Since starting in the hospitality industry in 1989, at what’s now the Marriott Hotel in Hale Barns, Danny Fox’s career has taken him all the way to… another place in, err, Hale Barns. As the crow flies, that’s less than half a mile.
But the vertical trajectory of his career path has been a vastly different story; from trainee bartender at Mulligan’s Bar in what was then the Four Season’s Hotel – via key roles with some of the biggest restaurant brands in Britain – to his current project, Managing Director of his own Fox Restaurant Group. The first of many restaurants he intends to roll out as a highly personalised brand was launched in The Square (Hale Barns’ recently regenerated village centre) last September. And the name of the restaurant? Fox, of course.
Danny Fox is on his way and – with vast experience gleaned along the way from industry legends like the late Tim Bacon and Jeremy Roberts, with whom he was a founding partner of hugely successful Living Ventures – he knows precisely where he’s going. The irony is that, at the beginning, it was all a bit of an accident.
“I first came across Tim Bacon when he was opening Mulligan’s Bar,” says Danny. “I was training to be a PE teacher at university in Leeds and was interviewed as a bartender. I went for a summer job and basically never escaped! I carried on going back and working there while I was doing my degree which, in the end, I never put to any use.
“It turned out that I became pretty good at training people for bar work, so when Tim opened other bars, I would take a week off university to train the staff. That’s how it all began.”
At Christmas in Danny’s final year at university, John Green (an associate of Tim Bacon) had gone off to open a bar in Hong Kong:
“He asked me and three best mates to go to Hong Kong so I finished my degree and we flew out there,” remembers Danny.
Amid the party-town atmosphere of Hong Kong, prior to its transfer from British rule to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, Green’s bar was a raucous success. It was called China Jump.
The bar’s local notoriety hit international headlines in 1996 when pictures of England footballer Paul Gascoigne, lying back in a dentist chair while vodka and tequila was poured down his throat, surfaced just ahead of the European Championships.
Danny’s two-year stint at China Jump had finished at the end of 1993, long before the Gazza incident, but he does confess to helping to carry the dentist chair “half way across Hong Kong” before it was installed in the bar.
“I came back full of dreams and ideas about starting up a new business, and went to see Tim for some advice on a design,” says Danny, “but instead, two hours later, I found myself running a Manchester bar Tim had just bought called JW Johnson’s.”
It was the beginning of a remarkable success story. Danny became operations manager of Life Restaurants, set up by Tim Bacon and Jeremy Roberts, then operations director of Living Ventures, which grew 34 restaurants across three brands.
Living Room, opened in Manchester’s Deansgate in 1999, became a phenomenal success: “It was the right concept at the right time,” says Danny.
Crucially, many of the original clientele from JW Johnson’s, which included members of Manchester United’s ‘Class of 92’ (David Beckham, the Neville brothers, Ryan Giggs) at the beginning of their careers, gravitated to the Living Room.
“By 1999, they were international stars, but they still came in as regulars. They were a tremendous magnet,” recalls Danny.
PART OF THE DEAL
When Living Ventures sold the Living Room (which, by 2007, had grown to 15 sites nationwide), “part of the deal” was that Danny went with them as managing director. It was a role he remained in until 2010, when he switched to operations director for the Individual Restaurant Company and was responsible for overseeing 21 branches of Piccolino and 11 variants of Restaurant Bar & Grill at sites all over the country.
Danny’s gourmet restaurant Fox – 4,000 square foot and 120 covers, a £1 million venture designed by London’s Alexander Waterworth Interiors but inspired by Danny’s career so far – is a dramatic statement of intent. It features an energetic open kitchen centring around two essential pieces of “kit” for all to see – a feature wood-burning pizza oven and an open-fire grill.
WHAT WE’RE ABOUT
A firm and long-time believer in “giving people what they want”, Danny is not about to complicate that simple approach. There are fewer than 70 items on a menu dominated by grills and sour dough pizza. “Even Pizza Express has more,” he says, “and some places have more than 200 choices, but that’s not what we’re about. I love the simplicity of the provenance of food; all my dishes put the quality of protein first, cooked over fire. In my view, you can’t beat it.
“I put the first site here because I like the community, and the size was ideal for introducing a new concept. We may be in suburbia but there’s a lot of inspiration from London and New York. Unlike Knutsford, Alderley Edge and Hale, which have streets full of restaurants, Hale Barns just has us. So we have to be the destination, and I want us to be the hub of the community, that ‘third place’.”
There will soon be others. Danny will begin looking for the next site in the summer and aims to have identified it early next year. Watch this space.