Mark Hix on going bust, losing his name and battling back
October 10, 2020. Series 2. Episode 11
Mark Hix is one of the greats of British food. His HIX empire spread across London and beyond with a string of critically acclaimed restaurants. But when the COVID lockdown struck, the HIX group quickly crumbled. Mark – having previously handed control to investors – lost everything including the right to use his own name. In his words, he was: “Done, gone, finished for good.” Back in his native Dorset, and a bottle of wine in, he decided to get back in the game … by buying a mobile food truck, converted from an American ambulance, on eBay. This is the astonishing story of a famous chef’s refusal to surrender to the collateral damage of COVID and the vagaries of the hospitality trade. A must-listen for anyone facing or fearing business collapse in these challenging times.
Mark’s Crisis Cures:
- Stay positive
- Just keep earning – however small the amount
- Drink the best wine possible
The Oyster & Fish House: https://theoysterandfishhouse.co.uk
HIX Oyster & Fish Truck: https://www.facebook.com/Hixoysterandfishtruck/
Rarely on the podcast do we talk to someone still in the midst of their crisis, so it was a privilege to chat with Mark this week. He is a brilliant chef whose move from the kitchen to restaurant owner 12 years ago was seamless and successful. But as he explained with such brutal honesty, the financial reality of his business was not always as it appeared to customers and the media. “People would say, ‘Hix SoHo looked really busy last night, Mark’ when actually, we were losing £200k a year because the landlord put up the rent.”
That financial reality pushed Mark into a partnership that in turn led him to cede control of his business. And when COVID struck that meant the decision to close was not his, and that he lost the right to use his own name as well as the ability to protect his 130 staff.
The shock of those developments would send most people into the darkness. But instead Mark went back to basics, remembered that his talent had not evaporated with his business and found a small but smart way to keep in the game. Even if it meant making mayonnaise in his own kitchen before a day’s work that would pay only £140.
I think the HIX food truck is a great totem for Mark’s astonishing resilience – mobile, flexible and sturdy. Mark had lost it all but having reset himself and his expectations he is able to focus on the rebuild. More modest, for sure, but also more experienced and independent. And the food is just as good.
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Host – Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
00:00:00.00 Intro music
00:00:19.06 Andy Coulson:
Hello and welcome to Crisis What Crisis? a new podcast designed to be a useful field guide as we all try to navigate and come to terms with a dramatically changed world. Whether it’s personal, professional or both, crisis is without doubt, the new shared experience. I’m Andy Coulson, a former newspaper editor, Downing Street Director of Communications and one time inmate of HMP Belmarsh. For the last four years I’ve been putting all my experience, the good and the bad, to use as a strategic advisor to business leaders and I can tell you that the bad has been just as useful as the good. And that got me thinking that there are plenty of great podcasts out there where you can hear stories of success, there are far fewer where you can benefit from the experience of those whose lives have properly unravelled.
00:01:06.21 Andy Coulson:
So, in Crisis What Crisis? I’ll be talking to the embattled, shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, resilient, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. Some names will be familiar, some less so, but all our guests will talk about their crises honestly, often with humour, but always in the hope that what they have to share might be useful to anyone facing down their own demons and challenges. Put simply, these are crisis stories worth sharing. If you agree and enjoy what you hear, please do give us a rating and review, that way even more people will hear them and that, in the end, is what it’s all about.
00:01:43.21 Andy Coulson:
Crisis What Crisis? is generously supported by Myndstream, a brilliant company who harness the power of music for personal wellbeing. Whether it be music for meditation, to help focus, sleep, stress relief, yoga and fitness, rejuvenation, even grief and loss, Myndstream is there to improve human performance. I’ve tried it, it works, and I’d recommend having a listen to the Myndstream catalogue yourself. Just search Myndstream, that’s mind with a Y, on Spotify. Thanks again for joining me.
00:02:17.09 Andy Coulson:
My guest today is the award winning chef and restauranteur Mark Hix. Mark is one of the true greats of British food. Born in West Bay, Dorset, he worked his way through the high end kitchens and restaurants of London, including the Dorchester, Le Caprice, Daphne’s and J Sheeky to build a successful empire of his own. Hix restaurants, all serving his brilliant trademark British food, included Hix Mayfair, Soho, City, Tramshed in Shoreditch and Hixter Bankside, all of them favourites with the glitterati and critics alike.
00:02:48.21 Andy Coulson:
In 2016 Mark and friend Damien Hirst opened Pharmacy 2, a new venture that brought together their shared passions of art and food. Along the way he wrote a number of best-selling books and was awarded an MBE. Mark was an energetic, hands-on entrepreneur zipping every day between his restaurants and 130 staff on his trusty Vespa. But then, earlier this year, the wheels came off. Mark had entered into a new investment partnership to fuel a further rapid expansion. He had big plans when Covid struck. Lockdown almost overnight decimating the hospitality sector.
00:03:26.08 Andy Coulson:
In April his new partners put the business into administration, very much against his wishes, Mark had no choice but to lay off most of his staff, a moment he describes as the worst of his professional life. He was later himself forced out of what was left of the business and even lost the right to use his own name. In his words he was ‘done, gone, finished for good’. But instead of giving up Mark returned to Dorset and began the painful rebuild. The totem of that recovery, if you like, is a black American Chevrolet Ambulance that Mark has converted into the Oyster and Fish Truck. Stationed in the carpark of a farm shop in Morcombelake. And with the help of his former head chef, Jez, he’s fighting back one Lyme Bay mussel at a time. Mark, welcome to Crisis What Crisis?
00:04:19.19 Mark Hix:
The ongoing crisis.
00:04:21.16 Andy Coulson:
It’s very good to have you here. I think I’m right in saying that you’ve recently bought back the name, or your name, and that the truck is now proudly branded the HIX Oyster and Fish Truck.
00:04:36.07 Mark Hix:
Yeah, well originally, so the deal was always the use of the name Hix in restaurants or hotels. So when I bought this truck off eBay, halfway through a bottle of wine, I suddenly thought…
00:04:51.02 Andy Coulson:
As all good eBay purchases are made, yeah!
00:04:54.21 Mark Hix:
…I thought if I buy a food truck that’s moveable it’s not competitive in any way and it’s not a restaurant, it’s a mobile vehicle. So actually, cheekily I used the name Hix on the branding on that but I couldn’t have reopened the Fish House for example, with Hix on its roof.
00:05:13.15 Andy Coulson:
Okay, but you’re now able to do that?
00:05:16.02 Mark Hix:
Yup, yup, so I can put my name wherever I like.
00:05:20.14 Andy Coulson:
That must have been a, just that one little moment alone must have been surreal. To find yourself in a position, having built what you built, and we’ll get into that in a little more detail, but to suddenly find yourself unable to use your own name professionally in that sense, must have been a surreal moment for you.
