The Caterer interview: Gareth Banner

13 January 2017 by
The Caterer interview: Gareth Banner

The new managing director of soon-to-open London hotel and members' club the Ned has described the job as "once in a career". Rosalind Mullen discovers what he has in store

This project has been in the making for four years, but it was under the radar until we announced it last June.

It's on Poultry, near the Bank of England, in a Grade I-listed building that once housed the headquarters of the Midland Bank. It was designed by architect Edwin 'Ned' Lutyens in the 1920s and it spans 320,000 sq ft. It will have 252 bedrooms, seven public restaurants, a members' club and three floors of health, fitness, beauty and spa facilities. It will be a true destination hotel, which is new for the UK.

The Ned has been described as the love child of Soho House & Co and Sydell Group. Can you explain a bit more about the two parent companies and how it came about?

It came about naturally. One of the Sydell Group co-founders is Ron Burkle, who invested £250m in Soho House & Co in 2012. When Soho House founder Nick Jones saw the building in the same year, he mentioned it to Ron. Both he and Sydell chief executive Andrew Zobler were equally inspired by the architecture and saw the potential.

There is a lot going on in the City - a recent report by Colliers International [The Caterer, 16 December 2016] revealed there are plans for an additional 1,900 rooms there by 2019.

The Ned
The Ned
Soho House and Sydell have complementary skill sets. Since 1995, Soho House has emerged as a leader in the private member space, with 17 clubs worldwide. It is home-grown and has spa and nail brands such as Cowshed and Cheeky, as well as 37 restaurants under brands such as Chicken Shop and Cecconi's. Sydell has seven hotels in America, including NoMad in Manhattan, and it understands lifestyle, quality and giving people a good time. The DNA is good and the Ned is a culmination of the expertise from both parties - a deliberate, focused hybrid. But ultimately it's new territory and on a exciting scale. It is huge. For me, it's an incredible opportunity.

Although it will operate separately from its parents with both public and member areas, isn't it essentially Soho House in the City?

The Ned is not Soho House for people who wear suits - it's for everyone. That is important. Yes, the Ned is in the City, so midweek it will service the corporate market, but it won't be purely corporate. For instance, Bloomberg is a bull's-eye customer for us. Media and production companies have moved into the area and the tech hub is shifting from Shoreditch.

But equally, we are pro the banks and law firms, and we want people to come for a meal, a meeting, stay for a drink, stay the night. There are a multitude of reasons to visit. It won't just be a bed factory. A lot of our competition just couldn't do all of that.

We will create facilities and services that fulfil a need. The City is underserved and we are hoping to address that.

So, that will be the Ned's USP?

Yes. In the City people are time-poor. The fact that you can do everything, from high-intensity exercise to a sports massage, have a facial, get your beard trimmed, book a make-up session, have dinner, stay in a hotel room or hold a meeting is valuable. We really can provide most lifestyle services under one roof. There is a nice balance of functional and social space.

The Ned
The Ned

But how will the split between members and non-members work?

The ground floor is open to the public. Seven restaurants will be housed in the original banking hall, with its 92 verdite marble columns and separated by the original banking counters. The Grill Room is set back from the rest and will be for hotel guests and members.

As well as access to the seven restaurants, some of the grooming offers are open to the public and people can book hotel rooms or one of the six meetings and event rooms.

Ned's Club, upstairs on the rooftop, is just for members. It has 360-degree views, a 10m outdoor pool and the Canopy Restaurant & Bar. In the former safety deposit rooms in the basement there's Ned's Club Downstairs, which comprises the Vault Room lounge bar serving Cecconi's-inspired dishes.

Ned's Club Active will offer members a gym with cardio, strength and training equipment, a boxing gym, House Ride [spinning], and yoga and pilates studios. At Ned's Club Relax, there will be a Cowshed with eight treatment rooms, also open to the public, plus a spa with a Hamam, an indoor 20m lap pool, spa, sauna, juice bar and relaxation lounge.

You have borrowed some of Soho House's grooming brands, too

Neville, a gentleman's parlour, has space and we are doing a deal with a leading hair colourist. There will be a make-up room, a Cheeky parlour and Cowshed mani and pedi, so it's fabulous for brand extension.

Cecconi's at the Ned
Cecconi's at the Ned

And the 252 bedrooms are designed for broad appeal?

Yes, they fall into 13 categories, from simple, inexpensive rooms to elaborate suites with four-poster beds, such as the Chairman's Suite, which used to be the chairman's office.

