Marketing and PR accounted for a large slice of the opening budget at the Cube & Star in London's Hoxton Square, with proprietor Mark Turner determined to create a big splash with his first opening in the capital.
To register on the crowded restaurant radar, Turner enlisted the services of public relations firm Jori White, which came up with a detailed pre-opening and post-launch plan of action to secure press, radio and even TV coverage for the business.
"Jori White did some great PR for us," he says, and this ensured that the Cube & Star grabbed the attention of the industry. In hindsight, though, Turner says he would have handled it all very differently and concentrated more on getting the local community onside.
When he would ask local businesses why they weren't using the restaurant or the bar despite it being right on their doorstep, they replied that they felt they had been ignored during the opening. It soon became clear to Turner that, in his quest to turn the heads of his peers and the press, he had inadvertently alienated a key part of his target audience.
"In the pre-launch stuff, we failed miserably in targeting local businesses and getting them interested," he says. "We got swept up in the pre-opening plans. That was a massive mistake - almost a cardinal sin. We neglected to take care of the business in our most immediate area."
Targeting local businesses and getting them to use and support the business is now a major focus. Turner is about to start a Cube & Star club card, effectively a discount card for regular customers and local businesses. He is also planning another party in the next few weeks, to which local businesses will be invited.
He also thinks he has not yet quite got the right feeling to fit in with the local scene. "We're still too formal, and I'm hoping to loosen it up a little," he says.
As well as experimenting with different layouts, he is looking at ways to make the venue more funky in the evenings, broadening the music mix to include more upbeat offerings such as retro soul, Latin-specific drum and bass and "warm" electric lounge.
He has also altered the original plans for the back bar area, which was formerly used as a garage and, again in hindsight, "needed softening up". The original design, with its painted concrete floors and bare windows, was too austere. It didn't provide the right atmosphere for an intimate bar area where customers will be able to indulge in vintage rum and cocktails, including the signature Mojito, and puff on cigars from the humidor.
Designer Guy Bostock of Decked Out has created a new look with heavy curtains and black-and-white diamond tiles on the floor.
Turner is so impressed with Bostock's work to date that he has handed him the reins of the project to turn the downstairs area into a late-night bar, asking him to design the new-look space from scratch. "He's a really cool guy and someone I want to do business with," says Turner. "And it leaves me to concentrate on how it will operate."
Other initiatives One thing he can't do anything about in the short term is the lack of outdoor space - something he would have dearly loved to have in the recent spell of hot weather.
Turner has also been working on a number of other initiatives to get more high-rolling punters through the door. He has teamed up with a local leisure centre, offering new members a free meal for two (excluding drinks). "The rationale behind that is that all of these people are solicitors, investment bankers, etc, and they have 80-100 new members a month," he explains.
He also managed to get the Cube & Star registered on the review section of the intranet at City firm Bloomberg, used by the traders to recommend venues to their colleagues.
Three months in, and Turner is starting to find his feet. He also has a clearer idea of the London restaurant market and what he is trying to achieve with the Cube & Star. At the start, he says, he took on board too much advice from people who said what would and wouldn't work in London, and ended up "turning the restaurant into something it wasn't".
But what Turner seems most excited about is that architectural salvage firm Lassco has found him a revolving brass door, which he plans to turn into a new entrance on the corner of the restaurant, currently bricked up. "It looks absolutely stunning and it will fit perfectly," he says.
More importantly, it will enable him to have separate entrances for the restaurant and the planned basement bar area, which will form part of phase two of the project.
Cube & Star
- Address: 39A Hoxton Square, London N1
- Owner: Mark Turner
- Opened: May 2005
- Seats: 40
- Staff: 17
- Dinner for two with glass of wine: £70
Adopted businessCaterer has "adopted" four hospitality businesses, which will be visited in rotation every four weeks. There are: the Cube & Star, Hoxton Square, London; the Club Hotel & Spa, St Helier, Jersey; the White Lion, Stoke; and the Mason's Arms in north Devon