In the final part of our series of interviews by Xavier Rousset, the Texture restaurant co-founder asks restaurateur David Moore for his secrets to longevity as Pied à Terre prepares to celebrate 25 years in business. James Stagg listens in
Xavier Rousset (XR) Pied à Terre opened on 16 December 1991. What is the key to the restaurant's longevity? David Moore (DM) I think it's quite Darwinian. You have to be able to change. Like in the animal world, there's no point continuing to do the same thing if it's not working. To succeed, you have to be able to adapt. We always want to improve and evolve. Customers are increasingly demanding, and we have to up our game every time.
XR What made you decide to open Pied à Terre in the first place?
DM My first job was with Raymond Blanc at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in 1986. Before that, I had been working at the Box Tree in Ilkley for work experience. It was there I experienced a pivotal moment in my career that I now talk about a lot with my younger team members. Head chef Michael Truelove at the time said to me: "I can see you're interested in restaurants. Get yourself a job at Le Manoir, it's the best restaurant in the UK." I went back to college and a couple of weeks later I saw an advert in The Caterer for assistant head waiter at Le Manoir.
XR So that's where it started…
DM Not really, I didn't get it! But I did a good interview and got a chef de rang job and a promise that if I survived a year I'd be promoted.
I turned up in July 1986: I didn't know what I was being paid, I didn't know the hours I'd be working. I remember the relief at the end of the first month on seeing the pay packet and thinking "I can live". But I was at Le Manoir and that was important. I very quickly progressed through to assistant head waiter, head waiter and then assistant manager.
XRHow did you decide to open your own business?
DM There were only a few decent restaurants to move to in order to progress, so I thought that I'd open my own. I watched the people coming to Le Manoir who I knew were from London. At some point, they would ask me what my plans were and I'd say: "Ssh, I'm going to open a restaurant in London." Cards would be passed and I promised to let them know. I even had the opportunity to pitch for investment.
I used to have to sit up late at night writing letters to 49 prospective investors, telling them what the plans were. In the end, Richard Neat [chef-partner at the time] and I got together a good band of 24 shareholders.
XRHow did you settle on the location?
DM We almost took a site in Kensington, which would have been a disaster as it was a small basement. But we were so hungry we would have opened anywhere.
Then we found Charlotte Street and it was perfect. It had a stylish-looking dining room and a kitchen we could almost open with. It was an Indian restaurant, so we changed the sign outside, kept the phone number, held a painting party and invited friends along. Richard cooked beef for us and by the end of the day it was painted white.
We opened two days later with the same cutlery, plates, glasses and tablecloths that the Indian restaurant had.
DM We did want L'Autre Pied to be more of a brasserie, but the ambition of our customers drove it in a different direction.
But my other businesses are more casual in style. I have been involved in the London Cocktail Club - heavily in the first two years, but I've stepped back from that now.
I'm also a partner in One Sixty, an American smokehouse with sites in west Hampstead and Liverpool Street. With that partner, Sean Martin, we have a couple of other concepts that we want to bring to market in the next two to three years.
XRHow important is location to you?
DM It depends on the concept. I think if you're at a price point of £20-30, you want footfall. But the best thing you can do as an operator is get out and walk around the area you're thinking about, sit in a few cafés and see what people are doing.
We were looking at a site in Shoreditch and I realised that there were all these guys with tattoos, beards and laptops having a coffee and sitting for 45 minutes. I thought: "I don't want to be in that area as I need people to spend £25-£35 and I don't want them on their laptops."
But if you're niche enough and you've got sassy social media behind you, you can take an off-pitch site and rock with it on a lower rent. But it's down to the product. Customers are so sophisticated that they will travel for great food, even if it's a burger.
XRWhat would you do differently if you were to open today rather than 1991?
DM In 1991 Charlotte Street wasn't as it is now. It was a media centre, and there was a lot of good lunch trade. I think we've helped drive the street up, and when the Charlotte Street Hotel opened it went ballistic.
Richard Neat and David Moore in 1992
London has had a seismic shift in the style of dining, with venues like the Clove Club and Lyle's that are more influenced by Noma.
If I were to open today, I'd want to be on a decent-sized space on a good pitch with an affordable rent. Rents on Charlotte Street are not affordable any more.
Would I do it differently? Yes. My original plan had been for five years, then to get out. But Richard bailed out before the five years and I had to commit to seeing it through so that the shareholders got their money back.
XRWhat has changed since those days?
DM One of the big changes is that we have become a lot more service-focused. The service we are able to deliver with Mathieu Germond [restaurant manager] and Leonora Popaj [general manager], who have been with us for a decade and eight years respectively, means we have great longevity and consistency.
The service at top restaurants now is swish, but we deliver personality.
XRWhat are your three tips for a successful restaurant?
DM Detail, detail, detail. When it's not working, you've missed those little details - the special touches. That changes for every concept. Raymond Blanc talked about a quality establishment having layers, like a millefeuille. They all have to work together to complete the experience.
