Overall ranking: 86 (50 in 2012)
Pub and bar operator ranking: 15 (7)
The continued growth of Drake & Morgan, and in particular its recent expansion outside London, demonstrates Jillian MacLean's vision for the brand can take it well beyond its heartland. Founder and managing director MacLean opened her first site, the Refinery, on Bankside in 2008. Drake & Morgan now operates 23 bars and extended its reach into Manchester and Edinburgh in 2016, a year which also saw the acquisition of 11 Corney & Barrow wine bars, which has proven transformative in scaling up Drake & Morgan's expansion programme. Boosted by the acquisition, turnover for the year to 26 March 2017 increased by 48.8% year on year to £43m, with like-for-like revenue up 5%. Five bars were refurbished, and two sold.
What we think
MacLean's parents ran a hotel in Largs on the west coast of Scotland. On leaving school she worked in a local hotel run by Tennent Caledonian Breweries, part of Bass. She worked for 20 years in the Bass pubs division, which is now Mitchells & Butlers, and was involved in the development of brands including Ember Inns and Nicholson's. After stints as operations director with Spirit Group and Novus Leisure, she turned her own vision of what a bar should be into reality with the opening of the first Refinery in Southwark.
MacLean named her business after English explorer Francis Drake and Welsh privateer Captain Morgan, reflecting the buccaneering spirit of an entrepreneur who has sailed the choppy waters of the bar trade to carve out her own empire. That first venue opened at the start of a major downturn for the economy, but MacLean later described this as an opportunity. "I saw my chance with the recession. I thought that gastropubs had become overpriced, and that a lot of brands hadn't moved their offer on. There was a chance to create a new proposition, a casual, accessible bar-restaurant with good design at a lower price point."
The format, which has been much copied since but never quite equaled, is a contemporary design tailored to each site, with distinct bar and restaurant areas, serving well-presented food using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. This is accompanied by a range of wines available by the glass, craft beers and innovative cocktails, all underscored by high standards of service from enthusiastic staff. Half a dozen venues trade under the Refinery brand, including those in Manchester and Liverpool, while others have individual names such as the Anthologist, the Folly and the Happenstance.
In 2013, private equity investor Bowmark Capital bought a majority stake in the business at a time when it operated five sites, funding not only a second phase of organic growth but also allowing Drake & Morgan to acquire the 11 Corney & Barrow wine bars from the venerable City wine merchant. While some have been converted to the Drake & Morgan format, the separate C&B Bars brand gives the business a distinctive presence in the City.
Drake & Morgan has a three-star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association and currently has a two-year partnership with cancer support charity Maggie's, which saw November 2017 earmarked as ‘Random Acts of Kindness' month across the business. As expansion continues, MacLean's insight into what drives her customers remains a key strength for Drake & Morgan.
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