Massive attack

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Formerly Joe's Ltd, Massive is making its mark on the trade and customers.It's a bold move to change the name of your pub company to Massive. For...

Formerly Joe's Ltd, Massive is making its mark on the trade and customers.

It's a bold move to change the name of your pub company to Massive. For Peter Linacre and Stephen Brooks, it didn't mean that they wanted to turn the former Joe's Ltd into a massive national operator. It seems to be more to do with the impact that they want to have on their customers and the trade.

"We want to be seen as a company that is passionate about its business and is aggressive about growing," Stephen said.

Neither of them want to see Massive grow from its current estate of 28 managed houses beyond about 60 or 70 sites at most.

"We spend a lot of time making sure we don't lose that passion," Peter explained. "We have no intention of growing just for the sake of it."

The company took its original name from Joe's bar and restaurant, which opened in Hampton Hill, south-west London, 11 years ago. This was created out of a rundown pub by Stephen, with a former business partner, after he was made redundant from a firm in the City.

He wanted to take the business further and, in 1993, he and Peter got together to form the current company although they held on to the name of Joe's Ltd.

The two men have known each other since 1979 when they met at a dinner in the City. Stephen was a trainee stockbroker and Peter a trainee fund manager, and they shared a belief that they might not be best suited to careers in the City.

They began by developing a group of high quality unbranded pubs, buying the Hillgate in Notting Hill, West London, in 1993 and then the White Swan in Twickenham, Middlesex (pictured below)​, and the Fox and Grapes in Wimbledon, south-west London, the following year.

Since then, it has grown this unbranded estate into areas such as Chertsey and Lingfield in Surrey and the picturesque banks of the River Hamble, near Southampton.

"We've never bought a site that one of us didn't love," Stephen said. "You can't take the approach that if you don't have a site in somewhere like Putney, then you must grab the first one that comes up there."

This year, it opened the Queen's Head in Weybridge, Surrey, in a former coach inn and court house and is in talks to buy more large traditional pubs.

"If we can continue buying unbranded traditional pubs that are good businesses, then we would love to do that," Peter said.

A major feature of the Queen's Head is that it shares a site with a French restaurant, L'Auberge, which is the second thread of Massive's business.

There are now three Auberges, with others at the King's Head in Teddington, Middlesex (pictured above)​, and the Plough in Cobham, and the company is on the lookout for more suitable sites.

The chain is headed by an area manager, Frenchman Rachid Noui, who trained in France. All the staff are recruited from France, mainly through the internet and links with catering colleges, to maintain authenticity.

In Teddington, Massive has already come up with an extension to the brand, a bistro called La Petite Auberge. Co-manager Joel Foraison is a member of the exclusive club Cuisiniers de L'Ain, which include only the finest chefs from the Ain region around Lyon.

For celebrity watchers, Massive's most well-known pub is the Chepstow in Notting Hill, which shares its site with the highly acclaimed Italian restaurant Assaggio, which is operated by restaurateur Pietro Fraccari and chef Nino Sassu. After being praised by the likes of AA Gill, Fay Maschler and film director Michael Winner, it pops up in the media as a favourite of Madonna and other stars.

Massive has won rave reviews for its newest venture Aperitivo, an Italian tapas-style restaurant in Beak Street, Soho, London, which was launched in December jointly with Pietro.

At the slightly less glamorous end of the market, Massive bought the Charbar, a restaurant and bar in Port Solent, Portsmouth, where customers barbecue their own food on a grill at their own table. A site has been located for a second Charbar in Chichester, West Sussex.

The company really made a name for itself two years ago when it bought the 10-strong Tup Inns for £3.3m from Hugh Corbett, whose previous ventures included Slug and Lettuce and Harvey Floorbangers.

Stephen and Peter had known Hugh for some time, and he remained with Massive as a consultant on the roll-out of the chain.

Since the deal, it has opened a small Tup in Wandsworth, South London, and a much larger one in Guildford, Surrey - the first Tup outside of London.

Massive has begun updating the look of the pubs, which have a subtle sheep theme throughout their menu and décor with toy lambs on the backbar.

"Tup isn't a theme but it is a brand that is about being clean, attractive and modern," Stephen said.

Massive made it to the finals in the category for medium-sized managed pub operators in the Publican Awards 2001, which recognised its emphasis on staff development and standards.

With a share option scheme, about 25 members of staff own a stake in the business, although just under 50 per cent is still owned by Peter and Stephen. Other directors include finance chief Katrine Young, formerly at bar and restaurant group Conran.

"We encourage every manager to feel that they own the business and understand where the money is spent," Stephen said. "We give them flexibility because we want them to build their businesses."

It has a good record for retaining staff. Ernesto Castro has been head chef of Joe's for 11 years while Massive's head of human resources, Kirsten Roy, was originally an assistant manager at one of its pubs.

All three of its area managers worked their way up - Steve Roy, who looks after the unbranded pubs and restaurants, was a pub manager; Harry Everard ran one of the Tups before taking over the whole chain; and Rachid Noui was originally a kitchen porter and waiter.

"We want to train and promote from within," Peter said. "It's very important that our colleagues are enthusiastic enough to make everything better all the time.

"Earlier this year, Steve Roy was a finalist in the Operations Manager of the Year Awards, organised by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and sponsored by Miller Genuine Draft.

"Our heroes are our managers and our chefs," Peter said. "Those are the guys who are there early in the morning and late at night. They are the ones who work hard and really make a difference. It is like a family."

Its latest results show an annual turnover of £12.5m and profit of £300,000 and it is on course this year to hit turnover of £16m and profits of £1m.

Its steady expansion will be funded out of cash flow and debt, and there are no plans to seek venture capital funding or a stock market flotation. Nearly two-thirds of its estate is on long-term leases, mainly from Unique Pub Company.

Massive plans to continue looking in locations within about 75 minutes' drive of its south-west London headquarters, which would ideally include more sites in London's West End.

"We are not trying to do everything, such as young persons venues," Stephen said. "It's about sticking to your knitting. There's a huge market and the areas in which we operate provide us with plenty of opportunities.

"We don't go into the latest fashionable locations. I think it's a strength that we are not fashionable because then we can't be out of fashion. We want to have pubs and restaurants that have legs.

"We believe there are more important things than just being fashionable, such as the traditional values of good service, a good customer offer and a friendly welcome."

Massive ltdAddress: Central House,124 High Street, Hampton Hill, Middlesex TW12 1NSTel: 020 8977 0633Website: www.massivepub.comNo of pubs: 28 mgdProfit (2000/01): £300,000Turnov

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