00:05:42.03 Mark Hix:
Yeah it was and in the beginning I sort of sold it, or sold part of it to my business partners. So I sort of still owned a bit of it but it was just a weird thing because who’s going to open a restaurant with my name above the door? It would just be sitting there at Companies House or online somewhere where you just leaving it to fester, if you like.
00:06:08.04 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, yeah, so the partnership, the investment partnership that you embarked on that I mentioned in the intro, that was already an unhappy partnership, if you like, before Covid struck?
00:06:21.02 Mark Hix:
Yeah, it was sort of going that way. You know, when businesses, even though they’re successful on the exterior, they aren’t always that successful behind the scenes. And London restaurants are tough and they have been for many years and now, unfortunately, a lot of them are closed and probably won’t reopen. So my plan was really to do something coastal. When I’m down here at the weekends I sort of wake up looking at the sea and during lockdown I was sitting here looking at eBay staring at the sea, so you know.
00:07:00.06 Andy Coulson:
I think this conversation is going to be of use to anyone who’s facing a threat to their business in hospitality or frankly, any other sector, just because of the total absence of any certainty as we look ahead. So, if it’s alright with you Mark, what I’d like to do is go through the last six months step by step. Because it really wasn’t that long ago that the future looked very different for you when that investment partnership that we’ve mentioned, you went into that because you had big plans for expansion, right?
00:07:35.00 Mark Hix:
00:07:35.05 Andy Coulson:
So if we can go back to that point before the mindset changed, if you like, that’s the sort of start of the story in many ways. Just take us through the steps that led to here, led to you losing the business.
00:07:55.13 Mark Hix:
Yeah, well I think quite often when you enter a partnership with someone, in any walk of life, it’s always good because you know, you’re in fear of losing it if you hang onto it yourself, financially and everything. And so this I found at the time, was a potentially good opportunity to get the business back in shape and do a little bit of gentle expansion. But near the end I suddenly realised you know, I’m not quite sure about this, I really do want to branch out, become a bigger fish in a smaller pond, rather than a small fish in a big pond like London.
00:08:38.16 Andy Coulson:
So how many restaurants were in the Hix group at that stage?
00:08:43.06 Mark Hix:
Yeah, so there was Hix Soho which unfortunately I got rid of before, the landlord decided to double the rent so it had become unsustainable. The Oyster and Chop House, which was the original one. The Oyster and Fish House, in Dorset and Hixter Bankside and the Tramshed.
00:09:06.02 Andy Coulson:
And the expansion you were planning to go where?
00:09:10.06 Mark Hix:
Well I don’t know really.
00:09:11.17 Andy Coulson:
What was next?
00:09:12.19 Mark Hix:
I mean in the business it could have been anything from a chicken and steak, like the Tramshed roll out or maybe trying a different avenue with a different kind of concept. Because London did become really, really saturated with restaurants and I think it was only the big players that had good sort of financial back up were the ones that were surviving, hence the restaurants that I used to work in and run, back in the day of the Ivy and the Caprice and Sheekey’s.
00:09:48.16 Andy Coulson:
How quickly did you come to, having got the investment, gone into partnership and within that partnership you, obviously because that’s how things played out, you ceded a fair bit of control in entering into that partnership. Was that, when you now look back at it, was that mistake number one for you? Obviously your ambitions then changed and your thoughts for the future changed but at that point, when you were on that plan?
00:10:19.04 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I mean, I was still running the business as if nothing had happened. And the main incentive for me, of getting investment from the outside, was the help the existing business to develop and potentially to expand a little bit and see what happened. And I think you know, you talk to lots of people who’ve been through half a dozen different investors and it’s never quite worked out. A lot of the people I know in the business have done exactly the same thing and ended up falling out. So quite often it’s inevitable you know, but now the only person to blame would be myself if anything goes drastically wrong.
00:11:09.00 Andy Coulson:
But you’re right, it’s the model, isn’t it? That you get to a certain stage and there are plenty of other stories in your trade, let alone in others, where that’s exactly what’s happened. Is that someone’s gone into partnership and ceded control or at least a part of the business and then it goes horribly wrong. So you did it with your, you did that bit of it anyway, with your eyes open but of course what you hope is that you’ll be the exception, and that’s what you were thinking. You know that this is a partnership that could work for me.
00:11:45.20 Mark Hix:
Yeah, and I think everyone probably has the same thoughts when it occurs. And you slowly, slowly think am I in control or aren’t I in control? Do I need to sit in another board meeting and talk about the bottom line, I’d much rather talk about how we can increase the top line as it were? With modern technology we’re all privy to daily numbers and figures and costs and everything. So it just becomes a part of the business as much as creating a new dish or a new cocktail. You know you sort of have to, before that cocktail or dish goes onto menu, you have to know exactly what it’s going to cost; how many you’re going to sell and how much you can afford to charge in order that the customer gets a good deal, as it were.
00:12:37.21 Andy Coulson:
Give us a snapshot of your life right at the top of the curve. You’ve got these amazing restaurants, Soho aside, as you say, because the landlord has clearly misbehaving in terms of the rents there.
00:12:53.22 Mark Hix:
I mean Soho was an interesting one because it was my third restaurant and we were doing a restaurant in Selfridges up on the first floor. And Soho was fairly profitable on a sort of highish rent for Soho but not as high as a lot of people. And then the money we were making suddenly turned into a break even when the rent was doubled. And I think there’s going to be a lot of this, even friends of mine are still being charged rent even though the restaurants are closed. And I think what the landlords, especially in Soho and the West End are doing is going into partnership with their tenants. Whereas a turnover-based rent would be the perfect scenario so that if the business is down or the business is up both the landlord and the operator benefit or don’t as the case may be.
00:13:53.19 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, but this is a conversation you’re having with your landlord some time before Covid. Even now what you’re saying is that they still don’t really get it and that they’re not really understanding how the world has changed.
00:14:08.14 Mark Hix:
Yeah and I think they probably will be very soon, when their premises are still vacant and there’s no rent coming in.
00:14:20.16 Andy Coulson:
So Covid then comes, or at least you know because it wasn’t an overnight thing. It feels like it in retrospect but the truth is it was there in the media for a while. At what point did you start to think this could be properly existential for the business and for the sector? Do you remember the moment when you thought to yourself hang on this is not going to be a two week problem?
00:14:55.12 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I mean mine kind of coincided exactly with the time when the government said restaurants, bars, hotels have to close and the minute, or the day, after that announcement was when I got the phone call from my business partner who’d cancelled a meeting in the previous week and told me over the phone that his senior board had made the decision to put the business into administration. And at that point…
00:15:28.23 Andy Coulson:
And that was totally out of a blue sky for you?
