But it is Drake’s pioneering spirit rather than his financial acumen that forms the inspiration behind bar and restaurant company Drake & Morgan (the other half of the name comes from Welsh pirate Captain Henry Morgan, whose name was also pinched by the rum brand).
Jillian MacLean, who founded the company in 2008 and now heads it, explains that she chose to name the business after the two adventurers because “part of our DNA is innovation”. She adds: “We always look at new places for ideas, and our team go all over the world researching design, products and food offerings. We love discovery of new things.”
That is certainly reflected in the company’s five outlets across London. The Refinery — its first site, which opened at Bankside in 2008 — channels
New York industrial chic while subsequent openings are inspired by various restaurants MacLean visited across America while on a fact-finding mission.
We meet in The Folly in Gracechurch Street, Drake & Morgan’s fourth opening, and MacLean tells me that the corner in which we sit is in fact inspired by the Imperial War Museum.
Prior to launching the company, MacLean worked for West End bar and restaurant operator Novus Leisure, and before that she was at Spirit Group and Mitchells & Butlers.
“There was a bit of a gap in the market,” explains the bubbly Scot. “Gastropubs were great but they were overpriced. Some of the High Street brands hadn’t evolved their offers.”
Despite starting out just as the financial crisis began to bite, her experience in the industry and her enthusiasm meant she had no trouble finding a group of 20 initial investors.
After that, she began extensive customer and market research before putting together a proposal. But despite her diligence, the banks
“Getting a lending arrangement in place was quite a challenge,” she admits. Eventually, the Queen’s bankers, Coutts, recognised the idea’s potential and signed up Drake &
Morgan as its first commercial leisure investment. With Coutts on board, MacLean set about realising her vision.
One of the most noticeable things aside from the décor of Drake & Morgan sites are their size — sprawling space offers distinct areas for restaurants, bars and even delis.
That allows the outlets to cater for the full spectrum of local needs, and the venues host everything from mothers’ clubs to cheese and beer matching classes and butchery master classes.
Importantly, each Drake & Morgan opening is also unique — MacLean discovered through her customer research that punters were turning away from brands, and looking instead for a more personal experience at venues with a difference.
“We’re effectively an umbrella brand,” she explains. “You get the same drinks and foods offering at every site, but the look and feel is quite different. We seem to have hit a mark with people.”
They certainly have. The company has won fistfuls of awards and when I visit The Folly at 2pm on a Friday, the place is packed.
“It’s about being casual and accessible, and not being too snooty,” MacLean says of her success. “We’re fresh, independent neighbourhood bars and restaurants, and we’re good value for money. We have offered something a little bit different, and we listen to what our customers say.”
The future looks bright for the group. Financial director Raoul Federman predicts the business will double in size within the next 18 to 24 months. Two sites currently in development were inspired by recent trips to Asia.
MacLean has just heard that Drake & Morgan has hit a million in pre-booked business in the run-up to Christmas.
“That’s quite a big milestone,” she beams. “We’re really lucky because we work in a business where we’re taking care of people and we want them to have a good time. We don’t get it right all the time but we try.”
So far, they’ve been getting it right more often than not. Drake & Morgan
Turnover: £17 million
Business idol: “Sir Richard Branson. Not everything worked but most have. He’s a fantastic ambassador for his business”