I developed Loch Fyne Restaurants using private investment only. We went round cap-in-hand to over 200 friends and family and raised £1.2 million. Later, we raised a total of £4.2 million through two further rounds of EIS funding, a government scheme that enables private investors to claim back the tax on money they invest in small businesses like ours.
That allowed us to make our mistakes in private and to try things our way. For example, we closed two restaurants a while ago, and we could do that because it was entirely up to us. And we can be more flexible with the budget.
I think being private enables you to make better decisions. In some ways it's a pressure, because it's your family's or friends' money that you've got, but you don't have the pressure of someone sitting on your shoulder telling you what to do.
It has worked out for us; we've gone from nothing five years ago to being a company with 29 restaurants and an annual turnover of £30 million.
MY WORST ...
Our restaurants were doing so well around the country that I thought we'd try to crack London. With hindsight, there are some great London restaurant operators and perhaps we should have just left them to it.
Although our Covent Garden branch is doing fine, the others are not so good and we have sold our Crouch End site.
Our average weekly restaurant sales outside London are £25,000, whereas in London they're £15,000. We're provincial operators. In places like Beaconsfield, Winchester or Cambridge, we're the best show in town when it comes to seafood. It's partly because you get bigger sites for your money. In London, all we get for the same rent we pay in provincial towns is a site on another corner on another street, surrounded by other restaurants.
While we might fit an average of 125 covers in a non-London restaurant, in London it's 75.
Our solution will be to keep the restaurants in London that make money, probably sell those that don't, and build more restaurants outside London.