From his first beer at 19 to his ‘G&T’ moment in Hong Kong… Jonathan Downey is a hospitality legend who went from building a bar whilst being a lawyer – to opening the famous Street Feast in and around London. Match Bar, Sosho, Milk and Honey, Street Feasts, 2 million visitors a year, Dinerama, Giant Robot, Hawker House…hold on tight…it’s quite the adventure!
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:02:20 Meeting Jonathan, setting the scene in the heart of Shoreditch
00:03:14 How did Jonathan get into hospitality? The love of the Manchester club scene
- 00:03:45 “The first time I ever ate in a restaurant; I was 19 years old.”
00:05:42 Jonathans career before hospitality – working in law
00:05:38 Opening up Match in 1997 – a Manchester style bar
- 00:07:22 “I wanted to democratise those quality drinks and bring them to the high street”
00:07:37 The reputation of the drink scene in London
- 00:10:05 “I suppose that whole time of being a little bit disappointed of what was going on in London – in the back of my mind without realising it, I thought… There’s an opportunity here”
00:10:20 Being in Hong Kong, the ‘G&T’ moment
- 00:10:33 “The first time I drank beer and enjoyed a glass of beer, I was 19”
- 00:11:58 “This gin and tonic came in a cut glass, loads of big clear ice cubes in there, a big wedge of lime, good slug of gin and tonic on the side – and I just thought wow, that’s what a gin and tonic can be like.”
00:12:44 Britain catching up on the food and drink scene – why was the drink scene so bad back then?
- 00:13:35 “Our food culture now, especially in the big cities, is so interesting and exciting. Because of immigration – 15 years ago you couldn’t get a decent coffee in London.”
00:16:16 Match – running a bar as well as being a lawyer
- 00:19:00 Business helping out other business – how the cocktail scene growing in Shoreditch was important to Match’s success
00:21:54 The importance of good people – particularly staff
00:24:43 Continuing the journey, opening up a second Match bar
- 00:25:38 “In my mind, my strategy was to try and create the next generation of bar brand that was cooler, more music lead, focused on atmosphere.”
00:27:19 Resigning from being a lawyer – the ‘ouch’ moment
00:28:00 A trip to New York and a cocktail safari – giving Jonathan a new outlook on how his next venture would look
- 00:32:00 “He more than anybody has changed cocktail culture in the UK and worldwide”
00:32:10 How has Jonathan managed to keep Milk & Honey so relevant and respected for so long
- 00:33:05 “His obsession with making the best and the freshest and right temperature drink was borderline a bit bonkers – but actually really brilliant.”
00:34:22 Jonathans ability to ‘feel’ how a space could become a bar
- 00:35:20 “We’ve never designed anything in a studio. Everything has been designed on site.”
00:36:42 Starting up Street Feast – what triggered this?
- 00:38:14 Hosting big events – “We used to do Milk and Honey £3 for a pint of mojito”
- 00:42:10 “They call it a nomadic street food circus. They’d pop up, get the decks out, get the food on, open the bar and off they’d go until they got moved on by the council”
00:44:33 Painting the picture of Street Feast – street food night markets
- 00:51:15 “We made back our investment in our buy in 10 days”
00:51:33 How many Street Feast are there?
00:53:28 Finding low rents and working with budgets
00:55:40 Has it got harder to start up these spaces? Why?
- 00:57:10 “The main reason is we’ve become more picky – but when we find the right site, it’ll become a really good one for us.”
00:57:19 Are we over regulated in the UK, in terms of night time economy?
- 00:58:44 “The core hours in the borough now are till 11 o’clock Sunday to Thursday, then midnight Friday to Saturday –you’ve gotta have the right money and the right lawyers to get beyond that. So you’ve got no young independence coming in and doing something cool and knocking the established businesses off their perches.”
01:03:14 Can we fix it?
01:04:59 Jonathan runs the bars and brings the food in – helping other businesses grow with the ‘incubation period’
01:07:49 How do you join the Street Feast ‘party’?
- 01:08:36 “It’s not just about the food. It’s also about your brand, and your design – and attention and interest in space.”
- 01:09:38 “Meeting the person who owns the business – or is the chef, and they’re cooking it for you right there, and they hand it over.”
01:10:30 Where does Jonathan come up with his concepts – why does he split his spaces out?
01:12:40 Jonathans thoughts on innovation – what’s the secret to success?
- 01:15:05 “You’ve got more mature, young chefs – but much more grown up than their predecessors who are doing things that people like, and that they can feel proud of. And I think you’ve got to get that balance right – and at the moment in the bar scene, I don’t think that balance is right.”
01:16:45 Good & bad advice Jonathans heard over the years
01:21:09 Jonathans legal background & how it helped him out in hospitality
01:26:30 Where to find out more information about Jonathan & Street Feast
01:27:10 What’s next for JD, and Marks final words