Distefano and Bacon open up on restaurant success

IT’S become a celebrity haunt and a flagship group restaurant but the family behind San Carlo originally saw an opening on King Street West next to Kendals in Manchester as a major risk.

Speaking at the Northern Restaurant and Bar conference in Manchester yesterday, managing director Marcello Distefano, said it was a big step up to a site where others had failed.

He said: “At 7,000 sq ft it was double the size [of existing restaurants]. At the time it was a huge rent for us and if it had failed it would have upset the whole business. For us it was a gut feeling.

“My father had had a business in Kendals and he knew the area. We knew we had a catchment area and the rest of it was doing what we do best.”

Mr Distefano, whose father Carlo had a hairdressing concession in Kendals for 20 years, was appearing with Tim Bacon, the founder of Living Ventures. It has 33 restaurants and bars, mostly in the North West. Its brands include Blackhouse Grill, The Botanist, The Alchemist and one-off concepts such as Manchester’s Oast House and Australasia.

Both Mr Distefano and Mr Bacon, who decided against taking on the King Street West site at one point, confirmed they were planning more openings in Manchester. San Carlo is looking at one more while Living Ventures wants to increase its offering in the city from 11 to 15.

A Botanist is planned for Deansgate towards the end of July at the site that is currently Label, and Gusto will open in August in the existing Olive Press site on Lloyd Street.

Mr Bacon also reflected on Spinningfields which was a struggle for larger operators, but where he now has six ventures.

“I stood on the corner of Hardman Square and thought this couldn’t not work. The nationals have a cookie cutter approach and squash personality. They’re not fleet of foot and can’t move with the market. You’ve got to know your own markets and your own brands and understand why they work in certain locations. Spinningfields was a no brainer, I had no hesitation signing that lease and we’ve six there now.”

The entrepreneurs were asked which piece of red tape they would do away with. Mr Distefano cited employment laws while Mr Bacon said health and safety.

“The movement in regulation at that end over the last 20 years is frightening. Of course we were always poisoning people in the 1990s and they were forever falling down holes.”