From Michelin-starred restaurants and TV series to pub kitchens—Jolly Fine Pub Group founder Paul Merrett reflected on an interesting career path in an interview with CGA vice president Peter Martin at the Casual Dining show.

Merrett’s group opened its first site on an Enterprise lease in Sheen, and now has venues in Fulham and Wimbledon too—all with rooms. “They’re tough locations, but it’s very rewarding when you get it right,” he said. Growing the business had been “terrifying and exciting at the same time,” he added. “I went from being in one kitchen for six days a week to overseeing three… keeping control of standards as you grow is really difficult.”

The group wants to open more pubs, but with conditions so challenging at the moment, it plans to consolidate for now. “If an amazing opportunity came along then we’d probably take it… but it’s not part of the overall plan this year,” Merrett told Martin.

Marketing for pubs like these needs to be hyper-local, he told Casual Dining. “It’s all about the locality—we go into schools, hand out food by stations, put leaflets through doors—it’s low-key, simple stuff, but it’s pretty effective. We’re communicating with our regulars all the time—that’s so important.”

Merrett said pubs had a much wider appeal than starred restaurants. “Food is so much about people, and I found the fine dining world a little bit soulless… the pub world has a lot more soul.” But he had brought some learnings with him to the pub business, he added. “When you’re working in a starred kitchen, everything has to be right every single day—and I’ve definitely taken that into my new world.”

Finding and retaining good people is becoming a significant issue for the eating out industry, he warned. “It’s the biggest problem—places are going to shut down because they can’t get the teams anymore.”

     

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