Mark Reynolds founded pub company Three Cheers with friends Tom Peake and Nick Fox in 2003 where they continue to run the business’s eight sites together.
The 44-year-old father-of-three’s passion for hospitality started at an early age when his parents set up one of their first bistros in Kensington Church Street in the 1970s. He joined their second restaurant The City Circle as a pot washer – working briefly alongside actress Liz Hurley – and moved up to management before leaving to work at The Putney Bridge Restaurant and outside catering company Party Ingredients. He opened a restaurant – Cinnamon Cay in Clapham – with Peake and Fox in 2000 before they decided to move into pubs. He talks to Hospitality & Catering News about Three Cheers’ latest venture, the appeal of pubs and why you should never underestimate the importance of good lighting.
Tell us about your latest pub The Princess Victoria:
It’s in Shepherds Bush and is our first foray north of the river, which is exciting. The building is beautiful. It was built in 1829 and was formerly a gin palace, but the business before us went into administration so it closed in July. We’ve spent the last few months working on it to bring it back to life and have just re-opened it. We’ve never intentionally stayed south with the business, but the opportunities, until now, have all been in that part of London, so it’s great to be finally heading north. Shepherd’s Bush has a similar demographic to what we’re used to: It’s similar to Clapham or Battersea – a residential suburb of central London – so although it’s a new area, we know what to expect.
You’ve moved Three Cheers further north in London now, would you ever open outside the capital?
We wouldn’t not consider it, but it’s not something that’s on our immediate radar. We are looking to try and fill in the gaps between Shepherd’s Bush and where we already are in Clapham and Battersea at the moment. That’s more important for us for the time-being.
You worked in restaurants and event catering in the past, but have settled in the pub sector, what is it about pubs that appeals?
My parents had restaurants growing up so the whole hospitality and catering industry is close to my heart, but pubs just have a warmness to them that really appeals. They are part of England and our heritage and I love the fact that you can go in at any time of day and aren’t committed to eating or drinking. You can do either, or both.
Pubs are relaxed environments and attract all walks of life, which I love. The informality of them is a real draw. I know that so many restaurants are far more informal than they used to be, but in the early 2000s (when Three Cheers Pub Company was formed) restaurants were very much restaurants while pubs were places you could create a lot of atmosphere, even if the tills weren’t ringing particularly frequently. In our restaurant (Cinnamon Cay on Lavender Hill) which we opened in March 2000 it would feel quiet on a Monday night for example, whereas a pub only has to have a few people popping in on the same evening and suddenly there’s atmosphere.
What, in your opinion makes a great pub?
The look and feel is important, as is defining areas for different occasions– whether it’s creating a more formal area for dining, an area for viewing sport or a private room. People use pubs in different ways and operators need to recognise that.
For us – it’s back to the basics of basics of employing good staff and trying to make sure that they are happy in their environment so they create a warm feel for customers.
Lighting is also incredibly important and I think people underestimate it. We look at lighting a lot when we are refurbishing pubs and my business partner Tom Peake is very good at making sure we get that aspect right, because if you get it wrong it can kill the atmosphere. Creating little pockets of light in certain spaces can turn areas of the pub that people previously wouldn’t move to into the best table in the room.
The Princess Victoria has got some very high ceilings in the main room with wall light fittings placed very high up. We painted the ceiling gloss black – which people questioned – and moved the wall lights down, which helped bring the ceiling down. Suddenly this rather cavernous space, which didn’t feel very warming, now feels like a warm, cosy pub. Just by using colours and lighting effectively you can make a real difference to the atmosphere.
You run your business with two friends, how do you balance business and friendship?
We have known each other for a long time and are friends, but we don’t socialise a huge amount together because we are in business with each other. We have our own lives, which enables us to have that time apart, but also we run very different areas of the business and it’s important that the person that leads that part of the business has the final say. I think that’s where we’ve been fairly clever. We’ve stayed together because we haven’t interfered too much in what each of us are doing.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?
I opened my first restaurant when I was 26 so I can’t say I’ve been inspired by one person as such, although I was inspired by my parents who led me into the industry. I do look at what others are doing, whether its the Hart Brothers or King and Corbin from the restaurant world, or ETM Group in the pub world. I also look at what Fuller’s and Young’s do and I’m sure it’s the same from them looking at us. I think you get inspiration by looking across the whole industry and you gather ideas by going to restaurants and out to eat. It’s important to get out there and see what’s going on.
You worked alongside Liz Hurley at your parents’ restaurant, who would be on your dream working team now?
Fred Sirieix from First Dates would be maitre d and actress Margot Robbie as head waitress, because the Australians know what good hospitality is and I’m sure she could up-sell. I would get James Cordon, Jack Whitehall, Freddie Flintoff and Jamie Rednapp (from League of their own) to add the entertainment and wait on tables and for old time sake let’s get Tom Cruise in to be the resident Cocktail barman.
Where do you like to eat out on your day off?
If I am at home in Hampshire I tend to go to the George in Vernam Dean, an old school pub with proper beer, a roaring log fire and great locals. If I’m in London I enjoy the Duke of Sussex in Waterloo for a pint before the train and if I feel like supper I might go to The Culpeper on Commercial Street, E1 or Naughty Piglets in Brixton. When I feel like a bit of Asian food I might go to Kiln in Soho.
What does the future hold for you and Three Cheers Pub Company?
We’re looking to expand. We’ve done the deal with Ei Group (The Princess Victoria has been opened in partnership with Ei Group) so we are going to be working closely with them and building lots of pubs. We have a good base now and I think we can build something pretty special. While there will be opportunities presenting themselves over the next five to 10 years and we do want to take on more pubs, it will be organic growth, we won’t be expanding at a crazy rate, as there’s quite a lot of uncertainty out there.