VIVA’s No.1 Business Success Story Of 2013 Tim Bacon
Living Venutres has literally taken over Manchester this year and VIVA finally get to chat to the busy man behind it all, Tim Bacon. but it's not all serious business talk, we have a few devilish laughs with the Tasmania man too...
Living Ventures has literally taken over Manchester, when did the Tim Bacon empire all start?
It started In Tasmania but the empire I suppose - I hate that word empire - that started in 1987 when I moved to England. Lived in London for a couple of years, bartending, then I moved to Manchester in '91. I bought my first place in Manchester in Deansgate, JW Johnson's. I sold that in '96, along with a couple of things we built up. We did another business and sold it in '98, did another business and sold that in '99. I joined up with Jeremy in '96 and we've been together ever since. It's like a marriage of sorts, (laughs) he's a good guy. It's interesting you don't really have this design to do anything really, it's just one day after another and one business after another and it's amazing just accumulates over a period of time and suddenly you wake up one morning and think Christ almighty, how the hell did that happen? My father still says to me I have no comprehension how you've done that. I said if it's any consolation dad, neither have I!
Why would you ever leave Australia, it's such an amazing place?
I might go back, yeah. I'm still allowed to live there if I want to. It's one of those things. I didn't design to do it, it just sort of happened over time. In Australia you're a long way away from anywhere so everyone tends to get on a plane and go away for a year or two, just I just never went back. And it wasn't designed that way, it sort of happened. You get into business, get married, have a family and then pretty soon you get entrenched in the community you're in.
We like your business success story because you did basically start from the bottom and work your way up to where you are now and that's what we've done at VIVA too!
This industry is great for that opportunity I guess, it wasn't my first industry I used to do other things before I came into this industry at the age of 25/26 and doors open up and so you walk through them don't you? You make these choices and you learn things along the way. It is fantastic from that point of view and I don't think it gets the credit for that as an industry. I think it gives you a great perspective on life.
So why did you decide to kick everything off in Manchester?
Well I was a consultant first of all and I found most of my consulting jobs were up north for some reason, I don't know why. So I moved up here in '91 and then I had the opportunity to buy my first place in Manchester in '93. That was JW Johnson's and I like Manchester as well. There's something about Manchester that's very similar to Tasmania. We've got 33 places, 17 that are in the Greater Manchester area. We have a few up in Scotland, Newcastle, got four in Leeds, 3 in Liverpool, a couple in Chester, got Birmingham and also one in London.
Why is Manchester similar to Tasmania?
Well with the countryside mainly, it rains a lot up here so it's all very green, I like that a lot. I grew up in a mountain in Tasmania so it rained quite a lot there as well and I just like the space and the ability to really get into the city nice and easily. I can live out in country but I can be inside the city centre inside 40 minutes and so you get the best of both worlds. In London I lived there for four years, an hour and a half and you're still in the city so you know whilst I loved that for four years it wasn't really who I am.
We hear you've got Donkeys?
Donkeys, alpacas, chickens and sheep! It's only a few acres but we like animals. 3 dogs, a cat, two kids and a wife. (laughs) it's all there, yeah.
Out of all the restaurants and bars you have ever opened up, what has been your all time favourite?
It's a bit like asking who's your favourite child for god's sake. (laughs) I love them all for different reasons! You know all of them have their own special memories. Australasia is very special to me because of the connection with my upbringing in Australia so bringing that sort of culture and cuisine to Manchester was great. I still love it today, I still eat there a lot myself. The food is amazing in there, it's one of our favourite places to eat. I love it, I just love everything about it there and I love the feel of the place. I can't wait to do one of those in London. I see Australasia as my sort of retirement thing, I don't ever see myself selling that. I see having one in all of my favourite cities across the world, I'll have one in Sydney, I'll have one in New York, I'll have one in wherever. As we sit here now that's what I'd like to do. You know it's hard to say which is my favourite... I love my new project Manchester House. It's fantastic as well as a completely different attempt at a different style of dining; going for that top end is quite interesting.
So, your newest ventures are Artisan and Manchester House, what was your main goal for both of them? Do you think you've achieved it?
Well with Manchester House, it's still too early to tell. Artisan has been open now for four months. It's beginning to show good signs now, I like it. I mean when you are confronted with 12,000 square foot site on the first floor, it's not an obvious thing to do. But I think we've been given a great space to work with. I really like the environment, I like the atmosphere that we're creating in there. I'm going to tweak the bar round a little bit because it doesn't quite create the heart at the moment, in the centre of the restaurant. It's just a minor tweak but the numbers are coming through. We have more weekly table bookings in Artisan than we have in any restaurant in the group.
And are you getting the right crowd in there that you want?
Yeah, its nice. It's 12,000 square feet you can't be too choosy. I was talking to my brother about it and he said I thought it was going to be a nightclub and I said you've got no idea (laughs) it's a 288 table restaurant and when you're opening a restaurant of that size, you need to make sure that you find an audience for it because you can easily fail with a restaurant of that size. But it's seeing good numbers now. I'm very happy with it. We are actually putting a cinema onto the first floor as well which hopefully will be sorted out in the early part of next year. And we are also putting on the ground floor a little cinema bar, which will act as the theatre bar to upstairs. Artisan is ever still growing, it's still a project.
