The Confidentials publisher, Mark ‘Gordo’ Garner, exercises his right to reply
Following the recent Twitter shitstorm unleashed by chef restaurateur Gary Usher, who opened the floodgates for criticism against Manchester Confidential and Gordo himself, the publisher of The Confidentials is keen to lay out the facts and set the record straight.
After taking some time to reflect on the situation, he has gathered evidence which separates fact from fiction (which is all in the public domain.)
This is what Mark Garner has to say about it….
Usher is a very good chef. A great leader and restaurateur. He also is a one man hurricane over Twitter. Using Twitter needs care when used as a medium for promotion. More later.
Facebook: I went to school with you
Instagram: I want to share my designer candlelit yoga sanctuary with you
Twitter: I hate you
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) May 8, 2019
Usher started his first restaurant, Sticky Walnut in Hoole, near Chester, in 2011. He has subsequently opened Burnt Truffle on the Wirral, Hispi in Didsbury (with an egg custard tart I scored a rare 10/10) Wreckfish in Liverpool, Pinion in Prescot and finally Kala in Manchester.
Usher has successfully used his genius for Twitter to grow a large, near cult-like following via his Sticky Walnut account. His likeable persona has engendered trust. Usher has successfully turned this into a reliable source of capital for his businesses.
I first met Usher at Hispi in October 2017. Claire Wright, Usher's straight-talking, savvy accountant was there. I had got in touch for two reasons; it was a week into the crowd funding for Wreckfish and it wasn’t going all that well; I had an idea of how to help the initiative get over the line. Being a regular diner at Hispi and with forty years’ experience of restaurants, I could tell they were missing the final 20% of covers that would turn the place into a healthy earner for his quickly growing group of restaurants.
I believed that I could promote Hispi to my readers of The Confidentials in a cost-effective manner as they were not, generally, the same people who were in Usher’s 'club'. Indeed, our lists, built over 16 years were many times larger, and with a more varied demographic; additionally we had a healthy foodie following in Didsbury, The Heatons and Chorlton. Manchester Confidential had given Hispi a healthy 15/20 score in a review the previous year. (Our own threshold of 13.5/20 for a Confidentials' advertiser had been achieved.)
I offered to underwrite the crowd funding for Wreckfish by forward selling gift vouchers to The Confidentials' most trusted readership, the 'Heroes'.
We agreed to wait a week or two to see how the crowdfunding got on. In the end, it took off and pushed through to raise over £208,000, with 1,522 of Usher’s backers stumping up an average of £137.05 each.
I called Usher after the dust had settled to see if he and Claire wanted to promote Hispi. Over a six week period I called him nine times and sent numerous messages across social. He never responded. Finally, I called Claire, who picked up straight away.
“Hi Claire, Mark here. I’ve called Gary several times to see if he wants to take us on to promote Hispi; I don’t want to be seen as a mitherer, all I want is a yes or no. Fine with a no, delighted with a yes, but a long slow no helps neither business. As usual, you will always be given fair and honest editorial come what may”
Claire: “No, we’re not interested Mark, sorry”.
Fine by me.
A sign of things to come was a sudden nasty outburst on Twitter from Usher towards our food and drink editor. Without tagging anyone in, she was having a good-natured online debate about the rankings in a recently published restaurant guide - a usual southern-run team with little budget to go past the end of the Tube line. They had rated Wreckfish (Deanna mistakenly said Hispi) higher than both Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir. Food people love to debate this sort of thing.
However the shitstorm Usher unleashed on her and our publication was way beyond reason.
(Text from Usher's Twitter outburst)
“& before I go I’ve also not paid a penny to man cons relentless requests for advertising for @hispibistro I’m sure you’d be saying FUCK ALL if I was on your books."
'Wow," I replied simply, “are you feeling better now love?”
Usher responded with a follow up Tweet.
“the last thing I wanted to do is fall out with you and & I absolutely love David Blake"
(I remember feeling a little bit of sick at that attempt to manipulate and divide us.)
Usher had convinced himself that because he refused to pay to feature in a Cheshire restaurant guide Deanna had worked for, five years previously, she was out to get him. It turns out, she had included Sticky Walnut in the guide after all, for free, and subsequently assumed Gary hadn't even made the connection.