We will also be offering 15 'crash pads'. These are 19 sq m rooms at a £180 fixed rate for people aged under 30. Soho House has a longstanding relationship with younger people and over the years they have become loyal customers. Young people are where we get our ideas and it keeps us interesting and youthful. The more affordable 'under 30s' membership rate makes good business sense.

How will you shake up the F&B scene?

The traditions have disappeared and we want to bring some of them back, so the Grill Room will have trolley and guéridon service. There won't be a dress code, however, because we want to be accessible. We are a luxury hotel where you can spend £6 or £100 on lunch.

Our guests don't want complicated cooking, but some of our restaurants will push boundaries. For instance, Kaia is an Asian-Pacific concept that will serve poké bowls - a dish with Hawaiian and Japanese influences. And Malibu Kitchen will bring cutting-edge Californian nutritional trends combined with Mediterranean ingredients to the City (see panel). Similarly, no-one in London has nailed the deli, so Sydell has helped to bring a New York deli concept, called Zobler's. It's eat in or takeaway and will be a great fit for the City.

The Ned
The Ned

e'll also have a 24-hour restaurant, Millie's, serving British classics. You can't find a good offer in the City after 11pm and organisations work with markets in different time zones, so some start work at 4am.

Other restaurants include the Parisian-inspired Cafe Sou and an American diner called Dime, and our Italian brand, Cecconi's.

We've not been afraid to change our minds as we go. For example, we conceived Penny Yen, a Japanese grill concept, four years ago, but although we've done a lot of work on it, we now feel it's not right. We're not precious. If it isn't relevant, it doesn't make the cut.

And your biggest challenge is, of course, recruiting 800 employees, including 500 in F&B as well as nail bar technicians and boxing coaches. How is this progressing?

It's no secret that it will be difficult to find 800 fantastic people. The expectations are high - we know that from membership applications - so we need to deliver from day one. But show me an opening that hasn't had bumps.

We hope to do around 1,000 customers at a time and to turn covers up to five times a day, so the Ned is a step change and we need to be set up for success. We can't train everyone. We need people who have experience of openings and can hit the ground running. Our service style will be warm, generous and casual, although in some areas, such as Cecconi's, it will be more detailed.

And you've said you will recruit at least 200 people from Soho House

Internal transfers are being encouraged to bring expertise to the Ned, and eventually there will be two-way traffic. That is certainly something we can offer with Soho House's expansion plans. In London, for instance, Soho House is opening in the former BBC building at White City, while the original Soho House on Greek Street is being refurbished and expanded. Sydell is actively seeking development opportunities in the UK, too. There are exciting plans and we expect people to progress on to bigger roles.

The Ned
The Ned

With the ongoing skills shortages, finding 165 chefs will arguably be the trickiest. What strategies have you got in place?

We have a dedicated chef recruitment office in Europe for Soho House and the Ned. If we rely on recruiting staff on our doorstep, we won't get the hotel open.

We will offer relocation allowances and provide cash and accommodation in the short term while employees get settled. There are incentives for our own team if they refer chefs to us, and the other general managers have supported us in helping us to fill gaps. We're not looking for celebrity chefs - we want respected chefs with good CVs.

Will you cross-train staff for the different restaurants and areas?

Staff are being recruited for specific areas, but it will become clear which are busier at different times of day. We are making sure there are only small differences in the design of uniforms so we can easily move people from one area to another. We can't predict anything.

Your target is to achieve £1m a week in F&B sales. Do you have any concerns about filling eight restaurants?

We hope to serve 1,000 F&B covers at any one time and aim to turn covers five times a day. It is more labour-intensive than the rooms and will be the toughest area to get right.

And you have said you will be marketing the hotel as "a bit like a resort" to the home counties, which have travel links with the City. But will weekends be hard to fill?

We will definitely adopt a tactical weekend pricing strategy to drive bedroom occupancy and visitors to the restaurants and bars.

Will the Ned share membership with Soho House?

Soho House and Sydell are promoting the Ned through newsletters. There is no secret about the association, but a Soho House member is not automatically a member at the Ned.

You have set a target of 2,000 members by the end of the first year. What sort of membership are you looking for?

I sit on the membership committee and I am keen that we have members from a cross- section of industries - entertainment, technology, finance, media and so on. That cross-section will keep the Ned vibrant, rather than just being an after-works drinks club for the financial sector.

