The founder of Soho House revealed details of his plans for Manchester at NRB22 and we took notes
It’s the news everyone has been patiently waiting for and yesterday we were treated to some titbits of precious insight courtesy of Soho House founder and CEO, Nick Jones.
Speaking at a Q&A as part of this year’s National Restaurant and Bar Show (NRB), Jones revealed details of the first British Soho House to open outside of the capital as well as insights into his life in hospitality.
We want to spend a lot of time learning and listening, so we can adjust Soho House to fit into the local community up here
Soho House Manchester will be the brand’s first private members club in Britain north of London when it launches. Worldwide, there are currently 27 “houses” across 10 countries with more set to open this year alongside the long-awaited Manchester opening.
What we know so far
Deep breath. Taking over the top three floors of the Old Granada Studios near the Science and Industry Museum and Crystal Maze Experience, Soho House Manchester will have three separate lifts to three separate floors with a trademark rooftop pool coming as standard.
There’ll be a club Cecconi’s - the restaurant bar that features in Soho House locations, public and private, around the world - with a rooftop swimming pool and outside seating space on the floor above. On the other floor will be a workspace by day that doubles up as a club and music venue at night. Separate motel and diner, Mollies, will take up space beneath Soho House, finishing off the complex.
There are no initial plans for Soho Work, the dedicated workspace arm of the private members’ club but Jones teased that “when the laptop thing gets out of control”, then Soho Work may well come into play.
Although bolted on timelines remain unclear, Jones stated that he hopes Soho House Manchester will be ready this year but if not, “certainly the first part of next year.” Jones was also keen to point out that applications are very much open for people looking to work for Soho House Manchester, so much so that he openly shared his email (it’s not difficult to guess and it’s dot com at the end).
They’re on the hunt for everyone by the way, from head chefs and membership team to general managers and, we imagine, pool cleaning professionals.
When quizzed by NRB CEO Thom Hetherington on the makeup of the audience, Jones emphasised that the houses aim for an eighty twenty split when it comes to locals versus international Soho Housers (is that what they’re called?) and Manchester will be no different.
“80% must be local. I say that about all our houses. If you go to our Soho beach house in Miami, you want to go there and it be full of people from Miami. That’s what makes it a nice place to go and stay. It’s like going to an Italian restaurant and it’s full of Italians - so you know it must be good.” Jones said.
Nerves, social opportunities and perceptions up north
Speaking on the launch of Soho House in Manchester. Nick Jones admitted he’s nervous. As nervous as when he opens any house. When questioned by an audience member about cash flow upon opening in New York for the first time, Jones openly shared: “I shat myself.”
“Manchester hasn’t asked us to come up. We’ve decided we’d love to come up and have a go and make Soho House work in Manchester and there’s no reason why it shouldn't work. We’re going to be spending a lot of time listening. We want to employ everyone from Manchester, obviously. And we want to spend a lot of time learning and listening, so we can adjust Soho House to fit into the local community up here.”
Thom Hetherington highlighted Jones’s previous comments suggesting that the Soho House concept wouldn’t work outside of London and the south, before coming to more recent comments where Jones was quoted as saying Britain was more than just London. When asked whether it was the cities themselves or perceptions that have changed, Jones pointed to the latter.
“First of all, I was naïve with what I said in ’95. That clearly wasn’t the fact then. I think Britain as a whole is full of interesting creativity wherever you go. Glasgow, Manchester, Cornwall, Leeds, Birmingham. I clearly got that wrong and now we’re excited to take Soho House into other cities, just like we did in America.” Jones said.
Although each club is shaped by the city it is in, we’re happy to reveal that there are no plans for bees and Hacienda references. Jones has previously said that Soho House was built on “glamour and grit” and both will feed into the build. The 50s origins of the building will also play a part.
Balance, life lessons and warm loaves
If you’re not previously acquainted with Soho House, perhaps some of Nick Jones’s wisdom can set the scene. He's previously said he doesn’t want his brand of private members’ clubs to be cool "because cool goes cold". As does very hot. The way he envisages them is like a warm loaf of bread. He tries to keep them as current as possible but admitted sometimes Soho House has moments when it goes off the boil. Though he hastens to add any issues are addressed and not a single house has had to close apart from temporarily during the pandemic.
The first Soho House arrived in 1995 on Greek Street in Soho, above Jones’s then restaurant Café Boheme - the success story that followed his ill-fated first venture Over The Top. The club was formed as a hideaway for the creatives and actors who frequented the restaurant at the time and the townhouse rooms above the restaurant were accessed by a small door around the corner.
When questioned about previous so-called restaurant failures on his CV, he embraced them.
“Let's define what failure is. Having a go at something and it not working is not failure,” he said.
“That's, 'Well done. You had a go.' Lots of people don't have a go. I really do feel that failure is the wrong word. [After the closure of Over The Top] I could have thought catering is the wrong thing, found another job, done something else, sulked, blamed all sorts of reasons why it didn't work, but I knew why it didn't work: because it was shit. And it didn't take that much time to work out. I thought if I do it slightly different then it might work.”
What about the food?
The first Soho House was followed by Babbington House and the Cowshed spa in 1998, the Electric House in Notting Hill in 2002 and Soho House in New York in 2003. In 2004 the Soho House group took over Mayfair Italian restaurant Cecconi’s and updated the concept for both public sites and integrated restaurants within Soho Houses across the world.
“We go through phases,” Jones said when asked about what Manchester members can expect from Cecconi’s.
“Our menus are now 33% plant-based. As a meatarian [sic], that’s something that I never thought would happen. We have a very big local section on our menus and we have regulars that you can get in any Soho House. And it’s simple. We’re the first to admit our food always need to be elevated. We’re very self-critical about it. It’s really important. Our kitchens open at seven in the morning and close at three in the morning so they’re long opening hours. With club Cecconi’s going into a lot of our clubs now, the consistency is there - whether you’re getting a lobster spaghetti in LA or Berlin, it's the same - and we’re going to be doing a lot more of that.”
Nick Jones on simplicity and success
Since 2004, Soho House has launched members’ clubs worldwide in Europe, Asia and North America as well as Soho Work outposts and Soho Farmhouse. The brand has a social app and you can even buy its furniture, fixtures and fittings online at Soho Home.
Much of what Jones talks about in conversation returns to themes of simplicity and balance. He says that despite the complex nature of his Soho House offering, he looks at things simply. He likes “everything on one piece of paper.”
“I love really simple food, but a chef might think well, I've trained as a chef, so I need to put lots of ingredients, I need to cut everything up. I need to do all sorts of things to it. There is a world out there of overcomplicating. Being dyslexic, you get very confused with complication. So I always try and strip it back and simplify it.”
When it comes to Soho House, however, all roads lead to what Jones has always set out to do and Manchester will be no different.
“I do this because I love people having a good time. To me, walking into a space and people laughing, joking drinking, eating, having a nice time is the reason why I do it. I didn't ever think, one day I'm going to have lots of houses or clubs around the world. I just wanted to do what I enjoyed doing."
“I always felt all the time that if [Soho House] didn't work, I'd be more than happy to go back and just do looking after people in a small bar or a small restaurant. I always want people to be having a good time.
"We love kind, decent people to join Soho House and we don't care where they're from, what background they come from, we don't care if they've got money or no money, we care about them as a person. I think that is a very inclusive way of looking at it. I always talk to our membership people and say, if I walk into a club, and I see too many other white 58-year-olds, I think we're getting it wrong."
Memberships at Soho House start at £750 a year.
Soho House, Old Granada Studios, Quay St, Manchester M3 3GS
Header image courtesy of Soho House
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