By Alice Scott

We should try that restaurant which [enter story here].

Why a strong restaurant brand will lead customers to your door, as told by Michel Roux Jr, Gareth Ward + Amelia Eiríksson, Glynn Purnell, James + Fjona Hill, Alex Bond.

Michel Roux Junior at Le Gavroche
Gareth Ward at Ynyshir

“Chefs and restauranteurs embrace the power of storytelling, weaving characters and narratives into their concepts to keep diners and their team engaged.” – Michelin.

We’re foodies. So we found the opportunity to chat to seven of Britain’s most eminent restauranteurs, about their branding, pretty delightful. All at different stages, this is a story in two acts: The Small Budget but Mighty Ambition and The Tale as Old as Time.

The Small Budget but Mighty Ambition

These restaurants don’t have the luxury of being able to invest in professionals to harness their branding from the off, but they have a heap of gusto. They busily piece together a reactionary tale. Getting by with a jigsaw-puzzle brand, they are suddenly pushed into the spotlight. Now is the time for them to invest in their branding, complete the jigsaw and BOOM!

Alex Bond - Alchemilla
photography Fjona Black

Alex Bond donned many hats to bring Alchemilla to life, from scratch, on a shoestring budget. He is The Good Food Guide’s Chef to Watch for 2019 as his best mate Gareth Ward bags Chef of the Year (but we’re hearing from him later). We ask him how he went about branding the restaurant from the off:

“There were three of us really who sat down and designed the restaurant. We made a couple of bad choices. I had good joiners and builders and people doing the logo design, but it was juggling all those balls that led to mistakes.”

By the end of his opening night he’d been awake for 70 hours, working flat out. Just nine months later Alchemilla was thrown into the spotlight. Here goes:

“We were finally starting to breathe again when we came 53rd in the National Restaurant Awards.”

Alex knew that this achievement, alongside the glowing reviews they were receiving from national press, would bring in new customers, and that their first port of call would be his ‘wobbly’ £700 website. Time to bring the brand together. Establishing his core value as his desire to create dishes that people will remember; to reintroduce them to a vegetable that they think they hate, Alex started by correcting the original design mistakes, and is now expanding his proposition. A roof terrace, complete with Nyetimber bar and greenhouse, is creeping into fruition:

“We’ve reinvented everything that we made to make it what it should be and correct the mistakes.”

James and Fjona Hill - Peel's at Hampton Manor
photography Fjona Black

James and Fjona Hill started with a blank canvas; a Manor House that needed to be turned into a business asap. Fjona explains:

“At the beginning it was just a case of opening. It has 45 acres and everything needed refurbishing. There were edges and corners of our brand that at first didn’t reflect where we were going.”

Then in 2016 the Manor’s restaurant, Peel’s, was awarded a Michelin-star, Michelin’s Welcome and Service Award and their fourth AA-rosette within the space of two weeks. Time to pull the strings of their business together under one unified brand. Their new brand model informed a new website, print material, copywriting, interior design, uniforms, renovations… you get our drift. The re-branding process cumulated in a commissioned piece of art, The Table, depicting the heart of their brand; to facilitate memorable moments around the table. James expands:

“We’d been searching out who we were for a long time, and when we unveiled the picture it finally felt like we’d found our voice and identity. That was a step closer to all of the details pulling together; how we communicate in the marketplace, what the experience is, what the food is, the language the staff adopts.”

Today, the Manor is blossoming as they renovate their gardens and outhouses; a huge investment guided by their strong brand identity.

The Tales as Old as Time

New ownership provides an opportunity for new authorship. When a renowned restaurant changes hands, or a renowned restauranteur changes restaurant, an exciting opportunity is catalysed. How much will these new ventures be given a sensory and emotional narrative?

Glynn Purnell - Purnell’s

Glynn Purnell put Birmingham on the foodie map of Britain. Fact. But having brought the city its first Michelin-star as Head Chef of Jessica’s, Glynn felt compelled to move on. To open a restaurant that captured the spirit of the city, he needed full brand control. Ownership of a new venture brought him new authorship:

“When I opened Purnell’s it was very much about being a Brummie, about where I was brought up, nostalgia and the foods as a kid that influenced me. When you’re making smoked haddock, eggs and cornflakes then that’s not France, that’s from the Birmingham market. That’s from me running round the council estate garden waiting for mum to poach the eggs and haddock.”

