Setting the Bar

This week Char­lie Gilkes, co-founder of Incep­tion Group, that owns 11 con­cep­tu­al venues the best-known of which include Mr Fog­g’s, Cahoots, Bun­ga Bun­ga, Maggie’s and Bart’s, talks about his jour­ney man­ag­ing a com­pa­ny lit­er­al­ly stopped in its tracks by the pan­dem­ic. 

As told to Miran­da Wilkin­son

I think like most peo­ple, we were in com­plete shock ini­tial­ly. Nev­er in our worst night­mares did we envis­age a time we’d have had to shut all of our venues for almost a year and overnight our rev­enue would go to zero. It all hap­pened so quick­ly, and it felt like a very sur­re­al night­mare at first.

We had to make lots of incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult deci­sions to cut costs quick­ly, by far the worst of which was hav­ing to say good­bye to some long­stand­ing col­leagues through no fault of their own.  We were grate­ful for the fur­lough scheme which enabled us to pro­tect as many jobs as pos­si­ble and we engage with land­lords and cred­i­tors, many of whom have been very sup­port­ive to help us nav­i­gate this incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult past year. 

Cahoots Lon­don

We have tried to adapt as much as pos­si­ble. 

When we first reopened after the ini­tial lock­down, we embraced PPE and social dis­tanc­ing in a unique way using Vic­to­ri­an man­nequins at Mr Fog­g’s and bee­keep­er suits at the House of Botan­i­cals. Our cus­tomers enjoyed the fact that whilst tak­ing Covid safe­ty seri­ous­ly with enhanced clean­ing, enforced social dis­tanc­ing and track and trace poli­cies, we also lent into things with some quirki­er details in ways that fit­ted well with our brand nar­ra­tive.  Whilst closed, we’ve also brought as much as our con­tent online as pos­si­ble from vir­tu­al explor­er talks to cock­tail mas­ter­class­es. 

Mr Fog­g’s House of Botan­i­cals

Lat­er last year, we decid­ed to start send­ing our best Cahoots and Mr Fog­g’s cock­tails in pouch­es that fit through let­ter­box­es in the post. We’ve also devel­oped real­ly fun inter­ac­tive cock­tail kits with all the ingre­di­ents. The drinks come with QR codes to scan which show fun, immer­sive instruc­tion videos.  These have been real­ly well received and we hope that these items will con­tin­ue well past Lock­down. 

I have learnt so much through­out this cri­sis. The most impor­tant les­son is the dif­fer­ence between prof­it and cash­flow! It has been a big real­i­sa­tion that despite plan­ning as well as you can, things can unfor­tu­nate­ly hap­pen that are out of your con­trol. It’s also, I think brought the hos­pi­tal­i­ty indus­try clos­er and we have all tried to help one anoth­er, shar­ing infor­ma­tion and ideas and I think it has shown what a pow­er­ful force and voice we can be unit­ed in the future. 

The busi­ness is cur­rent­ly in hiber­na­tion wait­ing for 12th April when some out­door spaces will reopen, and on 17th May they expect things to ful­ly start get­ting back to nor­mal.

To buy the cock­tail pouch­es, please vis­it: