CLEO is a ballsy little fiery-haired southern lover of Manchester, and a bubbly one at that. The owner, founder and all round grafter of an NQ institution, the eccentrically laid back Odd concept which began eight years ago. Since then she has opened Odder on Oxford Road, Oddest in Chorlton and most recently, a Parisian themed eatery back in the NQ. And it doesn’t look like she’s stopping anytime soon…
Hello, who are you?
I’m Cleo Farman, owner of the Odd, Odder and Oddest and the Blue Pig.
How long have you been at it?
Well we’re just about to celebrate our eighth birthday at Odd, Odder is six, Oddest is four and Blue Pig is about to be one. It’s like having kids, I love it.
How did you get to where you are now?
I actually used to be Richard Branson’s PA, which was brilliant. I was his PA for about three years and then I managed Necker Island for him. That’s his private island in the Caribbean that eventually burnt down, but I was there before that. So I managed that from this country and did all the sales and marketing for it. We had an office in New York so I opened that office for him; I’d fly press trips out there on a private jet from London to New York and take them on helicopters and for dinner in Nobu. I was only 25 then. It was unreal, absolutely bonkers.
After that I went around the world for two years because I didn’t want to become too corporate. So off I went with £200 in my pocket. I did a bit of the obvious thing and went off to Australia for a year and got a marketing job. I ended up marketing timber and putting shows on all around Australia, which was a bit mad but I got paid a fortune for that. So I got some money together and then just bummed around Asia for about a year, which was incredible. But to be honest I’m surprised I’m still here after that.
And after your travels?
Well I came back with nothing, absolutely nothing. I thought what the bloody hell am I going to do now? I had a fiver. So I was living at my dad’s house and ended up selling gas and electricity door-to-door. That was a bloody nightmare, soul destroying. So I moved back up to Manchester because I’d studied here (Philosophy and Psychology) and I missed it. I got an executive assistant position with John Caudwell, the Phones4u billionaire. And I won’t say what I thought of him because I don’t want you to print it. Put it this way, I lasted a year but we didn’t really get on - we didn’t fit.
Was he a bit of a git?
Your words not mine.
So after working for that git?
Well then I ended up in a series of getting made redundant, I took a £12,000 pay drop to go to a TV company in a new business development role - which then they went bloody bust. Then I ended up with a crap temp position as a secretary. I had nothing to show for it all, no money really. I just thought that I had to do something, I was 33 and this was going to be it for the rest of my life unless I did something.
What did you do?
Well I ended up getting on MMU Business School Scholarship for new entrepreneurs. I’d had this idea; I liked to make jewellery so I wanted to do a licensed jewellery studio. So you’d come in, have a glass of champagne, choose your jewellery and watch your jewellery getting made in a workshop in the back. But I’m afraid that health and safety wouldn’t have it, booze and blowtorches don’t mix - It was never going to happen, but I was a bit naïve back then.
So then I’d started to get these ideas about bars. I’d had this idea for Odd bar, and then maybe an Odder and Oddest. I just snowballed it from there. I did this big questionnaire to prove to the banks that it could work because I didn’t have any money; I had to get a loan from the Small Firms Loans Scheme.
How did you get it?
I showed them a 9000 per cent residential growth in the area and I just went around bars like Cord, Dry and Bluu with my questionnaire. Asking about why they came to these bars and about expendable incomes. I put together all these stats and analysis and took it to the banks and went bosh… but most of them turned it down. Apart from HSBC, right at the end, said yeah alright then.
The thing is, banks won’t really lend you the money unless you have a house or something to give back to them should it all go wrong. And I didn’t have one, or anything really. I had to show them why they should give me money, so the thing I put together was like a bloody dissertation. It was massive, the best thing I’ve ever done.
How did you come up with the Odd concept?
I just saw how the Northern Quarter was back then, really creative, studios, photographers, artists, craft centres, jewellers and just all these different creatives. I wanted somewhere cool for them to go drink, somewhere I’d like to go, somewhere that’d let anyone in as long as they didn’t have really muddy boots. Plus I’d done a lot of travelling and had collected a lot of stuff. I just wanted somewhere to put it all.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I love my staff, they’re really cool and we get on well. Mainly though, I just love coming up with new concepts and keeping an eye out for changes in tastes and trends, seeing what we can all do to keep things fresh and lively. I love the creative part of the job, particularly the interior design. I tend to get very involved in that process, for the Blue Pig I went to do the research in Paris myself.
