So what’s happening, Matt?Is it true you’re opening a club here?
I’m over here to try to finalise a couple of projects we’re working on. Two are in Dubai, one is in Abu Dhabi.
Your company, Ignite, runs bars, clubs and restaurants. What will you open here?
They’ll be hybrids, but I can’t reveal the specifics yet.
How close are you to signing a deal and coming out here?
It’s my third time out here this year – we’ve been cautious because you need the right property and the right partner. However, we should be announcing something in the next few months. Final negotiations are taking place and contracts are on the table.
Will your Dubai outlets be membership-only?
Some will be and some won’t.
You’re a high-end brand. Dubai must be a perfect fit.
Yes, in London we have 12 sites and they’re all high-end venues. However, existing venues are hard to come by, whereas here you start off here with a blank canvas. You can take the lessons you’ve learned from home and there’s nothing to hold you back, which is pretty exciting.
What do you make of the competition here?
A lot of hotels have obviously sprung up in recent years and some of them are truly world class, but the food and beverage side of things hasn’t always followed at the same level, which surprises me. That said, I think some of the more recent additions have raised the game. I’ve checked out places like Zuma, Nobu and Buddha Bar. We’re also specialists so we know the business and can help develop this growth. That said, we need the assistance of people here – I wouldn’t dare to open up without using local knowledge. All products have to adapt to the markets they are in.
Do you agree that service is one of the big problems here?
I agree that staff training is the absolute key to success. I won’t open unless my team is trained properly. I’d rather delay opening to get that absolutely right. I’ve seen people open too early because of revenue requirements. But the point is, it takes years to make a reputation and seconds to lose it.
You’ve got a successful brand. How have you managed this?
Basically, we work hard. People think running a bar sounds like fun, but it takes a lot of effort to get it right. We deliberately hit the high-end market providing excellent levels of service in an unpretentious environment. If you get this combination right, you build longevity. As a result, we just had our sixth anniversary at Boujis and our Chelsea cocktail bar, Eclipse, has been open a decade. Our customers understand what Ignite is all about and they visit all our outlets because they know what standards to expect.
How have you managed to get away without advertising?
Word of mouth, I guess. There are always stories in the press about who visited, but they are never instigated by us. Our staff are contractually forbidden from talking to the press. As a result, A-listers like the fact they won’t get any hassle.
The British royal princes, Harry and William, are regulars at Boujis. How did you manage that?
They were frequenting way before it was published in the papers. Basically, they don’t get hassled, and you can’t pay for that.
How did you get into this game?
I was actually a banker and then I bought my local bar in Chelsea. I saw a gap in the market, as Britain seemed to be all about pubs, pies and mushy peas. I wanted to create a more European vibe – so we became an innovator of cocktail bars in the UK.
Did you go to the Atlantis party?
I didn’t get an invite! But no, getting on a plane to go to a party isn’t really my thing. Loads of people I know were there, but I prefer to keep a low profile. Food and drink is my passion, but my city training means I’m at my desk every morning for 9am.
To find out more about Matt Hermer’s Dubai ventures, keep an eye on www.timeoutdubai.com