The Caterer Interview: Ryan Giggs & Gary Neville

12 July 2013 by
The Caterer Interview: Ryan Giggs & Gary Neville

Football legends Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville have teamed up with Stuart Procter, former general manager of London's five-star Stafford hotel, to launch two brands under the umbrella of GG Hospitality. They tell Janet Harmer about their plans to create Hotel Football and Café Football, which aim to reflect the beautiful game's social side

How did the three of you first come together to run GG Hospitality?
Ryan Giggs Gary and I have known each other since we were 13 or 14, when we first started playing football together. Then, four or five years ago when we knew we were coming to the end of our careers, we started talking about different ways of using our experience as footballers of staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. Sometimes we felt we could do a better job. I knew Stuart from staying at the Stafford when I received my OBE in 2007. I was not expecting a Northern lad as general manager in the middle of St James's, and we instantly hit it off. I introduced him to Gary and we told him about our ideas and asked him to come on board.

What were your initial thoughts about creating a new company, Stuart?
Stuart Procter

How does the partnership between the three of you operate and how will it translate into a successful business?
RG We're different personalities. Gary is much more outgoing; he talks a lot more than me. I'm more withdrawn and quieter. But we all get on, we're all hard-working and hungry for GG to be a success. The vision we have and the experience we have had as players with commercial partners, combined with Stuart's industry knowhow, is central to the business.

SP It is important that the industry understands that this is not just about Gary and Ryan attaching their name to something. They have lived and breathed every element of this, including being involved in everything from the logos to the chairs. All three of us are involved in signing off all the details. That's why we are excited as we're all into the detail and it is the details that are the fundamentals of the hospitality business.

Gary Neville We don't pretend to be specialists in hotel management; that is where Stuart comes in. What we want to do is ensure there is growth in the company, make sure the company is business developed, and market the company - that is where we can potentially help. We've created a layer of management and a strong team above the actual hotels and restaurants.

What is the essential focus of GG Hospitality?
SP GG Hospitality is the parent company of Café Football, which is set to open its first outlet on the main parade going out towards 
the Olympic Stadium at Westfield Stratford, London, in November, and Hotel Football, which will launch next to Manchester United's Old Trafford ground next year.

We're also hoping to operate properties on a management or franchise basis on behalf of existing brands and are currently talking to a number of major hotel companies.

The development of Hotel Football and Café Football will be through both freehold and leasehold properties. We could do more new builds, as we're currently doing in Manchester with Hotel Football, as well as take on existing hotels to convert. The intention is to build a hospitality company with longevity.

Football and food are two of the most talked-about topics today - they dominate the TV every time you turn it on. At Hotel Football and Café Football, we want to bring the two things together and create something unique and with personality.

Tell us more about Hotel Football.
Hotel Football will be aimed at the three to four-star level - our research tells us that is where there is a gap in the market. Bedrooms will have a twist and will be of a very good quality, with the prime aim of offering a good night's sleep. The hotel in Manchester will have 139 bedrooms and offer rooms at between £80 and £150 per night, depending on demand. The city is doing exceptionally well and, with the growth of Media City, provides us with a phenomenal opportunity - demand for hotel bedrooms has soared in the past 18 months. And, of course, it helps to be located next to the biggest football club in the world. We've not yet decided on the food and beverage concept, but we will have space for serving cocktails to up to 200 covers on the roof, which will double as a five-a-side football pitch.

And Café Football?
SP It will be inviting, surprising and playful. It is a fun concept, offering quality food for all the family within a casual environment. The menu will have an international focus and offer lots of sharing dishes, such as the treble pie selection featuring steak and ale, cheese and onion and chicken tikka flavours. There will be a nod to football, such as an orange parfait reflecting the half-time orange, frosted turf (pistachio and chocolate mousse) and a dessert inspired by the Jaffa cake, because that is what a lot of footballers tuck into before they play. Average spend will be £16 per head for two courses. The Westfield restaurant will have 120 seats and an additional 40 outside.

Gary and Ryan, how has your experience as guests influenced Hotel Football?
GN The things that annoy me about hotels are having to stand in a queue waiting for your key and credit card details when you check in, a maid walking into your room willy nilly, not knowing where the lights are or how to operate the TV, and waiting for room service for 50 instead of 25 minutes. These are all little and practical things which take away from a good customer experience and, hopefully, we can improve upon.

Also, I have a thing about mini-bars stocked with posh food that no one buys at home. I asked Stuart when he was at the Stafford why hotels didn't put big bars of Galaxy in their mini-bars. If you have someone who is a regular guest, I think you should ask them what would be their choice of sweets, chocolate and drinks and then fill their mini-bar with things they like. That is what Stuart did; it was a simple thing and encouraged me to go back to the Stafford time and time again. Stand-out hotels are the ones that create a more personal experience, understand the individuals and make it exciting and inviting.

RG I really don't like it when you can't get Wi-Fi in a hotel bedroom without having to ring down to reception to get a code, and small pedal bins in the bathroom. Crummy mini-bars which have little to offer for £2 also annoy me. I want to get a nice big bar of Dairy Milk, Irn-Bru or a dandelion and burdock drink for a reasonable price.

By using football in the name of the hotel and café, will you not risk alienating the non-football market?
SPIf you don't like football, you won't be offended. We've tested the concept with the non-football market and we don't expect to alienate anyone. Once the designs are released, you will see they are very stylish and the football references very subtle. The quality of the food, the service delivery and friendliness will all be done correctly and will outweigh the football element.

