From banker to barman: the man behind Boujis

CHUCKLING at Prince Harry falling out of a nightclub just wouldn’t be the same if the club wasn’t a club like Boujis. Its reputation for exclusivity and A-list guests make it the ideal setting for high-class drama.

Matt Hermer, the owner and entrepreneur behind the bar, however, is not as starry eyed about the place. Boujis is just a small segment of Hermer’s Ignite Group of clubs, bars and restaurants. The group owns the Eclipse bars, Bumpkin restaurants and the Cocoon club among other things. His latest venture, the Wyld club inside the brand new W Hotel on Leicester Square, opens tonight.

Most would imagine this sort of nightclub entrepreneur to be an extrovert – a Peter Stringfellow character – but instead he has a more laidback, everyday charm. Probably because once upon a time he was a Square Mile regular, working for Hambros, Kleinwort Benson and ABN AMRO in the City, and came to the bar business quite by accident.

“I was drinking in what was my local – a cocktail bar called Barfly on Walton Street – with my friend, Paul Deeming, and we found out that the bar was for sale, so we agreed to buy it. To be honest, I don’t really remember the conversation, but the next morning I got a phone call from the owner to discuss the sale, so I went along and it became a serious thing.”

“I was on gardening leave from my previous job, and since I was looking for something else anyway, I thought I’d give running the bar a go. I had another job lined up, but my boss offered me a year’s grace, so if I screwed up I could come crawling back – that was really kind of him.”

“I took the leap because I was just so bored of my job. I hated the fact I sat on the same Tube everyday, saw the same people and ate breakfast at my desk everyday.”

“We must have got the worst deal possible from the previous owners, we just didn’t know what was good value. But it pushed me into the industry, and for that I’m grateful.”

For a year, Matt worked across the whole business: as a barman, a doorman, a waiter, the accountant and the manager. “It helped me understand every area of the business, but it also made me realise why you hire professionals for these jobs.”

The bar was re-branded the Eclipse bar and became profitable very quickly. Deeming became a founder and director and they begun expanding rapidly. Hermer says their backgrounds certainly made this easier: “We found it really helpful to already know a bit about how banks and financing worked.”

Their business know-how can be seen from their willingness to shut down bars that were not making enough money: “We opened a number of Eclipse bars, then closed a few, and now with a little more knowledge we’re looking to open a few more.”

But on his most famous customers, he’s giving nothing away. When pressed on the Princes and their antics, Hermer brushes off the question: “I imagine they like Boujis for the reasons that everyone likes Boujis – a home from home with great cocktails and fantastic music.” He must know that the mystery makes the club more appealing.

CV | MATT HERMER
Company turnover: Over £15m
Number of staff: Over 250
Job title: CEO and co-founder
Age: 39
Born: Cardiff, Wales
Lives: Chelsea, London
Studied: History and Politics, Reading University
Drinking: Vodka gimlet
Reading: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Idol: Henry Kissinger
Talents: Delegation
Favourite business book: What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School
Motto: “Work like you don't need money, love like you've never been hurt, and dance like no one's watching.”
First ambition: “To be happy. Done!”