(Having had to do the stunningly boring job of going through five years of twitter feeds to ensure my facts in this article are absolutely correct, the number of friendly exchanges between Usher and Deanna over that five year period are numerous.)
To my mind, and being as fair as possible, Usher should accept that neither he, nor his team are better than Heston Blumenthal or Raymond Blanc and recognise a right to free speech in saying that. Not turning on someone giving an opinion without fear nor favour like an enraged rabid attack dog with (at the time) 18,000 followers.
Wreckfish and Sticky Walnut were placed in the Top 100 Restaurants in the North guide, Walnut getting one star and Wreckfish two. Places in the guide are judged on merit, never advertising. Chefs including Simon Rogan and Mark Birchall sent their thanks and best wishes for the future of the guide.
Some months later, The Confidentials was looking at crowd funding our guide to the Top 100 Restaurants in the North.
The VAT was confusing me, the auditor, the accountant and even the HMRC themselves. I called Usher to get his advice. He didn't respond and Claire was, I think, on holiday.
Within 24 hours of the launch, we were still unsure of the VAT issue, so decided to put our own crowdfunding activity on hold. I have previously, during the recession, had several companies fold owing money to HMRC, and I don’t want that to happen again.
By chance, I met Usher's PR a couple of days later, Lottie from Luya PR, Chester. Given that Usher often publicly makes a deal about not advertising, he must be spending a fortune with this lot. But with the amount of national press Usher gets, he is clearly a very savvy feller.
The legends over at @mcrconfidential have supported us for a while now. They’re looking to support the whole of the North with their restaurant guide, it’s a fabulous idea. Why not go and see how you can help? https://t.co/zJSXA8hlad
— WRECKFISH (@WreckfishBistro) February 3, 2019
Recently, one of our newly appointed sales execs walked into Hispi completely oblivious of any previous contact and by chance Usher was there. Apparently Usher was courteous to him and, with his head chef, listened to his pitch. They asked him to go away and work up a proposal for them. I groaned quietly to myself at the Monday sales meeting when the exec proudly showed us all his prospect list for the week, and the three hours of work he had put into the Usher proposal, while trying to earn a living for himself and his family.
Usher ignored his every effort to present and presumably amused himself by wasting this person's time.
In the run up to the opening of Kala, there were numerous Tweets involving gentle leg pulling and general communications between me, my editor David Blake, the official @mcrconfidential Twitter account and Usher, using both the Sticky Walnut and Kala accounts. All good humoured with nothing to indicate any looming troubles or simmering bad feeling. Including a piss-take 'first look' piece to which Usher laughingly replied.
On the Monday following the soft launch week of Kala, I walked in at lunchtime to do the official scored review. I was greeted by the very professional manager, Katy Mills. The meal was great. But the new till system had crashed and they couldn’t take card payment. This meant that I couldn’t use that visit to form a scored review.
Under every single Confidential review you will find our policy;
'All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship.'
You will also find a copy of the receipt as proof of payment. (Here are the receipts from Elite.)
No other local publication does this.
Claire Wright, Elite Bistros Financial controller came over to have a chat. Then Gary appeared from the kitchen, I hadn’t realised he was in.
“Hello mate, what did you think?" asked a slightly frazzled looking Usher.
“The grebiche sauce was masterful,” I replied, “beautifully handled and the asparagus was bang on. Your ‘whole monkfish tail’ was only a half, that’s slightly naughty, but a great piece of fish and brilliantly handled. You need a slightly less aggressive flavour with the barbecue saucing, it’s bullying the fish. The salad was genius. If it was a scored review it would get nine. Can’t fault the crème brulee and love whoever is making those shortbreads that you perch on top.”
After a few more pleasantries, I made my way back up King Street to our offices, only 150 metres away. I followed up with a couple of Tweets that week regarding Usher and Kala.