It doesn't always have to be super-swish either, it just comes down to the right detail.
XRWould you put more money into design now than you did in 1991?DM We didn't put any money into design in 1991. I think again it has to be concept-led - it depends on the market you're looking for.
One of my greatest achievements was the Pieds Nus pop-up. It didn't have a designer and was done on a real shoestring. Myself and our handyman built it. I was there doing the stud wall and painting, sanding the window frames. We cobbled together this really cool vibe. Having had that experience - I realised that was my vision, not a designer's. It just gelled.
I'm comfortable that I could cobble a restaurant together that does 100 covers a night and charges £25-£35. I'm 50 now and I think I'm more confident about what people want - though I don't always get it right.
XRYou know the London market well, and it's obviously leading the way when it comes to restaurants, but are there any other areas you think have potential?
DM London is now the top city in the world for driving hospitality as an export. It drives nearly £14b of revenue a year. But Manchester has seen a long overdue regeneration and Bristol is a cool city. I think you need to look at cities with great universities as they have fresh people coming to them every year and many end up staying.
I think there will be a greater trend towards the suburbs. When we opened One Sixty in West Hampstead last year, people stopped me in the street to thank me. All of the multiples were up there, but there were few good independents. One or two good operators in the area bring people to the area.
Pied Á Terre
XRHow important is it nowadays to have a PR firm working for you?
DM Well, we still do. But then I look at someone like Gary Usher at Sticky Walnut who has been very clever with social media.
It's not so much about when you first open, because then you can write to everyone and tell them you're coming. I don't know that enough operators do that. They expect that Michelin will know that they've opened - you need to tell them. My top tip to any new venture is to write to everyone and tell them what your aspirations are so that they get a feel for the business.
Overall, I think it's difficult to have a successful launch without PR. But if you were to employ an in-house social media person, that will tick a lot of boxes in terms of creating a groundswell of positive opinion.
XRWhich restaurants have you admired the most?
DM There are so many. Number one has to be Raymond Blanc's Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. Without Raymond there wouldn't have been any of this. He showed us the way and gave a very good helping hand when we first opened.
The best meal I've had this year was Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road. I think Gordon as a restaurateur and chef still has something that is inspirational. He brings a lot of young talent into the industry too.
XRWhat's next for One Sixty and Pied Á Terre?
DM Right now with One Sixty we're being led by the right property - finding the right site and not paying huge premiums. But with Sean, we do have a couple of other concepts we're working on.
As long as we can maintain the quality of food throughout sites, it will maintain business. It's got a sexy beer scene too, which adds to the offer.
For our 25th year at Pied Á Terre we've approached all our former chefs, inviting them to return for some special evenings. Richard has committed to coming back for a week in September 2016, doing his old signature dishes, so we're extremely excited about next year.
David Moore onâ¦ maintaining consistency
Staying at the top of your game for 25 years is no mean feat. Moore puts the longevity of the restaurant down to consistency; of product, service and personnel.
"For us, the key thing is that the chefs have always worked with predecessors," he tells Rousset. "When I started working with Richard Neat [on the opening of Pied Á Terre] he was a genius cook. Though I think it's fair to say he was a lunatic as well - a mad, crazy chef who didn't cut his ear off, but easily could have done."
When Neat was in the kitchen, Tom Aikens was his most promising sous chef. "I could see that Tom was a guy who could run the kitchen and he was my first choice when Richard mooted that he wanted to part company," Moore adds. "Tom had left by then, so I had to go to Paris and hatch a plan for him to come back."
Then, when Aikens left, it was Shane Osborn who was ready to step up. At the time, Moore says he was enjoying the services with Shane more than those with Tom. "When Shane was in charge, those services were a joy," he says.
"Marcus Eaves then came back from L'Autre Pied - he viewed this as the mothership. He was motivated by the history and desire to maintain the level we've established."
When Marcus moved to Pied Á Terre, Andy McFadden stepped up from sous chef to head chef at L'Autre Pied, and then in turn took the head chef role at Pied Á Terre in October when Marcus moved on.
"Now we have brought back Graham Long to L'Autre Pied, who worked with us between 2008 and 2010," Moore says.
"It has always been using the talent from within the company, and it's worked for me."
Xavier Rousset became the youngest Master Sommelier in the world when he passed the exam aged 23. After working at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons as head sommelier, he met Icelandic chef Agnar Sverrisson and the duo went on to open Texture restaurant in 2007, in London's West End, which picked up a Michelin star in 2010.
They also opened wine workshop and kitchen concept 28Â°-50Â° in Fetter Lane in the City of London in 2010. Described as "a comfortable and relaxing place to enjoy good food and wine", the restaurant is named after the latitudes in which most wine regions are located.
A sister restaurant was launched in Marylebone in 2012, and Maddox Street opened in 2013.
Rousset left Texture and 28Â°-50Â° in May to pursue other projects and is currently looking for a site for a new venue.
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