GN This is not going to be a sports bar or sports hotel where 20 35-year-old blokes will come and sing football songs. The influence of football stems from the social element of the game - the bringing together of people of all ages and communities. We want to replicate the positive side of football that we have seen in our careers and throughout the world and create a family-friendly environment. Football won't be in your face and you certainly won't see a Pelé or Maradona shirt anywhere.

Ryan and Gary, how easy have you found it to work on GG Hospitality alongside your other professional commitments?
RG As players, we train from 9am to 1pm, then I'm free to attend meetings with architects or designers or meet the chef. It's easy to juggle and I've been doing that for the past four or five years. I don't see GG as my full-time role as we have got the right people on board to oversee it full time, but both Gary and I are always available to make the key decisions.

GN I wake up early, go to bed early and try to get as much done in a day as possible, as I like to keep busy. The punditry side of things doesn't involve a great deal of work as there are not that many games on Sunday in a year, although I do quite a bit of work going into the Monday night programme.

Who are the key people you have brought on board?
SP Michael Wignall will be overseeing the food and beverage concept across Hotel Football and Café Football. I've known Michael since I appointed him as head chef, 14 years ago, of the Devonshire Arms in North Yorkshire, where I was general manager. It is brilliant to have someone of Michael's pedigree on board and he will continue in his role as head chef 
of the two-Michelin-starred Latymer restaurant at Pennyhill Park in Surrey. He has amazing eccentricity and likes to create a twist to any dish, which will bring real flair to Café Football.

Other key appointments include Michael Harding as finance director of GG Hospitality and Brendan Fyldes as executive chef of Café Football, both of whom worked with me at the Stafford. Stewart Davies, currently general manager of the Doubletree by Hilton Manchester, is to take up the same role at the Hotel Football Manchester.

Can you provide an insight into the design of the hotel and café?
The three of us interviewed I don't know how many design companies and architects. We got them all to pitch and we sat through every single process.

SP The designs are cool, contemporary and subtle and have been created by Checkland Kindleysides, an agency that specialises in retail design and has worked with brands such as Levi's, Dr Martens and Bentley.

What are your plans for the expansion of 
Hotel Football and Café Football?
RG We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we do think it is something we can expand and take as far afield as Asia, where there is a great deal of interest in football. Both brands could equally be at home in Hong Kong, Glasgow or Madrid.

SP The first ones have got to work before we introduce any more throughout the UK and then internationally. The cafés need to be in locations with a good footfall in key cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham, as well as London. We have an aspiration of numbers, but they are between ourselves.

Gary and Ryan, your high public profile will mean that this project will come under close scrutiny. Are you ready to face your critics?
GN I know from working in the media that we can't turn round and say that criticism is not fair. We're ready to be honestly assessed as we have faith in the people and product around us. We experienced Stuart's hospitality over a couple of years at the Stafford and all we are asking is that the standards he achieved there will be replicated at Hotel Football and Café Football, although it will be at a different level.

Ryan is constantly judged when he plays football, as I am when I'm on television speaking about a game. We're honest people and
if we're not doing well, we will be the first 
to admit it and will try to put it right. We shouldn't be surprised or shocked by anything that might come our way, having played for Manchester United, Wales and England over many years.

The business

GG Hospitality is to operate two brands of its own, Café Football and Hotel Football, as well as manage and franchise brands on behalf of major international hotel companies.

Café Football
The first Café Football - a 120-seat outlet with additional alfresco seating for 40, will open in Westfield Stratford, London, in November 2013. Average spend will be £16 per head for two courses.

Hotel Football
Hotel Football, a three- to four-star brand, will launch with 139 bedrooms, adjacent to Manchester United's Old Trafford ground in 2014. Average room rate will be £80 to £150.

The industry expertise behind GG hospitality

Stuart Procter, managing director
Originally from Blackburn, Lancashire, Stuart Procter began his career as an apprentice at Northcote Manor in Langho, Lancashire. After three years he joined Shire Hotels, where he cut his teeth on various aspects of hotel management before being appointed to his first general manager role at the age of 24 at Devonshire Hotels and Restaurants in North Yorkshire, where he looked after the Devonshire Arms Country House hotel and opened the Devonshire Fell hotel. It was during this period that he won an Acorn Award (2000).

Procter moved to London when he was asked by Thwaites Brewery, the parent company of his former employer Shire Hotels, to take over the helm of the Stafford hotel in 2006. During his five year tenure as general manager, the Stafford achieved five AA red stars and the Catey Group Hotel of the Year award. He left the Stafford in 2011 to work on the launch of GG Hospitality.

Michael Harding, finance director
A hospitality professional for 20 years, Harding has joined GG Hospitality from the Stafford hotel, London, where he was financial controller since 2009. He previously worked as group accountant for the Capital Group, which owns the five-star Capital hotel, the Levin hotel and Le Metro bar and brasserie in London.

Michael Wignall, creative director Wignall has established himself as one of the UK's leading chefs after being awarded two Michelin stars at Pennyhill Park hotel in Bagshot, Surrey, last year. He joined the hotel in 2007 as executive chef, having previously been head chef at the Burlington restaurant at the Devonshire Arms Country House hotel in Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire, where he received one Michelin star. He was also awarded one Michelin star at Michael's Nook in Grasmere, Cumbria, where he was head chef until 2002. He will remain at Pennyhill Park while creating the 
food and beverage concepts of both Café Football and Hotel Football.

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