Colin McGurran
Business Link Interview

A trained chef himself, Colin McGurran is the new owner of undoubtedly the most famous restaurant in our region, Winteringham Fields. Based in North Lincolnshire, the establishment has been proclaimed as one of the best dining experiences in the UK, gaining one of the highest marks in the Good Food Guide and winning two Michelin stars - the only restaurant in the North to have achieved such feats.

Business Link caught up with Colin to ask him about the challenges faced when taking over a hugely popular business, and how you don't need to be in the big cities to prove successful.

 


What is your business background?
After working most of my time abroad in France, Africa and the UAE, I returned to the UK to purchase my first restaurant at the age of 24. I then bought a 34-bedroom hotel which was rundown and showing a poor profit, which I also sold after three years. On selling this business I was able to purchase a business I had always aspired to developing.

How did you come to take over
Winteringham Fields?

It took me a year of umming and ahhing and trying to put myself off buying the business, because I was thinking with my heart and not my head. My wife was against the idea, thinking the location was wrong for us to succeed, but I managed to persuade her. When all my chess pieces were in the right place, I decided to go ahead and make my move.

It still seems to be the case that many associate quality dining with London. How do you feel the quality and quantity of restaurants in our region compares?
Those restaurants in our region that are good are way above the standard of those in London. Country businesses have to fight to maintain a good client base - one bad stay and the word spreads - whereas in London the high velocity of clients available, from tourists to business clients, means that a restaurant with a good reputation can afford to go a little downhill.

The standard of lower end restaurants is so shockingly bad in this country that we still have a long way to go to reach the standard set by our European neighbours. In France, you can go to a back street café and have freshly prepared produce at such a high standard.

How has Winteringham Fields managed to become so successful based in a rather isolated area?
Although Winteringham Fields breaks the rules of 'location, location, location', there is a large population of people who enjoy spending money on a fine dining experience. If you get your business right, people will travel. 60% of our customer base is local, the rest are global. Although it seems we are inaccessible we are only six miles from major motorways. With the level of dedication shown by our staff we are never left "out of the loop" - we regularly compete with London restaurants.

 

You've described your previous restaurants as "a real challenge" - what sort of problems did you encounter?
My second business was rundown and the internal problems from staff to maintenance were a struggle to take on. It was also in major financial difficulty. My target was a three year plan - first year to reduce losses, second year to correct them, third year to sell at a profit. To do this you need to know every aspect of your business - from where your fuse box is to how well you are utilising your staff.

Although the challenge was at times unbearable, it is from that business that I learnt my best lessons. I am now of the belief that to be a successful businessman, you must at some point hit rock bottom, and from there keep getting up in the morning and finding the passion to continue.

Taking over Winteringham Fields must be a new challenge, as it is at the height of it's popularity. How can you ensure existing customers remain loyal while making your own mark?
There is no insurance for loyalty, no guarantees - you have to take on a new business knowing you have to earn it. To do this you have to over-deliver and exceed your customer's expectations by increasing already high standards.

Talent plays a huge part in the sector. How can you ensure good people like Robert Thompson (head chef) remain satisfied and stay with you?
The restaurant's success ensures that high quality staff always want to work here. Head Chefs of Robert's calibre are extremely rare. I can do two things - I can give him support and encouragement and the freedom to run the kitchen as he sees fit to enable him to build his own reputation... or I can nail him to the floor!

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