As Pied à Terre celebrates its 30th anniversary, there are plenty of highs and lows I could look back upon. Winning a Michelin star just over a year after opening; regaining our second Michelin star with chef Shane Osborn; the fire that closed the restaurant for most of 2014 (at least my badminton game came along nicely that year).
But what about failures? Some say you haven’t succeeded until you have truly failed, that failure makes you stronger, builds character, makes you the person you are today. So let me tell you about my Peppa Pig restaurant empire that wasn’t to be.
“I had a dream” – to bring a Peppa Pig dining experience to the world, and I failed, although the failure wasn’t entirely mine, it was mostly down to Entertainment One, the owners of the Peppa Pig franchise.
Back in 2015, I read Entertainment One’s latest financials – Peppa Pig had just broken the billion dollar barrier and CEO Darren Throop was in London to talk to the City. Coincidentally, I ran into an E1 exec, a pal of mine, dining at Pied à Terre. Throughout the evening my Peppa Pig idea took shape. To put this in context: I have two daughters, then aged six and eight, and both had spent years mesmerised by Peppa et al. I’d also recently met a marketing consultant working for the Rainforest Café, who told me that 14,000 covers a week was the norm; all I could think was: what numbers would a Peppa Pig concept attract?
I truly felt that the gods were with me on this; the serendipity of meeting the E1 exec, a subsequent email up the ladder the following day to Darren and, yes, a positive response from him within 24 hours. I was super excited. Two days later I had a few beers with Darren at the Charlotte Street Hotel and a full pitch was scheduled for a fortnight later. I had the ear of the big boss, this was going to be pig – sorry, big!
I brought in a pal, with whom I’d opened the One Sixty smokehouse restaurants, along with top design company Shed, and we drew up a battle plan. The Three Pillars of Peppa were born: Education, Entertainment and Nutrition. We decided this would be a franchise business with a list of available concepts under one umbrella, including Mr Fox’s Souvenir Shop, Peppa’s Pizza, Pedro’s Tacos, Susy Sheep’s Sushi, Muddy Puddles’ Cocktails, plus many more.
The franchise, whilst of course catering for children’s interests and appetites, was also seriously focused on adults. This was a place mum and dad would be happy to take the kids: great cocktails, fine wine and genuinely tasty food. Oh, and no pork on the menu. How could you think of eating Peppa?
Our designers came up with an incredible 25 metre long, one metre high folding concept document. A hotel banquet suite was booked for the big unfold, beers were ordered and Darren seemed genuinely excited by the possibility that was literally unfolding in front of him. The evening ended with a date fixed to present to Hannah, head of something or other at E1 on Warren Street. We pitched to this poker faced lady and handed over, on her request, the 25 metre presentation… and I never heard from Hannah, Darren or Peppa ever again.
I still feel bitter about Peppa, the one that got away, the million dollar idea that didn’t come off. Did it make me stronger? Well, it certainly made me wiser. What would I do differently next time? Actually very little – I will always be enthusiastic, willing to try new things, eager to met and work with people from different worlds. I see this as a great example of middle management stifling creativity; an amazing presentation and opportunity wasted. But never mind, there will be other ideas.
• Find out about the Pied à Terre 30th anniversary menu at pied-a-terre.co.uk