00:15:31.15 Mark Hix:
Yeah, yeah and then of course there was the announcement of everything has to close. And at that point I thought okay, what am I going to do next? Because obviously administration means no restaurants. I was in conversation with the administrators most days and with the foresight of maybe buying a couple of the restaurants back because the restaurants were closed or went into administration, there was no value because nowhere was open, there was no business anywhere. So I had a bid on the fish house and I had a bid on the Oyster and Chop House which was the first restaurant.
00:16:17.14 Mark Hix:
So I sort of escaped to Dorset, still having these sort of daily conversations with lawyers and ex-employees and members of staff that I could potentially work with in the future. And yeah, I basically came to Dorset, wracking my brains, what can I do? Which is why the idea of a mobile food truck came up really.
00:16:40.14 Andy Coulson:
Just before we get there can you try, because again, I think there will be so many people listening to this podcast who are either going through or fear that they will end up in a similar process. When you got the call to say, it’s over, just give me an idea of your thought process at that point. First of all emotionally, this is your baby, this is an empire that you’ve created, that has been a hard slog, to put it mildly, over a decade of your life building this business, I think I’m right in saying. And then suddenly you’ve lost control of it and not just lost control of it, it’s going to go.
00:17:22.01 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I mean, my initial thoughts, I sort of went a bit quiet on the end of the phone as you would and thought, oh shit what shall I do? A bit of a blessing in disguise the more and more I thought about it. The more I thought this is an act of cod, you know, it’s just something that maybe was meant to happen. And that’s I suppose that was my sort of, the positive part of my brain thinking okay that’s all gone to pot, how can I work with it and continue doing what I do best? Downsize and just do something. Because the minute you stop earning money and you’ve still got family to support, mortgages to pay, all the other costs involved in living, that was it. Luckily I get a free membership to the Groucho Club because I’m on the committee so that was one thing.
00:18:18.07 Andy Coulson:
What was the negative side of your brain saying to you then? Because clearly what we’re going to, what we’re discovering here is that you are a fundamentally positive person. That you hold to that old line from Fight Club, I think it’s Tyler isn’t it, who says that when you’ve lost everything that’s when you’re free to do anything.
00:18:46.02 Mark Hix:
00:18:48.00 Andy Coulson:
You’d agree with that?
00:18:49.12 Mark Hix:
00:18:50.13 Andy Coulson:
But there’s but you don’t just, that’s not how it works is it really? That the positive instincts kick in and off you go? Obviously there’s another voice in your head. So what’s the negative voice in your head that you are sort of bashing against…
00:19:05.21 Mark Hix:
The most negative thing was the 130 staff that I’d worked with, some of them for a decade almost and some of them twenty years back in the Ivy and Caprice days. So that was the thing that was really bothering me that suddenly you know these 130 people are going to be redundant.
00:19:24.24 Andy Coulson:
So a sense of responsibility?
00:19:27.01 Mark Hix:
Yeah, and without any jobs to go to because suddenly there were no jobs because nowhere was open, everywhere was closed down. So for me that was the biggest thing and I wasn’t in a position to say, ‘okay take three month’s redundancy’, or whatever, it was a very clear two or three week notice period with no unemployment benefits.
00:19:54.20 Andy Coulson:
So there was no opportunity to furlough either right?
00:19:57.14 Mark Hix:
No, because the business was in administration. So that was the thing that bothered me the most.
00:20:07.18 Andy Coulson:
Can you tell me about some of those conversations and how it felt? Again, because I think it’s going to resonate with so many people who are going through similar things at the moment.
00:20:18.18 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I mean, I gathered as many staff together as possible out of the 130, at the Tramshed and basically stood on a chair and made the announcement making clear that it wasn’t my doing. And then one of my managers at the Tramshed and Andina, who’s now coming to work for me at the Fish House, she also got on a chair and was sort of telling my story from a well being point of view, if you like. Because I was almost speechless by that time and I think she could probably tell that I was going to shed a tear.
00:21:01.02 Andy Coulson:
Just give us a flavour of what she said.
00:21:04.00 Mark Hix:
Well, she just kind of, within a couple of minutes, just put everyone at ease that the fact that the person who’s talking to you now wasn’t the person that decided that you’re all going to lose your jobs if we’re going to close the restaurants. So it was a great way for a member of staff, who was also going to be made redundant, to stand up and talk about it.
00:21:29.21 Andy Coulson:
Because obviously reputation goes hand in hand with these wretched moments. Were you concerned and in your game your name, we’ve talked about literal ownership of your name, that the reputational piece is obviously fundamentally important for you? Were you worried about that?
00:21:51.14 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I was and it was, it’s quite interesting that it’s not the thing that you’re thinking about, your own personal reputation at the time. It’s what are these guys going to do? Number one and number two what am I going to do next? That was the tithing that was racing through my brain on a daily basis.
00:22:13.24 Andy Coulson:
So you were…
00:22:16.22 Mark Hix:
I wasn’t in a position to re-employ them and I couldn’t even pick up the phone to offer them jobs with my friends and stuff because everyone was in the same boat.
00:22:27.23 Andy Coulson:
Because of this enormous weight of responsibility that you’re feeling for those who are also being affected, you go into campaign mode. And what are the, again I think this would be potentially useful for people, how are you prioritising, Mark? What was the kind of list in your mind that you needed to get through and I’m sure you’re still going through it? But what does that list look like, what’s your approach?
00:22:57.07 Mark Hix:
Well I suppose at that point there wasn’t a list of any description, well nothing that could be done apart from we need to get the lawyers involved here and try and get some sort of benefits for the staff. Because sometimes it’s not unfair dismissal but when that happens out of the blue somebody somewhere needs to put their hand in a pocket. And even stuff like service charge and the tronc didn’t get given back to the staff because suddenly the administrators owned everything that was in the business and the business’ bank account. So that service charge which…
00:23:41.09 Andy Coulson:
So that’s service charge over what sort of period of time?
00:23:44.15 Mark Hix:
That would have been a month’s worth or something.
00:23:47.10 Andy Coulson:
So it’s a month’s worth of tips effectively that the administrators are deciding they’re going to hold onto? Is that a problem that can be solved or not?
00:23:57.15 Mark Hix:
Not really because you know, I think the top of the administrators minds, and you know they’re doing their jobs, is you know we need to get rid of these restaurant sites and it’s going to cost quite a lot of money to do the transactions and the legals and all that sort of stuff. So that, we had to sort of say goodbye to the hundred and whatever grand that should have rightfully gone to the staff.
00:24:26.24 Andy Coulson:
When you analyse the decision to put the business into administration, knowing what we now know in terms of the impact of Covid, was it the right decision?