Lunch @kala_manchester . tragedy. The card machine was broken so got me lunch free. I was going to do a scored review. Thank you Clair and Gary. You lot have to wait until next week to see if the cult gushing on Twitter is justified. Simply 'Monkfish' is enough feller! (fab BTW) pic.twitter.com/CTaXDGGt3K
— Mark Garner (@GordoManchester) May 1, 2019
Gordo's Week: @kala_manchester opens, new Bistro in the old King Street head office of NatWest. Used to have to go there to get a bollocking for the size of my overdraft when I was a kid. Nicer welcome these days! Great Asparagus and sauce Grebiche. Good addition. pic.twitter.com/sZQ5eDSnVj
— Mark Garner (@GordoManchester) May 4, 2019
Gordo's Week: @kala_manchester on King Street; interesting bistro food, some great classic cooking for this level; the creme brûlée is faultless. Nice to see Escoffier and Elizabeth David techniques being used. Pastry team on fire, front of house and manager warm and funny. pic.twitter.com/EYMMziYCGL
— Mark Garner (@GordoManchester) May 4, 2019
There was another Tweet, actually unconnected to Kala, and not naming it, but clearly assumed by him to be so.
This new menu blows the new kid on the block away. Complimentary champagne as well. Love a bribe, me, I do. ❤️❤️❤️😘 https://t.co/zfVZWO3S42
— Mark Garner (@GordoManchester) May 3, 2019
On the Tuesday I flew out to Napoli as the guest of G&O foods and Tre Ciccio, to visit some of their quality suppliers. On the Friday I decided to take the train to Rome and spend four days on my own for a break. It’s important to get my head straight once in a while; it’s good for my mental health to just sit, think, write, and, of course, eat in different places.
Suddenly, on Twitter, a ton of sewage spewed out, slowly at first, but ending up so bad I just got a plane home on the Sunday morning. For the first time in sixteen years of The Confidentials, I doubted myself and sat quietly contemplating the whole thing and took stock.
I didn’t reply to Usher on Twitter; instead, I used the time to go back through five years of his Twitter feeds to see what the hell had happened. This piece is the result; it’s completely factual and honest. With The Confidentials' team’s help my mind has cleared. In a way, this has done me a great favour.
But what did happen?
I tweeted to a fellow judge about The Top 100 Restaurants in the North. Two members of the judging panel had helped crowdfund Kala, and their names have appeared on the vanity wall. This arguably creates a conflict of interest and possibly opens us up to accusations of favouritism. I stated that this meant that they would have to be excluded from voting on whether or not Kala would be included in the next guide. It would not affect Kala’s chances of entering the future Top 100 North guide. I should not have discussed the judging process on Twitter though; that was a mistake.
Well, I've got to bar two Top 100 judges from voting on Elite Bistros this time round; I'll chat with you next week, I'll send you a couple of dates for that lunch.
— Mark Garner (@GordoManchester) May 2, 2019
I asked my team to audit all pieces of coverage regarding Usher’s six restaurant empire. Please note, we have never taken a penny off this man, and yet we have paid in full for all food and drink (see receipts here.)
Number of favourable editorial articles - 22
Number of non favourable editorial articles - 0
Number of favourable/positive social media posts - 211
Number unfavourable (as deemed by Usher) - 3
Let's revisit the May Day Bank Holiday tweets from Usher.
Build a restaurant guide then go round independent restaurants intimidating them to pay me to be promoted by me. If they won’t pay me I’ll just tell everyone I know they’re shit!
If they do pay me I’ll tell everyone their menu is ace.
Just need a name ...
— STICKY (@StickyWalnut) May 3, 2019
This Tweet didn’t name me. Usher was testing the water.
I’m really surprised with the underhanded comments about Kala from people that run independent businesses.
Is what we’re doing in Manchester bad?
Or are we just not spending our money with the correct people?
— STICKY (@StickyWalnut) May 3, 2019
Again, about me but not named.
We’ve even had negativity about all the positivity.
Of course the crowdfunding gang are going to like it they’ve helped bloody build it.
What sort of top cunt would be cynical about that for fucks sake.
— STICKY (@StickyWalnut) May 3, 2019
Again, about me. If you look at the time stamp, all of these Tweets were sent within a half hour. Usher was clearly having a moment.
At this point, after rousing his followers, he then decided to Tweet about 'The owner of @McrConfidential'. Me. I haven't risen to the bait on Twitter, despite others using it as an excuse to spout falsehoods about me and my company which are at best baseless lies and at worst, libellous.
The truth about how we work can be found here.
So let me address the accusations and answer point by point. (Ha, if you are still reading at this point, thank you.)
This has been on my mind.
