We recently celebrated Menagerie’s 2nd birthday, which prompted me to reflect on my journey and what a whirlwind the past two years has been. I had previous experience in owning and operating restaurants with my ex husband, but I’d never done it alone.
My first big hurdle when opening Menagerie was getting all the men I worked with to listen to me. It was shock to the system to experience the difference when I stood alone without that male presence supporting my voice. It’s such a male dominated industry from fit out, to operation, to supply that sometimes I felt like I was being spoken over, but I did however receive massive amounts of support from my relationship manager at the bank and my board. It was the first time I’d had investors and I felt so fortunate to have such dynamic, successful people behind me who believed and supported my vision. Their guidance has helped develop and grow me into being the proud business woman I am today.
Our first year of business was turbulent. Hospitality was changing around me and customers expected more than ever before. Things had changed since opening my previous restaurant in 2013; guests wanted more than a bit of fancy dress, a bottomless brunch and a sax player.
I had set out to create an experiential dining concept and it took a lot of time to develop that to where it needed to be. We received a terrible review from the Manchester Evening News in our first year, which I never really addressed; but the untrue comments that were made caused a wave of cancellations, including some big events. It was a really low moment and was scary because when you’re running a business, you have other people’s livelihoods in your hands. But, everything that I’d been through had prepared me for these moments, so I kept my head down and looked for new ways to adapt the business and make it attractive to customers again.
When it came to my personal life, I learned the hard way who was there for me and who was there for the free ride. It cost me time and money; looking back I wish I’d put my foot down sooner, but it taught me an invaluable lesson in learning that true friends won’t push you to do things that will have a negative impact on you or your business.
Throughout 2016, we sat in an empty development and despite being close to Spinningfields, we were slightly off the beaten track so I learned to play on the brand’s strengths and focused on specific reasons to visit the venue – changing our entire approach and marketing strategy rapidly.
We’ve established ourselves as a real female focused venue catering to everything delicious, beautiful and entertaining – bringing it back to my original message of enjoying a Menagerie Moment – it’s all about an experience that only we can offer.
While reflecting on my journey so far, I thought about some of my personal highs, and some lows over the past couple of years.
I’ll start with the highs, because these far outweigh the lows. It might sound crazy but seeing the business start to make money and make a name for ourselves in such a competitive industry was amazing. There are so many big companies out there running multiple brands that I always see it as an achievement that we have made it this far and thrived.
We’ve had a host of famous faces come to the restaurant and sometimes I have to pinch myself when the likes of Dynamo, Perrie Edwards, Louisa Johnson and YXNG Bane have walked through the door. A highlight from this year has got to be seeing Beyonce’s dancers performing in sync on our runway. I cried tears of excitement and happiness, but also devastation as I was out of the country on holiday. I wanted to join in! But this will definitely go down as one of my Menagerie highlights of 2018. It’s also an amazing feeling to have big brands, who I admire so much choose us as their preferred venue to host events.
The most rewarding thing over the past 2 years has been getting to work with people who are like family and help me love my job – it’s a blessing I never take for granted.
Unfortunately, these 2 years have taught me that you can’t have the highs without the lows. At this point, I count myself lucky every day to still be here.
We had a quiet summer in 2017, but when trade picked up in the last quarter of the year I was living by the motto, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and everything took a back seat, including my personal life, while work was my only focus. After a cold turned into a chest infection, and while I refused to slow down, I contracted bacterial meningitis in February this year off the back being run down and not taking care of myself.
My family lost my sister to the infection as a baby, so having me diagnosed 30 years later, I can’t imagine what it put them through. In the run up to being diagnosed I struggled to just function, so coming back after the infection had cleared made me realise how fatigued and weak I had been feeling for a long time. Recovery isn’t quick and with memory loss and difficulty concentrating and coordinating as side effects, I have focussed on getting my health back and my team have stepped up to help me with everything.
I’ve always been such a yes person, which could be seen a positive but in the past 18 months, but now I’ve learnt how to say ‘no’. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I quickly became aware who my true friends were and who were pressuring me to things, to so I had set boundaries to respect myself.
I just want to say thank you to all our lovely customers who have made the last two years ones I’ll never forget. Sharing the Menagerie story with all of you is so special and I can’t wait to make many more years of Menagerie Moments with everyone. I wouldn’t have changed anything over the past couple of years and I can’t wait to see what excitement and challenges are thrown my way in the next 2 years and beyond. Always remember to go after your dreams, because it far more scary not to.