00:24:43.02 Mark Hix:
Yes, I would have if… it would have been a board room table discussion as opposed to a five minute phone call, the board meeting would probably have gone on for two hours and yes, we probably would have all walked away thinking okay, this is the right decision. But, I think when you make those decisions you need to be mindful of who’s going to be affected.
00:25:09.23 Andy Coulson:
00:25:10.20 Mark Hix:
Which obviously didn’t happen.
00:25:13.03 Andy Coulson:
So if you’d been round that table you would have been able to effect that nature of it, the detail of it. So that example that you gave, which is a very important example, of the service charge, had you been afforded the opportunity to be part of that conversation, you obviously would have been round the table arguing that pretty strongly.
00:25:31.12 Mark Hix:
Yeah, exactly you know one of the first things my business partner said on the phone is ‘We must look after the staff and the suppliers’. And I said ‘Absolutely 100%, why wouldn’t we?’ But unfortunately a lot of suppliers didn’t get paid, the staff didn’t get what they were entitled to or should have been entitled to. So that was completely out of my hands, a two hour board meeting was a five minute conversation on the phone really.
00:26:05.17 Andy Coulson:
So if there’s some sort of message out of that piece of the story, it’s that even when it’s at its bleakest, which of course administration in business terms is a fair representation of bleak, it’s important, if you can, and you couldn’t because of the balance of power in the business, but if you are able to stay in the process, right?
00:26:31.13 Mark Hix:
00:26:32.09 Andy Coulson:
Even if it’s just about being able to argue the nature of the closure or the nature of whatever change is coming, be around that table if you possibly can. Would that be your advice?
00:26:44.20 Mark Hix:
Yeah absolutely. I think depending on your percentage of the business, I used to be 75% and then it became 25%. You know it’s a tough decision, do we keep the restaurants closed with the government support, furlough our staff? That’s number one decision. Or do we put it into administration and just say goodbye to everything? You know the freeholds, the long leases, you know, everything that is inside the restaurant. The staff, the goodwill and the name and reputation.
00:27:22.22 Mark Hix:
And another friend of mine is about to do exactly the same thing, it’s a much smaller business, but they’ve actually made the decision because they’ve seen what’s gone on in the last five months. The restaurants are still closed and they would have pretty much made the same decision as my board. But it wasn’t done in the right way and I just would strongly recommend that if you’ve got a decent amount of shares in your business, please look after the staff. Because they’re the ones that are going to walk away and talk about it and talk about their experience.
00:28:01.14 Andy Coulson:
00:28:02.18 Mark Hix:
And of course learn from it. Of course everyone whether you’re a junior employee or someone very senior in the business, you know, my decision was exactly the same as the guy I pay fifteen grand a year to.
00:28:17.01 Andy Coulson:
Do you regret the 75/25 at the time? I mean, do you remember that moment when you were thinking about the percentages? Were you thinking that you were… you were obviously thinking about control because it was fairly obvious that you were ceding control as well as…?
00:28:30.01 Mark Hix:
Yeah, that’s the thing at the time, when there were discussions around the table are, it’s not a problem you still have a big say in what goes on because it’s your name above the door.
00:28:41.07 Andy Coulson:
So creative control actually turned out to be something quite different?
00:28:46.24 Mark Hix:
00:28:49.10 Andy Coulson:
And is it also, perhaps an indicator, we touched on it already, but it’s an indicator on your sort of approach? Because when you’re looking at a deal, a contract that’s effectively reducing quite dramatically your ownership of the business, you’re just thinking positively aren’t you? You’re just thinking it will all be great.
00:29:15.07 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I did.
00:29:16.07 Andy Coulson:
It always has been and I know what I’m doing and in the end if I do what I do really well, it’s all going to be great. Is that essentially what your mindset was?
00:29:24.11 Mark Hix:
Yeah. And you just carry on and carry on. Even if it’s… I always talked lots to my friends in the business, how’s it going? This is previous, like last year or whatever, and they’d sort of look at you and say, ‘Yeah, really well, really well.’ What they don’t tell you is that the business is a bit buggered and we have to rethink or get a new strategy because it’s almost like an automatic reaction to say yeah, it’s really good, it’s really good.
00:29:53.04 Andy Coulson:
Is that a characteristic of your business? It’s a characteristic of other businesses as well, isn’t it? But that’s a particular characteristic of your trade?
00:30:04.03 Mark Hix:
I think so because it’s a business that’s customer faced, I suppose, you know you have to always put on a brave face. The amount of times people would say ‘Hix Soho looks really busy, I walked past there last night’. You know you don’t want to say to them, ‘ Actually we’re losing £200,000 a year because the landlord put up the rent’. They don’t want to hear you telling them that.
00:30:28.03 Andy Coulson:
No, of course, yeah. But you’ve presumably, during the course of twelve years, I think I’m right, that you started building under your own brand. Years of success prior to that, but in those twelve years, presumably there were other moments, where, as you’ve just said above the water it all looks, it’s all moving smoothly but below the water something very different is going on.
00:30:55.09 Mark Hix:
Yeah. I mean…
00:30:57.07 Andy Coulson:
Were there those life or death moments in terms of the future of the business? Other than the rent in Soho, were there other moments in those twelve years?
00:31:07.15 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I think where it all started was we opened the Oyster and Chop House in Smithfield’s, very low budget, the rent was quite low. Within six months we bought the restaurant in Lyme Regis, my business partner then Ratnesh, we were 75%, he was 25%. And I said ‘Do you think we should open another restaurant in such a short period of time of being open?’ And we did and it made sense and we were making money straight away. We then got the opportunity to do a restaurant in Selfridges with a very good deal which was a turnover based rent. So we had three restaurants which were doing really well. And during that time we bought Hix Soho which Mark’s Bar was always busy, the restaurant was always busy and on the lower rent we were actually making a little bit of money.
00:32:07.02 Mark Hix:
The thing that did it, or it might have been the start, was a friend of mine who’s got hotels in New York said ‘I’m doing a hotel in Belgravia on a management contract, would you do the restaurant and bar?’ So I thought Belgravia, I’ve got nothing in that sort of area. And again, it was a fairly low rental deal in fact we didn’t pay any rent for the period of time we were there. We sort of went in there and there’s lots of lights on in Belgravia but they’re all in the basement where the maids and cleaners live.
00:32:47.00 Mark Hix:
But the actual lights in the main buildings there was no business or passing trade, you know they’d be straight to the West End for dinner. And in the space of ten months, well earlier on I started talking to the landlord and we said ‘we’re not really making any money, we’re losing money, we need to think about terminating the contract’. And after ten months we’d managed to lose £800,000 and that was, within the other restaurants and the business, that was kind of all of our profit.
00:33:23.05 Andy Coulson:
So you’ve lost that amount of money over what period of time?
00:33:27.13 Mark Hix:
That was ten months of trading.
