When the makers of BBC 2’s must-watch Million Pound Menu wanted to change the ingredients for their second series, they knew where to look...
The show aims to find the country’s next amazing foodie experience - whether that’s a Korean pop up in Glasgow, or a Cuban zero-waste food stall in Wales, they scour the country in search of something truly tasty. And this time, they wanted some help from those who were already cooking up a storm.
Liverpool’s Graffiti Spirits Group has been doing things a little differently for the past ten years or so, creating a quiet hospitality revolution in the city that loves to celebrate. Their Brazilian ‘rodizio’ (all you can eat) pizza bar, American BBQ hang out, and host of inventive eateries show there’s far more to British cooking than soggy fish and chips.
Jack meets Co-founder and Executive Director Matt Farrell and finds a man as passionate today about shaking things up as ever.
“I’ve always worked in hospitality, but doing things for myself started when I was earmarked for promotion, and got overlooked by someone who didn’t even know how to set cutlery properly,” he laughs. “That was it. I was out.”
Together with partner John Ennis, he found a scuzzy corner unit at the wrong end of town, borrowed a bit of cash from their parents, threw in every penny of their savings, and set to work. Matt was just 26. “It was a massive risk. But I was always passionate about delivering great service, and I knew I couldn’t be a company man. If my heart wasn’t in it, I couldn’t do it.”
Where were you when you first knew this was the life for you?
It was always my dream to own my own restaurant but it was cemented when I was on a Spanish exchange when I was 16 and was placed in a family run restaurant in Tarragona, they specialised in cooking rabbit on a large fire pit. I loved the buzz of the restaurant and the camaraderie.
What’s your secret ingredient?
We give our heart and soul to the industry. We also have a fantastic team around us that we entrust with developing the company. We are still 100 per cent independent and although difficult at times, it gives us complete control to develop the way we want to.
Who's inspired you along the way?
Difficult one this. I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and although not relevant to the food and drink industry the story of how he came to be where he is and the hard work and graft to get there is something I find extremely inspiring.
What continues to drive you forward?
The job is ever-changing. Creating new concepts, travelling and gaining experience is something that drives me forward an being able to put these into practice.
Creativity. Meeting interesting people. Food and drink is essential to us as human beings, so being able to appreciate this and do something resourceful with it that people can enjoy is extremely rewarding.
You’re setting up a new consultancy to find hospitality stars of the future. Why?
There’s a lot wrong with the industry. People think that it’s something anyone can turn their hand to, but it’s not the case. At the same time, there are also young creative people out there who have the drive and determination and just need some experience to help them get started. The energy we put in has to come out in the people we’ll work with.
Tell us about Million Pound Menu, and what about the hook up with Pilgrim?
We were approached as they were looking to change the concept a little of the show, having a more diverse panel of investors. We could offer the space and mentoring, giving someone their first restaurant. I think with the (Spanish-themed winner) Pilgrim lads they really fitted what we were looking for and the food is excellent. The concept really is something myself and John both thought would fit really well on the food and drink scene in the Northwest.
What'll you be doing in five years’ time?
Hopefully still doing what we are doing and expanded off into the rest of the UK and Europe, and I personally want to press on with my media and writing work. I really like the idea of telling stories of how independents shaped the culture and diversity of destinations.
What words of wisdom to anyone thinking of opening their own bar/food place?
Don’t do it! I’m joking. If you’re not willing to be part of it and put the hours in, the rewards won’t come. It’s important to live and breathe the industry and be clear that this is not a 9 to 5 job.