Branding, for Glynn, meant creating a strong identity for both his restaurant and city by webbing together a story that evoked emotion.

“Food is a form of art, but also of science. Why can’t food make you smile, make you chuckle to yourself? It’s theatre as well. You’re not just going for a meal, you’re going for an experience.”

By the time Glynn had become a household name through his cookbooks and TV appearances, he was seeing the fruits of his brand commitment with Purnell’s reaching global renown:

“I was walking through my restaurant shortly after The Great British Menu and I realised that there wasn’t one table from Birmingham. It was full of people from London and Bristol, France and Germany. It’s an international restaurant, which you only dream about when you’re 14 years old and want to be a chef.”

Gareth Ward and Amelia Eiríksson – Ynyshir
photography Fjona Black

Ynyshir was given a whole new lease of life when Gareth Ward and Amelia Eiríksson took over the running of the business. Aware that the architecture didn’t make the most of the incredible building and its surroundings, the chefs didn’t stick around, and the food didn’t demonstrate Gareth’s potential, they took a big risk and rebranded the business. Amelia reflects:

“The whole business changed at that point. We had to reposition it. We literally had to say ‘right, we’re a new business,’ and to physically show that was quite important. We literally stripped the building back and opened it up. We made the restaurant relate to the food.”

With a heart of the brand that lingered in the surrounding Welsh countryside, Gareth started to delve deeper into a new style of cooking. He spearheaded the ingredients led menus that almost every modern London restaurant now attempts to emulate. Ynyshir’s Michelin-star and five AA-rosettes would suggest he was onto something:

“We have a whole new identity now. It’s very much our food. Ynyshir is known for being completely unique. We’re completely ingredients led, and we’re just having a load of fun now.”

Today they boast a waiting list for staff, are swimming in awards and have a list as long as Gareth’s legs of plans in the pipeline.

Michel Roux Jr outside Le Gavroche
Michel Roux Jr in the kitchens of Le Gavroche

Michel Roux Jr – Le Gavroche
photography Issy Crocker

Michel Roux Jr’s story is a little different. When he was entrusted with Le Gavroche in 1991, he inherited a mighty brand whose strength lay in its consistently excellent standards and a history entwined with Britain’s fine dining renaissance. So, although he has made the dishes slightly lighter and dropped the jackets and ties rule, Michel’s art lies in his ability to withstand change and keep this brand heart alive:

“[Le Gavroche] represents classic, fine, French cookery. It is elegance and luxury and comfort and that’s always how my father wanted it to be. Outside of food, what Le Gavroche is so well-known for is the service. That idea of friendly, warm and superb service is something that was, and still is, absolutely integral to Le Gavroche.”

With values rooted in elegance, luxury and comfort we ask Michel how this materialises in terms of the restaurant’s interiors. It seems like a place where time has stood still, like the pristine furnishings would have a culture shock if they stepped out onto Oxford Street today. A very deliberate choice, as Michel explains:

“We want le Gavroche to be familiar to our very many returning guests, and to retain its classic feel, so although the restaurant is regularly refurbished, and we have modernised the kitchen completely, we keep to the same decorative style and colour palette.”

And is he likely to bend with upcoming trends?

“I’ve never believed in following trends as trends pass and what withstands is real identity.”

Now, that is something the Le Gavroche has by the bucket-load.

The End

Few restaurants are able to invest in their branding from the off, but every restaurant comes to a place where they can no longer afford to not. Fjona surmises for us:

“Until the edges and corners of your business are all consistent, and everyone is singing from the same hymn-sheet, then it feels like you’re letting down the story.”

Have we left you on tenterhooks? Thank you so much to Alex, James, Fjona, Glynn, Gareth, Amelia and Michel for telling their tales to us. Each restaurant’s story is so much richer than this short piece can give credit to. Check out our insights in June to find out which restaurant encourages you to shit in the woods.