So what are your plans looking into the future for Living Ventures? Are you guys going to be doing anything abroad anytime soon?
Not any time soon. I'd like to, in the next few years, have a little look at that just for the fun of it really, more than anything else. On the serious side of things, we've got a number of brands that we're looking to develop, commercially. The Alchemist particularly, the Botanist and the New World trading company - that's the pub side of the business - and also Gusto, they're the three brands we are looking to develop.
Did you know that you have completely converted the VIVA girls into ale drinkers. we went down to The Oast House ale tasting evening this summer and tried all the different ales, we love the strawberry one which is a bit of a girly ale!
I'm delighted to hear that because I'm new to it myself. It's surprisingly nice and I like the strawberry ale too if it's any consolation. (laughs) It's interesting you say that because when I came over to the UK, obviously in Australia you don't drink ale, it's all lager apart from my dad's home brew.
You have schooners don't you?
Schooners and middy's! I went to a friend's pub up in the lake district and, as always, the friend is always trying to get me to drink a pint of British ale and I tell him look I've told you plenty of times I don't like the stuff, its horrible! But he says seriously Tim, you'll like this one so I had a taste of it and you know what? I'm converted, I loved it. And it's suddenly opened up a whole vicinity of pubs for me from that moment in time. Without that I wouldn't have opened up a pub. Cos there's no way you can do a pub without doing ale and I don't like putting products on that I don't like.
So have you given your mate who made you taste the British Ale some shares in your pub business?
Absolutely not! (Laughing) but I don't tend to charge them when they come in so. It's an interesting story, it's true that.
Ha-ha we like that! So back to Manchester House, the food is pretty special here. What's your favourite dish on the menu?
You know what Aiden is a phenomenal chef. I love the duck dish with the cherry and the foie gras, are you allowed to like foie gras in this day and age? I don't know.
It's quite an old school thing isn't it?
I tell you what I love it. You know it's interesting though I went to a foie gras farm in France, as you do and this little old man was sitting on the stool, funnel in one hand grain in the other and all the geese were queued up, not in pens and not being made to, one after another, it was the funniest thing, he would stick the funnel in and then the goose would wander off then the next one would come. No distress, no inhumanity, I just do not understand why people get so animated about it. These geese were loving it. (laughing)
What, they were literally in a line queuing up?
They were queuing up by themselves, not being forced to do it. There were hundreds of them and a little old French guy sat there with a funnel. And that is a true story and a soon as I saw that I said I'm not going to be ashamed of liking foie gras with some authority, I know the truth. (laughing) So anyway I like the duck and I like Turbot which is fantastic with the homemade soured cabbage, not everyone's dish though but I think it's fantastic. I love the prawn cocktail that he does which is off the great British menu. He does this artichoke-potato truffle, which is to die for. Go down there, do the tasting menu forget 3 & ½ hours of your life, plus sit down there and do the wine taster or the drink taster.
So what would be your ideal night out in Manchester from start to finish?
Do you know what I'm in the very fortunate position that I can wander through town and just go to very friendly places, where people look after me. I don't know why they look after me so well but they do but I think I would definitely come up here to Manchester House for an Alexander to start my evening, as the sun was setting. I'm quite partial to an Alexander, it's a new cocktail for me, made with gin, it's the original one, so I'd probably come up here first! No, do you know what I probably wouldn't actually, I'd probably end my night up here. I'd go first to the Oast House, hopefully it would be a sunny day and I'd sit outside with an ale. Then pop in to the Alchemist for a cocktail, go to Australasia for dinner, then like I said before end my night at Manchester House!
So basically just bar hopping around your own bars? (laughing) Why not?
There are some lovely places in Manchester, Would I go anywhere else? I can't be bothered going anywhere else! (laughing) One of the things that I'm going to do at some stage is go into nursing homes because by the time I get to that age I do want to maintain that principle so I've got somewhere to go where I'm going to get looked after. Yeah, I'll live in the penthouse suite. (laughing) It's a fine idea I mean if you can why wouldn't you?
That's a brilliant idea we will definitely be booking our places in your old persons' home! Okay so how did we get from your ideal night out to talking about old people's homes?
I have no idea! (laughing)
Last question, give VIVA your top tip to becoming a successful entreprenuer? Just enjoy the journey and that is the single most important thing.If you're not enjoying what you're doing then change what you're doing, you've got to keep enjoying it. That would be my single most important tip. People talk about focus, they talk about 101 other things but at the end of the day it's got to be your reason for doing it and you've got to enjoy the process, I think.
words: Emma Wilkinson | photos: Karin Allbinsson
A menu of Pacific Rim flavours underpinned by European cooking tradition, an exotic blend of Indonesian and Southeast Asian influences. Australia's strong ties with Japan also help determine taste and style.