To be honest for years. I’m too old now not to call it out.
I got asked in an interview for an article last week do I have any regrets...
I said yes not telling more people to fuck off.
If you’re an independent business stand up for yourself. Big love X pic.twitter.com/06KDBgCbVn
— STICKY (@StickyWalnut) May 6, 2019
“Why am I up at 4am not being able to fucking sleep? I’ve been working non stop every day the last three months. I don’t take days off. I’ve just opened Kala & I’m on the pass lunch & dinner every day. But I can’t sleep. I don’t have insomnia. I’m good at sleeping. I’m up because there’s something stressing me out."
Insomnia can be the result of the burden of owning an independent business by which dozens of employees rely on you for their livelihoods (I can sympathise with this.) It is also the weight of the responsibility you have to your backers.
Usher: "The business is being bullied by two other business owners. They are trying to spread bad vibes & create negativity about what we do."
Untrue. See above where it states we have published no less than TWENTY TWO articles featuring various Elite Bistro venues along with the 211 positive social media posts. Just to clarify, this is unbiased editorial content published with no regard for any commercial relationship or otherwise.
You are welcome Gary.
Usher: "Why? Some kind of personal vendetta me the owner? No. Because we won’t give them money. One is a supplier that we used for a short while."
Personal vendetta? No.
The supplier? That turned out to be Lee Frost the butcher. (He can answer for himself.)
Usher: "One is the owner of a restaurant guide."
Usher: "I’ve been absolutely racking my brains to try & understand the logic of saying bad things about another local independent business that are just trying to create great careers & give great experiences to guests."
This is clearly a one-sided manipulation of the facts.
Again, Confidential has published TWENTY TWO articles about Elite Bistros on both Manchester and Liverpool websites.
No money has changed hands (as it never does in return for editorial content). In fact, Gary Usher has never even bought me a pint.Tight git.
Usher (laying it on a bit thick now to be fair): "The answer is so terribly sad. It’s just because they want money."
No restaurant has paid to be featured in the Top 100 Restaurant guide. Entries are judged on merit alone during one or more mystery visit that has been fully paid for by The Confidentials.
Usher: "If we gave them both money they would sing our praises through their social media platforms & no doubt in reality too."
Untrue. Let me refer you, once again, to the favourable content we have published across the websites and on social media in regard to Elite Bistros over the past five years or so, with zero commercial relationship.
Usher: "I’m so nervous about saying anything because they are local people & the fear of my own business suffering."
Oh for the love of God. Usher is no more nervous on Twitter than a coked up pit bull.
Usher: "That in itself though is why they can continue to act the way they do."
Think about it. By taking this tack, Usher effectively protects his restaurants from even the mildest criticism. Few would now dare risk unleashing the full force of Usher's Twitter army by merely suggesting that they didn't enjoy their meal.
Usher: "They know this. They use this. They exploit this. They exploit the small independent. They’re trying to exploit me. They choose (sic) the wrong independent this time…”
Actually starting to admire Usher's bit of tactical PR genius. However, we fiercely retain the right to review and write without fear nor favour.
For those who would like to know more about the way we work, here is a link to Confidentials Mission Statement and FAQ's.
At this point, I’d just like to thank all those who have been in touch with words of support since Usher's latest (and unexpected) Twitter tantrum.
Some have been an unexpected and pleasant surprise and it is received with gratitude.
I’d also like to thank all of our clients for their continued support (we have not lost a single one as a result of this episode).
I’d like to thank my team at The Confidentials who have shown support for the positive work we do for the Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds' hospitality industries (and all the other content we cover). I'd also like to thank all those who have supported me personally by taking the time to sift through all the content we have published on various platforms in regard to Elite Bistros, despite accusations to the contrary.
It's important to remember that The Confidentials is a team and not just one person.
In regard to my online alter ego, 'Gordo Manchester', an exaggerated persona, I have promised my team I will be more mindful of what I say in future with regard to the Confidential brand. I have promised to try and be a bit more PC.
I repeat this, however, most, if not all, of Usher's tweets and the subsequent online accusations towards me and my publication, from various bandwagon jumpers, are at best unfounded and at worst, libellous.
Click here to read our Mission Statement which explains how we work and thank you for taking the time to read this response.