Pierre-Charles Cros launched the Experimental Cocktail Club in France with his friends Romée de Goriainoff and Olivier Bon. In just over 10 years, they have expanded to a mix of bars, restaurants and now hotel establishments in New York, Paris, London and Ibiza, including Experimental Beach, Beef Club & Ballroom and Le Grand Pigalle. Cros talks to Neil Gerrard about launching the business and his plans for London
How did you find your way into hospitality?
I have a bachelor's degree in management from Concordia University in Montreal. In 2005, I got together with two of my childhood friends and we started to think about what we would do.
How did you end up launching the Experimental Cocktail Club?
How did you prepare before opening your first venue?
We bought books - pretty much every book we could find - to study cocktails. We bought all the basic equipment and for about a year we made drinks every day and tried them on friends. Looking for a venue was quite complicated because we were only 24 and it was expensive to get a loan.
Was not being from a hospitality background a help or a hindrance?
It gave us two things. We were not rejected exactly, but people from the banks or other parts of the industry said, "OK, you have no experience, who are you? You have no credibility." Some suppliers looked at us like we were a joke. On the other hand, it gave us a very fresh take on things. We have a pure customer approach.
Why did you decide to expand from Paris to London?
We felt starting in Paris was easier for us in terms of connections, but we always wanted to come to London and New York. Experimental Cocktail Club in Gerrard Street in Soho was just right. Three small floors, hidden away, and it had that ambience. We were now playing with the big guys. Coming here was one of the best decisions we made.
You have since entered the hotel market, with a 37-bedroom hotel, Le Grand Pigalle, in Paris. Why did you decide to do that?
We went back to our original motivation. Cocktails has been like our entry into hospitality. The English word "hospitality" is a great term - it makes sense. It is a summary of sleeping, eating, drinking, basically living. And that is what we had in mind at first.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned along the way?
I think keeping that entrepreneurial spirit, which is very hard because when you grow, you can get taken away from it. You are very tempted to standardise and put a lot of processes in place, but you should not. When you are a small business you have to deal with a lot of things, and you look back and there is no one. You have to factor that in.
What are your future plans?
We have a new project in Paris, a 50-bedroom hotel with a bar and a restaurant, and we also have a hotel here in Covent Garden. That is going to be way smaller, about 20 rooms, where we can look at every detail and really make it our own, which we love.
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