four sons.


THE GRG EMPIRE


UK


Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
Location Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London
Opened 1998
Michelin stars Three
Head chef Clare Smyth
MaÎtre d’ Jean-Claude Breton
Restaurant manager Robe Rose


Bread Street Kitchen
Location St Paul’s, London
Opened 2011
Head chef Erion Karaj
General manager David Martin


Foxtrot Oscar
Location Royal Hospital Road,
Chelsea, London
Opened 2008
Head chef Chris Arkadieff
Restaurant manager Adam Foster


London House
Location Battersea Square, London
Opened 2014
Head chef Anna Haugh-Kelly
Restaurant manager Paul Halliwell


Maze
Location London Marriott hotel,
Grosvenor Square
Opened 2005
Michelin stars One
Executive chef Matt Pickop
Head chef Alex Thiebaut
General manager Sid Clark


Maze Grill
Location London Marriott hotel,
Grosvenor Square
Opened 2008
Executive chef Matt Pickop
Head chef Dean Baker
General manager Sid Clark


The Narrow
Location 44 Narrow Street,
Limehouse, London
Opened 2007
Head chef Gerald Mirey
General manager Mario Ilir Neziri


Petrus
Location 1 Kinnerton Street, London
Opened: 1999 (relocated from St
James’s Street in 2003 to the
Berkeley hotel and again to its current location in 2009)
Michelin star One
Head chef Sean Burbridge
Restaurant manager Christophe Vandoolaeghe


Gordon Ramsay Plane Food
Location Heathrow Airport,
Terminal 5
Opened 2008
Head chef Cesar Bartolini


Savoy Grill
Location Savoy hotel, London
Opened 2010 (re-model)
Head chef Andy Cook
General manager Thomas Sorcinelli


York & Albany
Location 127-129 Parkway, London
Opened 2008
Head chef Kim Woodward


Union Street Café
Location 47-51 Great Suffolk
Street, London
Opened 2013
Head chef Davide Degiovanni
General manager Gian Carlo D’Urso


USA


Gordon Ramsay Steak
Location Paris Las Vegas,
Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas


Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill
Location Caesars Palace,
Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas


Gordon Ramsay BurGR
Location Planet Hollywood, 3667
Las Vegas Boulevard S, Las Vegas


Gordon Ramsay at The London, West Hollywood
Boxwood Cafe
Rooftop by Gordon Ramsay at The London
All located at The London, 1020 N. San, Vicente Boulevard, West Hollywood


Gordon Ramsay at The London,
New York


Maze by Gordon Ramsay
Both located at The London, 151 West 54th Street, New York


FRANCE


Gordon Ramsay Au Trianon


La Veranda


Both located at 1 Boulevard de la Reine, Versailles


ITALY


Gordon Ramsay at Castel Monastero
Location Castel Monastero, Siena


Gordon Ramsay at Forte Village
Location Forte Village Resort, Cagliari, Sardinia


QATAR


Gordon Ramsay Doha
Location The St Regis Doha,
Doha West Bay, Qatar


Opal by Gordon Ramsay
Location The St Regis Doha,
Doha West Bay, Qatar

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