00:33:28.22 Andy Coulson:
Ten months. And that’s not an unusual story in your business is it?
00:33:36.01 Mark Hix:
No, no, not at all.
00:33:39.07 Andy Coulson:
Each one of these kind of extensions, each one of these next steps for the business, every one of them is a fundamental risk to the core business, right?
00:33:50.18 Mark Hix:
00:33:52.06 Andy Coulson:
Why, the first one you sounded as though you were a bit cautious about, but I suppose what someone listening to this might say is, why did you, if you had those, you know that about the business, you’ve been around the business for so long, what is it that drives you to make that risk? Is it actually that the mindset that delivers the success, it kind of goes with it, right? The two things are kind of part of the same personality? Is that the case for you? Do you love the risk?
00:34:24.06 Mark Hix:
Yeah I think so. You know everything is a risk and if your business is doing okay and another opportunity comes up that you think you know, it’s a bit of a no brainer this, it’s often the mistake. I mean, I used to do staff inductions where I’d show them a video of all the different restaurants and even a year after we’d closed down in the hotel in Belgravia I would show them the Belgravia restaurant and they’d all look at me and say, ‘Where’s that place?’ And I’d say ‘Well the reason I’m showing you this is because the first we did really well and this one was a complete disaster and it’s a good thing to learn about the business.’
00:35:03.24 Andy Coulson:
Okay so you were certainly fully aware and by no means you were building it into the business mentality that there’s risk here and we’ve got to be careful about what we do. And presumably be brilliant at what we do. Do you hold to the idea that you’re at your most vulnerable when you’re at your most successful?
00:35:27.18 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I would certainly say that and I think that’s an important thing for people in business to keep in their mind. Because there’s always that, even if you’re a hedge funder or you’re in investments, a day doesn’t go past when you want to try and make a new investment and risk money in order to make a bit more money. And I think that’s the exactly the same thing in restaurants. If you have one more site that’s some extra money coming in that will hopefully turn into a bit of profit and it’s not always the case, sadly.
00:36:05.17 Andy Coulson:
Is part of the problem for your business as well, that it’s such enormous fun?
00:36:09.14 Mark Hix:
Yeah, that is.
00:36:11.00 Andy Coulson:
That it’s not like you’re making some dry investment in something that you can’t see any kind of value out of in terms of your life and working life and beyond, your social life as well, right?
00:36:22.17 Mark Hix:
00:36:23.06 Andy Coulson:
You work in very cool places, they’re full of fun an interesting people, that’s all part of the problem as well, isn’t it?
00:36:31.23 Mark Hix:
Yeah, exactly it’s not like sitting in an office overlooking a factory floor where you can watch the production line and you’ve got the investment in your office or in your bank account. I suppose you kind of, eat, drink and live the business which is exactly what I think…
00:36:53.06 Andy Coulson:
And you did that? You really lived it?
00:36:56.14 Mark Hix:
Yeah, and you end up meeting a lot of interesting people and it becomes a bit of a lifestyle thing as well as a business. Because you’re in, I suppose you’re in theatre, if you like, you meet interesting people. I mean, I remember when I first started at the Caprice, dear old Liam, who used to run the Groucho, gave me a free membership and that was an interesting point because then you start meeting people that aren’t in your business. And you start meeting whether it’s artists, journalists, whoever, that was a different kind of way of getting through your week if you like.
00:37:42.07 Andy Coulson:
When you look back at that time, two questions actually. The first question is was there moment, in terms of describing that amazing circus around your business, is there a moment that you remember as being the high point where you stood back and though I can’t believe we’ve got these people in this evening? Or it’s a party that you’ve organised or, what was the high point?
00:38:03.24 Mark Hix:
Yeah, when I first went into business on my own, you know, the Oyster and Chop House was a small restaurant and you think okay well I’m not going to take a wage out of this. And then miraculously the job at Brown’s Hotel in the restaurant came up and also the Dunhill Club came up. So I sort of had two jobs as a consultant, if you like which meant that I wouldn’t have to take any money out of my small new business. Which worked really well for me, you know I was maybe, with only one restaurant and earning money that I hadn’t invested in I was, not well off, but I had some money to go and spend or invest in property or art or whatever.
00:38:58.16 Andy Coulson:
The second question is that one of the other dangers of a crisis, you might argue, is that you sort of look back on the life that’s gone wrong, the professional life that’s gone wrong and it sort of sours it all. That you kind of forget, actually, that for years you were living a fascinating, enjoyable, rich life. That when it goes wrong you sort of forget that and that it becomes soured. I mean, how are you reflecting now on the really good years?
00:39:37.09 Mark Hix:
Well I look at it as part of what I did and didn’t know I was going to create when I left school. Because when I left school I had no ambitions whatsoever and ended up going to catering college. So that was something that I look back then and thought catering college days. And now I’m in a completely different position and think okay what happened in the middle of leaving catering colleges and now sort of thing, a lot of good stuff and not much bad until recently. But now I don’t really look at it as being that bad. I just look at it as being a bit of an opportunity where I’m free, I’ve got my name back and I can really do what I want, within reason. And you know it’s my money and if it all goes to pot again I can only blame myself and no one else.
00:40:39.15 Andy Coulson:
Let’s get to the resilience then and how you were able to make sure that the positive voice in your head is the one that’s winning. You grew up as I mentioned in the intro, in Dorset. You were kind of, at school obviously, but you were pretty busy from about the age of twelve, as I understand it, getting busy, earning money. And you’re brought up by your grandparents, I think, weren’t you?
00:41:12.18 Mark Hix:
Yeah my parents, basically my mum left when I was about six. So my dad had custody of me and my brother and we were sort of split up a little bit. He went to live with my mum’s parents and I lived half with my dad and his parents.
00:41:31.07 Andy Coulson:
Difficult at the time, I imagine?
00:41:33.19 Mark Hix:
Yeah, but what I learned from it later in life, was that my grandfather was the one that gave me that bit of drive. He used to be the mayor of the town, he had the local pub, he was chairman of the football club. A West Dorset district counsellor and he had a painting and decorating business.
00:41:52.09 Andy Coulson:
All over it, yeah.
00:41:53.21 Mark Hix:
And he grew these amazing chrysanthemums. And he didn’t drive, and I used to sit at home with him after school and watch things like Faulty Towers and the Two Ronnies whilst he was doing his invoices for his painting and decorating business. So he was always on the go. He used to go to work painting and decorating with the ladder and the buckets of paint on the handlebars sort of thing.
00:42:19.21 Andy Coulson:
So you’re growing up with this energetic guy as your mentor really. You see that as one of the sort of contributors to your strength of character now?
