We sat down with Martin Williams to talk about his transition from acting in the hospitality sector, his love for the City and the key to his success.
Q. Tell us about the transition from acting into the hospitality sector.
A. I was brought up in the North East of England and at the age of eighteen came to London to go to Drama College, after which I worked as an actor for a number of years, during which time I subsidised my income working in various roles in restaurants. At the age of 24 I decided to bite the bullet and become a restaurateur. There are many skills I learned as an actor, which are relevant to the theatre of dining today.
Q. What challenges did you encounter along the way and how were they overcome?
A. The biggest challenges were between 2014 and 2019, when I was a ‘start up entrepreneur’ having left a nine year stint with Gaucho to create and set up M in Threadneedle Street. How I overcame Brexit and the impact of industrial action, along with the normal challenges of entrepreneurship and limited cashflow, was to work eighteen hour days as standard and stubbornly force the business to success and the City Hotspot, it is today.
Q. In 2018 Gaucho was facing administration and now the business is thriving. How did you achieve this?
A. Gaucho was brought out of administration in 2018 by new shareholders SC Lowy and Investec, who went on to appoint me and a new management team. It was a pleasure to return to the business with such supportive backers and re-imagine and invigorate the Gaucho brand.
Our secret is that we invested in a new standard of quality and a modern approach to hospitality, our people, the décor and offering in the restaurants, so that it is much more accessible and appealing to a broad range of demographics and not stuck in the naughties, like our competitors today.
Q. What is the key to your success?
A. An amazing, engaged team. We have 1500 passionate, talented people working at Gaucho and M, I am proud of them, and we strive to give our people many reasons to be proud to work in our company.
Q. The regular train strikes in London are a struggle for all. What impact does this have on your business?
A. It kills the financial district on every occasion. As an entrepreneur with one restaurant, it cost me £20K a day. With only £300K headroom/ working capital, you can understand how many businesses are sadly collapsing in this environment.
Q. You host several sports lunches. What’s the vision behind this?
A. Our core demographic at M love both the world’s best steak and inspirational sporting legends. Put the two together and we create some very memorable lunches!
Q. What’s your favourite dish on the menu at M and Gaucho restaurants?
A. The Wagyu Tartare; served with textures of apple, smoked in applewood, topped with fois gras. An epic dish that many have tried and failed to imitate. Our ‘Blackmore Wagyu’ is exclusive to M, Heston Blumenthal and The Ledbury; It is simply the best beef in town.
Q. What do you love about having a restaurant situated in the heart of the City?
A. The City is an amazing community, which is resilient, innovative, and unapologetically ambitious. To be part of the heartbeat of such a unique microcosm is a privilege. Our diners are the most discerning in town, so you have to raise your game!
Q. Outside of being a restaurateur, what do you enjoy doing?
A. Cycling, Running with my dog, travelling with my wife, supporting Sunderland FC (not in order of preference!)
Q. What is in the pipeline for the rest of 2023?
A. We are refurbishing M in Threadneedle St, including a new Bar, full of B&O AV, perfect for watching the Ryder Cup and Rugby World Cup and have just opened Gaucho Covent Garden and Cardiff. With 23 venues, that’s enough to focus on for 2023!