I am particularly keen that we have equal numbers of male and female members. Traditionally, the City has been male-dominated and we recognise that this is changing - that is reflected in our beauty offer. The value of membership is that people can get away from work colleagues and meet new people. You don't know what new doors it might open.

The Ned
The Ned

You are well-prepared for this rather daunting role - tell us what else is in place

My remit is to bring the City and the Ned to life seven days a week. I am not daunted. I know how I want the Ned to feel. The Ned is the mother of all openings, but we are well supported with the hiring of the management team. Niels Kristensen is director of F&B from D&D London and Michelle Walder is rooms director, formerly of the London Edition, New York Edition, the Nomad and Ace Hotels. They have lots of experience between them.

The logistics are incredible back of house. We will have a central production kitchen that will support all parts of the F&B offering. Given this is such a unique operation in the UK, we targeted chefs from Las Vegas and Dubai who are familiar with complex multi-dimensional operations.

You have had to retain many of the bank's original features during the redevelopment, but is there any crossover with the style at Soho House?

The quality is solid in both, but I think of the Ned as "faded glamour" rather than the "shabby chic" epithet applied to Soho House.

The interior design has been done in-house by Alice Lund, Rebecca King and Adam Greco, who have recreated the grandeur of a 1930s transatlantic ocean liner. From January, Adam is moving into the hotel for the next stage of layering and styling. We are using the best DNA from Soho House: Cowshed, rain showers, generous mattresses and crystal glasses in the minibars - to add value. Sydell has handled the project management side. This project is sustainable and you can't replicate it.

What does the future hold?

My focus is on the Ned and, if it is as successful as we expect, we could see the sense of opening a Ned in New York - but we don't want to get carried away at this stage.
About the Ned

27 Poultry, London EC2R 8AJ

Occupancy: Targeting 75%-plus in year one

F&B sales: in a stable year, to achieve £1m a week

Members: 2,000 by the end of year one.

Crash pad room rate: £180 for the under-30s.

Room rates: start at £250 and go up to £3,000 a night for the 175 sq m suite.

Number of covers to be served: 1.3 million a year - the equivalent of feeding Iceland three times.

The Ned's restaurants

The Grill Room (for members and hotel guests only) is a US-style steak house situated in its own wood-panelled dining room. The clubby, old-school feel is enhanced by the USDA prime steaks on offer, table-side viewing of the choicest cuts and daily specials, and the guéridon service.

Cecconi's will offer the same Italian staples as its sister restaurants in Mayfair, Berlin, Barcelona, Istanbul, Miami and West Hollywood - carpaccio and tartare, salads, handmade pasta, risotto, and pizza from two wood-fired ovens.

Millie's 24-hour menu is a mixture of British classics, from fish and chips to afternoon teas with jam and clotted cream. Craft ales and English sparkling wines will be served at the broad marble bar.

The Dime is a traditional American diner with a classic all-day menu, including burgers, hot sandwiches, salads, all-day eggs, milkshakes, and apple pie.

Zobler's is a New York-style Jewish deli with a self-service counter offering smoked fish, herrings, Reuben sandwiches and cheesecake to eat in or take away.

Cafe Sou A Parisian-inspired cafe, with a small menu of omelettes cooked to order, baguettes, quiches, salads, steak tartare and a selection of rillettes. Eat in or take away.

Kaia is a modern Asian-Pacific-inspired restaurant specialising in 'bowl' food, including poké - raw fish salad including salmon and tuna, with pickles and sauces - along with seafood and vegetable skewers from the robata grill and desserts.

Malibu Kitchen will offer cutting-edge Californian nutritional trends combined with Mediterranean ingredients. The menu includes salads, juices, smoothies and raw and foraged food.

Gareth Banner's CV

1995 Studied hotel and restaurant management at Oxford Brookes University

1999 - Joined Marriott's management development programme, going on to work at the UK head office and then becoming director of operations at the Cardiff property

2004 - Won The Caterer Acorn Award

2006 - Deputy general manager, Cavendish London hotel

2008 - General manger, the Hempel, Notting Hill, London

2012 - Master Innholder Scholarship to study on the General Managers Program at Cornell University in the US

2013 - General manager, St Pancras Renaissance hotel, London

2016 - Managing director, the Ned

  • A Master Innholder and vice-chair of the St Julian Scholars' Alumni
Gareth Banner
Gareth Banner
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