00:42:35.17 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I think so. I think so. I suppose I had a sort of slightly different childhood than everyone else. I started playing golf when I was about eleven. And I didn’t sort of go off and do stuff that the rest of the kids at school did, I went fishing, helped my grandfather in the garden but spent a lot of the time on the golf course. And that was a discipline in itself because you were playing with senior members, hanging out in the bar with them, drinking a little shandy or something, whilst they were gambling and getting drunk. I sort of had different elements of my life but I sort of did that because I wanted a lift home with my dad after playing golf.
00:43:21.22 Andy Coulson:
But at this stage you’re not got any idea what it is that you want to do with your life?
00:43:29.01 Mark Hix:
No, not at all. During that time I worked in… one of the members had a plumbing business so I used to do Saturday mornings in the plumbers’ shop and do about four hours and then go to the golf club. So I earned a few quid there and then I started, a bit later on, doing washing up in this pub and a little bit of cooking, defrosting prawns under a hot tap to make prawn cocktails for customers. And it had sort of come to end of school time in the fifth form and you start having meetings with the career officer and you know, what are you going to do next? I literally had no clue.
00:44:13.19 Mark Hix:
And my dad’s friend had a restaurant in town and he said, ‘Well you know he’s been working in the pub helping out in the kitchen, why don’t you go to catering college?’ Which I did and my dad took me for the interview, ended up doing two years, had a really good lecturer called Laurie Mills who had worked in London, was always talking about food and talking about London. And we used to do this thing on a Thursday afternoon which was electives where you could choose a different subject than what you were studying. So you could do football or woodwork or something like that and we used to go to the pub and then go to the off-licence and then go round to his flat every single Thursday afternoon so we didn’t go to electives once. And he was such a nice guy that you know I suddenly started thinking, oh I’m quite enjoying this taste of the hospitality business.
00:45:09.01 Andy Coulson:
When was the moment of epiphany for food?
00:45:13.09 Mark Hix:
Well I think when I got started in London. I mean, unknowingly I was brought up with food around here. I used to catch mackerel with my gran. My mother used to cook them and I used to help her. And then working in the pub. I was surrounded a little bit by food but not in an interesting way. The fifth year at school was the first time we had a choice between metalwork and domestic science. And three of us thought it’d be a good idea to do domestic science because we’d be in a classroom full of girls. And we turned up and there was just us three and the teacher. All the girls decided to do metalwork.
00:45:51.18 Mark Hix:
So that was my sort of beginning of the food thing. And then after going to catering college in Weymouth, you know you sort of write to every hotel and restaurant in London and the only acceptance I got back was at the staff canteen at the Hilton in Park Lane. So I stuck that out for six months. And all my friends were working in the Dorchester and the Grosvenor House up the road. So we used to sort of hang out together and I eventually got an interview at the Grosvenor House and did a couple of years there and then went to the Dorchester.
00:46:29.13 Andy Coulson:
So those are tough jobs, right? In tough environments?
00:46:35.18 Mark Hix:
And you wouldn’t earn any money in it, it was like I used to do a second job working at the French Ambassador’s residence or the American ambassadors and on the HMS Belfast just to earn some money to go out and have a few beers. Early morning doing everything and sort of observing and watching. A lot of people weren’t that interested, they fell into the world of food and hospitality, and some of them were. And you can tell that now because some of the guys I used to work with back then who have done really well and some of them have just disappeared off the face of the planet.
00:47:16.13 Andy Coulson:
What when’s the point at which you start to think hang on a minute, I’m good at this. When’s that moment that you think to yourself A, this is what I’m going to do now, this is me and B, I think I’m good enough?
00:47:37.09 Mark Hix:
I think at different levels. It wasn’t until much later I think that I started thinking to myself, okay a couple of times I’ve been in the right place at the right time. The reason I got, after I left the Dorchester, I went to work at this sleepy little restaurant int eh city and it was Monday to Friday cooking nice food, good customers and stuff. And I thought maybe it’s time to go and work in the West End where it’s all happening. And my fishmonger at the time phoned me up and he said, the job at the Caprice has come up. And I had to sort of… you couldn’t google in those days so I though, Caprice, Caprice. So I started asking people where Caprice was.
00:48:21.19 Mark Hix:
And then suddenly realised what the Caprice was all about. And Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, I went for an interview they came in to eat a couple of times, I had about four or five really sort of tough interviews with them and it wasn’t until then that I got that job that I really understood what restaurants were about. Not so much food but as you know all those customers that used to come on almost a daily basis to the Caprice, it was like a staff canteen for people in PR, journalism, musicians, artists would come for their business meetings and deals would get done over the lunchtime table.
00:49:07.10 Andy Coulson:
00:49:07.19 Mark Hix:
And I suddenly I remember Jeremy saying to me once about the menu, because we had a similar sort of philosophy on food, and he would say, ‘I like the way that you’re cooking what you think the customer wants to eat as opposed to what you think they want to eat’. And there was always this story about the salmon fishcake where you could look at your guest in the eyes and just east the dish with a fork there’s not looking at it and pushing it around the plate. And a lot of the food was very much like that, there were staples on the menu. So Chris and Jeremy taught me an awful lot about restaurants and customers.
00:49:51.18 Andy Coulson:
Let’s go forward then in the story, let’s go to you sat, half-drunk bottle of wine, on eBay, what am I going to do next?
00:50:09.10 Mark Hix:
So I was sitting in exactly the same position here with the sea over there, you can see the sea in the background, and yeah, I had a I was thinking how can I… because at that point it’s not shall I apply for a new job or shall I apply for a job or go and work for someone else? It was what can I do to even begin to earn some money? So I just went online and thought food truck and then suddenly all these food trucks come up…
00:50:44.20 Andy Coulson:
You don’t have to give us any detail of course it would be impolite of me to ask, but just so we get a flavour of how hard it’s biting for you personally at that stage? In terms of as you say the things you need to cover in life and the life that you thought you’d built for yourself. How hard is that, how big a change was it, if I can put it that way?
00:51:04.04 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I mean, huge. It’s you don’t sort of think, as you go along in life and business, about the amount of stuff that you accumulate whether that’s property or a couple of small boats, two cars and whatever. Your kids schooling and all that sort of stuff. That all…
00:51:30.19 Andy Coulson:
You’ve got three children haven’t you? You’ve got older twins in their twenties and a younger daughter?
00:51:36.15 Mark Hix:
Yeah and a new one who’s almost a year. So yes, so all that suff.
00:51:46.06 Andy Coulson:
00:51:47.19 Mark Hix:
No, the latest one, Sonny’s a boy. The first boy.
00:51:53.15 Andy Coulson:
00:51:55.21 Mark Hix:
And you know you start adding this all up and then fortunately Coutts call you and say you can have a mortgage break until whenever so that’s a little bit of pressure off. But often it’s the financial pressure that makes people crack. And at that point I thought okay how can I earn a little bit of money to get through the next year. I’d stripped out all of my pension, so no investments apart from some art and property and stuff. So there’s always something in the background but I’d been so used to earning money and working I just wanted something to do that was connected.
