You wouldn’t normally associate Michelin-starred chefs, famous for French cuisine, with pub fare, but that will soon be the case for Essex-born brothers Jeff and Chris Galvin. If fact, the pair has set an impressive goal of opening a chain of as many as 20 pubs over the next five years.
The Galvin brothers came about their fondness for pubs at an early age. According to younger sibling Jeff, the family would often stop at a pub on the way back from family holidays at the seaside. Jeff and Chris would usually head to the back garden where they would enjoy a Coke and a bag of crisps.
The Galvin Pub Company officially launches January 26th with the opening of HOP. The flagship pub will be located in Spitalfields Market just around the corner from the brothers’ acclaimed La Chapelle restaurant. The brothers chose the location because they felt the concept would appeal to the local market, which has trended younger in recent years. HOP will feature craft beers, Pilsner Urquell imported from the Czech Republic, and a variety of pub dishes and hot dogs topped with Maille French mustard. The Galvins plan to keep the menu affordable with appetizers averaging between £4.50 and £10. The brothers have also spent £2m renovating the 700-year-old Green Man in Chelmsford, which they plan to open this summer.
Both Chris and Jeff realize that they have set an ambitious goal for themselves at a time when many pubs are struggling. Pubs across the UK are facing increasing competition from coffee shops and casual restaurants, such as La Tasca, Côte, and Bill’s, as well as changing public attitudes toward alcohol. According to the British Beer and Pub Association, there were 69,000 pubs in the UK in 1980. This was down to 51,900 by the end of 2014 with an estimated 13 pubs closing on a weekly basis during the latter part of the year. Some experts, including Tim Martin of the J.D. Wetherspoon pub chain, believe this trend will only worsen as the new national living wage threatens the already slim profit margins of many pubs.
The Galvin brothers believe they can buck the trend by combining the traditional pub atmosphere with high-quality food. According to Jeff, the brothers are looking to create a new generation of pubs that takes into consideration that customers are more food-focused. They are confident that there is plenty of room for a pub that offers tasty food centered around quality ingredients and solid culinary technique.
If there is anyone with the culinary credentials to create fantastic pub menus, it would be the Galvin brothers. Chris started out at the age of 15 as a dishwasher at the Old Log in Brentwood. Since that time he has worked in numerous top kitchens, including The Ritz and Wolseley. Jeff followed in his brother’s footsteps. Since his early days as a dishwasher, Jeff has cooked in such renowned restaurants as The Savoy, Chez Nico, and L’Escargot.
Both Chris and Jeff are no strangers to hard times in the restaurant industry. In 2005, the pair left their dream jobs to strike out on their own. They worked with financier Ken Sanker to open Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. They soon expanded their empire to seven restaurants, including The Pompadour located in Edinburgh, Galvin Windows located in the Park Lane Hilton, and Galvin Demoiselle in iconic Harrods department store. Just when they had signed a long-term lease for La Chapelle in the offices of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a recession hit. The economic crisis threatened the very existence of the bank they were looking to for the majority of their customers. They managed to survive the economic downturn only to face intense competition from an unprecedented number of new restaurants. In light of the increasing number of copycats, the brothers decided to tap into the changing demographic of the Spitalfields area by spending £500,000 to convert their Café à Vin restaurant into the test site for their new pub business.
If all goes well with HOP and the Green Man, the brothers hope to add anywhere from two to eight pubs in 2017. Beyond simply adding to their empire, the Galvins hope the expansion will provide opportunities for the staff that has supported them in their various businesses. Despite their success, Chris and Jeff remember the difficulties they experienced early in their careers.
They want the next generation of chefs and restaurateurs to avoid making the same mistakes they made. While the brothers may be sole owners of some of the pubs, others may be joint ventures. They will use their pub business as a way to reward loyal staff and share valuable business experience, so their managers and chefs will be prepared when they decide to strike out on their own. Galvin Pub Company isn’t the brothers’ only new venture. Chris and Jeff are currently in the process of open two restaurants in Dubai later this year.