20 QUESTIONS: Marc Francis-Baum, Barworks

The man behind such London drinking institutions as Camden Town Brewery and the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen explains why bar work is a serious business.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 25 Oct 2013

Marc Francis-Baum was the manager of the Two Floors bar in Soho when he decided to set up on his own. His two bosses were so impressed, they joined him and since 2000, Barworks has been responsible for some of London’s best-known drinking dens, including Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, which they sold for £1.9m. The group has just opened its seventh American Diner in Spitalfields, east London.

1. If you had done something else, what would it have been?

Working in bars was always a way for me to pay for being a musician in a band. At the time I thought I could do it. Now, you look back and go actually, that would never have worked.

2. What else would you have named your business?

We had actually registered the name BRMC for a joint venture with someone: it stood for Bars, Restaurants, Music, Clubs; but it’s also like the band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. That’s from the Marlon Brando film The Wild One.

3. If you could be based in another city, where would it be?

I would always have said New York but I went to LA this year, and I loved it. It’s got great weather, for one thing – and it’s quite laid back.

4. How did you raise money at the beginning?

It’s always been about investing from within the business. When my two business partners started their business at the beginning they got a small government fund, which was enough to get started. Then things went from there, really.

5. What has been your most important decision?

Probably the decision to take bar work more seriously. It was always a job, a means to an end. But taking it seriously and thinking ‘I could do this – I could own a bar’ changed everything.

6. What has been your biggest mistake?

We’ve got a chain of diners and we chose a site in Kensal Rise because we were from there and we knew the area. But then there was only one demographic: people who lived there – no shoppers or tourists or workers. We steamed in there thinking we could open it and it would be great, but it didn’t work.

7. What idea do you wish you had come up with?

Facebook.

8. How do you cope with stress?

I wouldn’t say I’m a very stressed out person. It doesn’t feel like I have anything to cope with.

9. What was your first job?

I had a paper round when I was a kid: if you did well you could take on other people’s rounds. Then I worked in a hair salon for about two years: it was a bunch of women who gave trendy haircuts to people who lived round there. They treated me like their little brother – I had the latest haircut and I was being looked after by these older women. It was great fun.

10. What was your worst job?

I worked at British Gas after I left school to be an apprentice as an engineer. I hated every minute of it. You’re dealing with pretty horrific people who would treat you like shit. They were old-school: they would make you do horrible parts of the job, you’d have to go and get the tea and they’d call you names. It was almost like ‘this is what you have to go through to be one of us’. I was into art and music and fashion – it’s a totally different world.

11. What was your best job?

It’s slightly embarrassing – but I modeled for a few years. Doing very little for a lot of money and travelling around: that was great.

12. If you were on the Apprentice, what would your team name be?

We use a lot of lightning bolts in our logos, so it would be something like ‘Lightning Strike’.

13. Which company would you invest in right now?

Probably something like Instagram. I think it’s going to be bigger than Facebook.

14. Apart from property, what is the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

A Jaguar XKR: it’s racing green. I bought it when I moved out to the country because I couldn’t bear the thought of getting the train. That didn’t last long – I’m back in London now.

15. Suits or jeans?

Jeans, of course. I do own a suit - but only because I went to a wedding earlier this year.

16. Flexible working or office hours?

You have to be very flexible in our business. I always prefer flexible to fixed.

17. What is the best thing about your office?

My office is our pubs, bars and restaurants – we’ve got an office full of accountants, but why meet people there when you can be onsite?

18. What app can’t you live without?

Westminster’s parking app: you go in, you use it, and if you’re running out of time you can top it up.

19. Who is your business idol?

In our industry, it would be someone like [MT columnist] Luke Johnson. He’s been there and done it: it’s hard not to have respect for him.

20. If you were prime minister for the day, what would you change?

I would ban or cut mobile phones for one day. Not that I have anything against mobile phones, it would just be nice to have one day off. I would also ban bicycles for anyone over the age of 12, and I would allow people to smoke in pubs and bars (a4 units) after 7pm.

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