00:52:43.14 Andy Coulson:
And you were reasonably good at spending it.
00:52:46.01 Mark Hix:
Yeah, yeah, I mean I’m not a big spender as in extravagance and stuff or drugs or holidays abroad four times a year.
00:52:56.08 Andy Coulson:
Yeah but you enjoyed your life?
00:52:59.01 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I’d rather go fishing in the Bahamas with my buddies for a few days, that sort of stuff. So I was on eBay and this food truck comes up and I’d recognised it because it was owned by the company called Pitt Cue, I don’t know if you remember that restaurant in Soho, barbecue restaurant. It had the branding on the side. And it was I looked at the pictures inside and it had all been done up and it had been converted from an American left hand drive to a right hand drive. And it was on for something like £16,000. So I’m not an expert on eBay but as far as auctions go I think I bid £8,500 and didn’t hear anything. And then two days later they accepted my bid.
00:53:52.10 Mark Hix:
So I went to London and collected it, drove it down without it breaking down and sort of drove it to my little drive here. At that point I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Am I going to do hot food? What shall I do? And whilst I was looking at the sea, I’m good friends with a lot of the local fishermen who are really struggling because with no restaurants, hotels or anything open there was nowhere to sell the fish. So I thought, okay, well I’m going to sell fresh fish to the general public. Because also the general public, there was nowhere to buy fish because the supermarkets were closed, the shops were closed and unless you knew a fisherman there was no way of selling fish.
00:54:45.19 Mark Hix:
So I just started buying a bit of fish off the local fishermen who I knew and yeah, selling it in the farm shop or outside the farm shop. So I got Jezzer, who you mentioned earlier, who was my previous head chef at the Fish House, and I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to pay you a wage but what we’ll do is we’ll split the profits.’ So I’d physically given the cash to the fishermen, I was paying £25 a day at the farm shop. Obviously the petrol bit of a beast that, drinks up a lot of fuel. And then I was making mayonnaise at home in the morning and you know because we did little fish sandwiches. And me and Jez, after the first week, we went home with £140 in our pockets each.
00:55:40.08 Andy Coulson:
How did that feel?
00:55:42.19 Mark Hix:
Do you know there was a sense of you know, why the hell am I doing this? What a stupid idea. But there was also a sense…
00:55:50.24 Andy Coulson:
Most people listening to this were expecting you to say, do you know what, it wasn’t a lot of money but it was incredibly rewarding. But no!
00:55:58.21 Mark Hix:
Yeah, well it sort of was, you know, I’d come home smelling of fish everyday but there was that, you know, and when you’ve got that £140 you think okay well I’ve got to go back to London next week so half of that’s going to go straightaway and I’ve got to go and buy this and that. So it was rewarding in a funny sort of way but it also…
00:56:22.10 Andy Coulson:
You just wish it was more.
00:56:24.07 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I mean, yeah back in those days…
00:56:28.04 Andy Coulson:
Can I ask, given that it wasn’t that long before, weeks, let’s say a few months, that you were sitting atop a kind of restaurant group that was buying, to use that example, buying fish on a fairly large scale, on a daily basis. There was money flowing in, money flowing out, it was in your world, a very, very significant enterprise. And a matter of a few months later you are making mayonnaise in your kitchen for the sandwiches that you are selling out of a truck, albeit a very cool truck. How did that actually feel, Mark, to you? Because a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to do that. They wouldn’t have been able to get over themselves to do that, but you did.
00:57:32.05 Mark Hix:
Yeah, yeah, I mean, there was a great sense of satisfaction, I suppose. And the other great sense of okay, right now I’m going to start from scratch. The first week I paid the fisherman £160 or something. So that I quite like that because that was more than he’d earned for a couple of months because he had no one to sell the fish to. And then it was up to me to promote that on Instagram or whatever and tell everyone out there that I’ve got fresh fish, you can now buy fresh fish, we’re supporting the local fishermen. So in my head there was this story about access to stuff that you don’t have to pay too much money for and it’s fresh and it’s supporting those guys out there and giving you a bit of luxury again. You know come to the truck and buy a lobster and a couple of Dover Soles and whatever.
00:58:32.20 Andy Coulson:
So that’s the positive voice winning again, right, which clearly happens with frequency inside your head. But the negative voice is saying hang on a minute, how did this happen? As I just said, I was sitting atop this group of restaurants and I’m now driving a food truck. What’s the negative voice saying to you at that point? And I think what people would be interested to know is how are you conquering that?
00:59:04.11 Mark Hix:
Well one of the things that I did, I mean, I could have done the truck on my own you know. which meant I would have got £280 instead of £140. But I was still, at that point, thinking about my staff and I thought Jez, just come and help with the truck you’ve got nothing else to do. This is the deal and let’s have a bit of fun as well. So that was a kind of negative that turned into a bit of a positive I suppose. But all that time it was when is this whole lockdown going to finish? When are people going to have a good time again? Am I going to be able to buy one of the restaurants back and start in business properly with a restaurant again? Because you know the truck the food truck is never going to make you hundreds of thousands but it was good PR I’ve found for someone who hadn’t got any restaurants anymore. There was an awful lot of PR floating around and then when I did manage to eventually get the Fish House back because out of all of them the Fish House was the one that I would have…
01:00:22.23 Andy Coulson:
Just explain how that’s happened and the sort of getting back of the Fish House.
01:00:28.11 Mark Hix:
Yeah, so I was in long discussions with the administrators, almost on a daily basis, and I said, ‘Look what’s happening with the Fish House?’ And they said, ’Someone’s just put an offer in’, it was something like £85,000. And I thought okay, I haven’t got £85,000 but I’d quite like to get the Fish House back. And so my landlord at the Oyster and Fish House, whose the next-door neighbour and I’ve known since I was about seven years old because he used to run the rowing boats and trampolines in West Bay, we’re sort of good friends and he was making it quite difficult for anyone coming in to have the exact same lease as I had which involved access to his garden for deliveries and staff and that sort of stuff.
01:01:15.20 Andy Coulson:
He wanted you back?
01:01:17.03 Mark Hix:
Yeah, so I sort of sat tight, thinking, hoping for the best. And then I got a phone call one day and he said the people who had put an offer in had pulled out. So I phoned the administrators straight away and said I put an offer in of fifteen grand and they accepted it and then I bought it back.
01:01:37.14 Andy Coulson:
Because of its location, presumably, it’s the restaurant that’s closest to your heart?
