Be At One's big mistake: "Opening a restaurant with our second bar"

Today, bar chain Be At One makes a profit of more than £1m and has nine bars. But opening a restaurant with the wrong person almost finished things.

"We opened our first bar in May 1998. It went bananas. Soon we ready to open a second bar.

But that's not what we did - we opened a restaurant.

"We were doing so well we thought we were invincible"

We had an Australian chef working for us, who was basically over here on holiday. He suggested doing food, and his food was fantastic. In August 1999, after three months of planning, we bought the next site, which had a restaurant.

We knew the area, it was a nice part of town, and it wasn't too far from where our existing bar was, so it would be easy to manage.

Because we'd had such success with the first bar, we made the assumption the next one would be the same.

It wasn't. It was too big. The rents were too much. And it needed too many staff. Not only do you need at least two chefs for a restaurant, you need kitchen porters, you need refrigeration and equipment. Then of course you need the stock, which you have to throw away if it doesn't get used. Unlike with booze.

We didn't understand what the costs were, and we didn't do enough research.

Four months in, and we had an okay Christmas. Then the chef left at New Year. We tried getting someone new in but it wasn't happening.

The restaurant business just went down the pan. We opened it just as a bar, but the place was too big.
We decided to sell - it took us 18 months to get rid of it. It brought us to our knees.

The thing was, we were influenced by somebody else to do something we weren't very good at. We hadn't learnt anything from the first bar, because it was such a success - we'd just got away with it. We were doing so well we just thought we were invincible.

Our mistake wasn't unusual - lots of bars and restaurants open second or third branches that go wrong because they think it'll be the same as the first - but we learnt some very hard lessons.

The moral of the story is stick to what you're good at, but if you're going to do something else, you need the right people, you need to analyse the costs, and work out what's going to happen if people move on. People are paramount.


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