It’s very much about seeing the businesses grow and succeed, setting up new ones and the challenges that go with it. It’s just so rewarding to have an idea and then form it into a tangible concept and see it take off. It’s great to see this with the Blue Pig that has been fantastic yet so different from Odd. I’m really looking forward to doing the new site…
The new site? Right we’ll get to that…
I can’t really tell you anything anyway.
And your least favourite part of the job?
When things don’t go to plan – but then I quite like sorting it out, it keeps me on my toes. I suppose it’s when things go wrong and you have to bring staff in for a talk. I really don’t like the disciplinary stuff but it’s one of those things that has to be done. Yeah, any problems with staff… I hate that.
What’s been the craziest moment of your career?
Getting the money to start Odd. I just couldn’t fucking believe it, I was nearly sick, I burst into tears. I woke up one day and said I want to open a bar and if I’m really lucky I’ll open three – called Odd, Odder and Oddest. But that seemed to be a pipedream. It took so much work, five months to put that bloody proposal together. So when I got it I was beside myself.
Then I had to find premises. I went everywhere around Northern Quarter getting turned down, but it wasn’t as developed at that point – it was a bit meth central. Anyway I went up to where Odd is now and just banged on the window. It was all boarded up and there was a builder, Dougie in there, I asked him what was going on with the place and he said I should speak to them upstairs. Dougie ended up building Odd for me, his picture is at the back of the bar actually.
How was the opening?
When it was done, for the launch we just opened the doors, because I didn’t really know what else to do. I was stood at the back covered in crap because I’d been painting all day and just burst into tears. I was so emotional. I had all these friends there but then I saw real people coming in and buying drinks from my bar. There was this sudden realisation of oh my God we’re serving drinks. It still makes me feel funny now.
Ever wanted to pack it all in?
Yeah, but I think I’ve only had that thought once and it only lasted for about an hour. I couldn’t do anything else, I love it too much.
Would you be in a position to pack it all in if you wanted to?
Yeah, but what would I do? I’d be bored; I’d just go around meddling. I’d rather die than see these places in someone else’s hands.
So what do you do with your time off?
Well I’ve got little Frankie pants now, my little boy. He’s three and a half and he’s lovely. But before him I’d have just gone out all the time, I mean I still do a bit but not nearly as much. You see, I do find it quite difficult to switch off, so the good thing about having a little’un is that he is something so completely separate from a work. He’s something else to focus on and it just puts a great perspective on everything.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
Oh God I really don’t know. I’m so glad that I am because I just got to that stage where I started to panic about what I was going to do. I didn’t have a clue, but I found this and I’m so lucky that I have.
What’s your proudest achievement?
All of it. Opening four places when I started without a penny to my name.
Who inspires you?
It sounds really corny but Richard Branson; I think he’s given me such a spur. He was just amazing. I used to work in his house and he’d bumble around with ideas. If someone got an idea he’d just be like right, go check it out, research it and go with it.
Was he intense to work for?
He was just very focussed. I think he’s brilliant, very inspirational. When you’re around him you get the impression that if you put enough work in then anything is possible.
Have you been in contact since?
(laughs) Yeah actually I asked him once if he’d lend me money for Odd and I just got a letter back from them saying it’d have to be an all singing all dancing Virgin thing. I didn’t want that.
Onto your plans for the future, what’s this about a new thing?
I can’t tell you anything because I haven’t got any permission to do it and I’d have to kill you.
Is it another bar?
Yeah, it’s a bar – it’s going to be ace.
I can’t say
Is it permanent?
Yeah course it is, I don’t really like pop-ups. Don’t get me wrong the guys that do it are very good at it, but I’d rather just do it. Pop-ups are good for some people, people that want to make a quick buck.
C’mon, tell us more about the new thing.
Well it’s going to be very different to the Odds and the Blue Pig. But that’s all…
Is it a club bar?
Might be (laughs) well no it’s not but it may have elements – I’m a believer in the jinx – If I tell you then I’ll jinx it.
Is it possibly another Odd outside of Manchester?
No I’m not doing any more of them; I always said it’d just be three of those. People ask why don’t you do an Odd Leeds or London and I say no because then it’s not a little group. I think it does well because it’s just a little independent and there are only three of them. It may not be particularly good business sense but I know that is what I want to do. I’d rather start some more Pigs, or something else.
A Red Pig, Green Pig, Pink Pig? Is it going to be a Pig?
Might be (laughs). Oh no I’m rubbish at this.
No leaving Manchester then?
Before Frankie I would have said yes. I’ve wanted to do something in Brighton for ages, but when you’ve got a little’un it's a bit difficult. In the future I’d like to do something abroad, like Barcelona.
Follow David Blake on twitter here.