01:01:43.03 Mark Hix:
It’s got a great view, you know, you’re looking at the source of the fish, i.e. the ocean. So you know it’s got a lot of good stories and just good stuff about it and the customers have been coming back. They’re all old regulars and they’re full of support and they’ve got no intention of going back to London either. They’ve sort of come down to their holiday home or whatever rand literally stayed down here for the last six months.
01:02:15.08 Andy Coulson:
How have your, it’s the old cliché of crisis, you learn who your friends are. Does that resonate with you?
01:02:24.24 Mark Hix:
Yeah. I think so. You know there’s people that I haven’t heard from, you know anything at all. And there’s lots of people who would call you or you call them once or twice a week. And then you discover that customers are friends as well. And in some ways it’s really great that we’re getting people coming back, once, twice, three times a week. And some of them are travelling a bit to actually come to the restaurant.
01:02:53.05 Andy Coulson:
So you’ve completely by-passed the bitterness on the basis of this conversation?
01:02:59.14 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I think so.
01:03:00.02 Andy Coulson:
Is that the truth of it?
01:03:01.22 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I mean, I just look at… I do look back but I don’t look back and think… I ‘m not angry about it as such. It happened and I just generally think that it probably happened for the better for me. You know it was it just gave me opportunities and I think along the line, and this is going to a lot of people or it may have happened or it’s going to happen in the future, I think you just have to look at failures as an opportunity. If you can work out exactly how you can make it into an opportunity.
01:03:44.13 Andy Coulson:
And remember who you are at your core and what it is that kind of motivates you?
01:03:49.18 Mark Hix:
Yeah, and I don’t think any of that will ever go really.
01:03:53.20 Andy Coulson:
In the end it strikes me that you’re… If the lowest ebb is you sat at that table where you are fright now with a half drunk bottle of wine wondering what the hell am I going to do next and seeing this truck…
01:04:08.03 Mark Hix:
Well it was a full bottle by the time I bid for the truck.
01:04:10.10 Andy Coulson:
A full bottle! You know and by the way, this thing is a former ambulance, if ever there’s a metaphor for what’s going on I don’t know what it is… could have been a hearse I suppose but it’s an ambulance
01:04:25.24 Mark Hix:
I’m thinking of that for my next project.
01:04:29.12 Andy Coulson:
What you see is an opportunity and that’s really what the lesson is here, perhaps, that even in those darkest moments keep your eyes open for the opportunity.
01:04:45.00 Mark Hix:
Yeah, no, absolutely. And who knows, you’ve just given me a good idea actually.
01:04:53.01 Andy Coulson:
Not the hearse?!
01:04:59.11 Mark Hix:
That’d be quite nice to do an Oyster Bar and it could be called The World Was Your Oyster, I better go on eBay after this and see if there’s anything else…
01:05:12.18 Andy Coulson:
Exactly, exactly. Obviously the story that you’ve kindly talked us through today, as we’ve already touched on, is happening to others, right? Thanks to Covid we’re saying goodbye to a string of well-known restaurants including, very sadly, Polpo, Le Caprice, that you mentioned earlier that’s closed maybe it will remerge let’s hope so, The Ledbury, Café Rouge, restaurants of all different shapes and sizes and types. Your view, presumably, is that we’re going to see an awful lot more of that? As very sadly over the course of…
01:05:47.14 Mark Hix:
Yeah, I don’t think it’s finished because if you’ve got enough money over six months to keep the restaurant closed then fair enough, but it think a lot of people are just sitting there waiting for something to happen. And then you suddenly realise that actually, I don’t know how long this is going to go on for, but we can’t sustain a business with no customers, or very few customers.
01:06:15.20 Andy Coulson:
And the major fact is, obviously, total absence of trade. Total absence of trade, absence of certainty, not knowing at all, not being able to build a plan. Which is obviously there are a lot of people in your trade were beginning to and then suddenly new government announcements send everything backwards. But fundamentally the overheads as well, right, and you’ve explained, very clearly, the significance of rent in your world.
01:06:40.22 Mark Hix:
01:06:42.22 Andy Coulson:
So if you were looking for some kind of recipe to try and minimise the damage that we’ve just described, it’s got to come from the landlords first and foremost?
01:06:54.19 Mark Hix:
Yeah, the landlord needs to almost be your business partner, I think in a sense that you get on, you get a good deal and if you’re busy and making a profit then they’re also getting a bit more rent than they would have done. And if you’re not so busy then they don’t get as much rent. But I think that’s, we’ll see a lot more of that.
01:07:16.19 Andy Coulson:
What about government, Mark, what’s your view on the way that they’ve handled it from your perspective and how do you think they should be handling it going forward?
01:07:25.06 Mark Hix:
Well it’s quite interesting because in my eyes the hospitality business has never been recognised or supported by the government. You know is there a minister of hospitality? The amount of jobs hospitality creates, the amount of tourism it’s actually a really big part of our economy. And I think up until now it hasn’t been recognised by the government. They’re not opening schools to teach people how to run a restaurant or how to run a hotel, they’re actually closing down all the existing colleges like the one I went to. So I think there needs to be, whatever happens next, there needs to be quite a big focus and a big government body that recognises and looks after the business. Because on one hand they gave us a discount and now they’ve taken it back, closing at ten o’clock.
01:08:26.06 Andy Coulson:
We end these conversations, always in the same way, with me asking you for your three crisis cures. Three things that kind of helped you, have always helped you in the tough times. And the only rule is that it can’t be another person or a process because obviously we’ve covered that in the course of the conversation. What would they be?
01:08:49.11 Mark Hix:
I think the three things, there might be more than three, is the obvious one which is to stay positive. Because we’re all brought into the world and we have our own skill sets and I think unless you decide to do something completely different, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t do what I’m doing, you can’t even get any money for writing these days so there’s no point…
01:09:14.04 Andy Coulson:
Minister for Hospitality comes to mind.
01:09:18.12 Mark Hix:
Yeah, exactly, but positivity. I think as well, don’t worry about the financial side because that is the thing that can really drag you down, you know. If you’ve been used to earning good money, reasonable money, or really good money, I think it’s the one thing that sort of churns around in your brain, the financial element. Just start small and appreciate what you’ve learnt that day or that week and just go small. And the third one is drink really good red wine.
01:09:50.08 Andy Coulson:
Mark, that’s absolutely brilliant, thanks so much for your time.
01:09:53.08 Mark Hix:
01:09:53.16 Andy Coulson:
I really appreciate it. Alright, see you soon.
01:09:59.01 Andy Coulson:
Thanks for listening to Crisis What Crisis? Do feel free to send us your feedback, you’ll find our contact details and our show notes giving you the key insights from our guests at crisiswhatcrisis.com. There are more useful conversations on the way so please do subscribe and if you like what you hear give us a rating and a review, it really helps, thanks again.
01:10:21.19 End of transcription