#0003 - Grant Ansell of Perron

Civitas Team

31 ideas from Grant Ansell of Perron on starting, fitting out and managing restaurants 

Grant Ansell is one of the co-founders of Perron, a Mexican restaurant, that has developed a reputation as the best Mexican food on the highveld. Perron opened its doors in May 2014 and became one of Johannesburg’s hottest restaurants with patrons having to book weeks in advance to get a table. Since then Grant and his co-founders have opened a second location in the Hobart Shopping Centre in Bryanston and a rooftop bar, called A Streetbar Named Desire. One of the Civitas team members sat down with Grant to discuss starting, fitting out and managing restaurants. 

Summary of the best ideas from the discussion

  • Look for US and UK trends to bring back to SA
  • Target a high LSM location with lots of foot and vehicle traffic
  • Streamline booking with an automated and online system 
  • Start with many menu items and work down to 20 with testing and iteration 
  • Don’t manage by measuring cash flow, use accrual accounting 
  • All entrepreneurs should learn basic accounting 

On Financial Management

  1. “I think that our accounting backgrounds and even just having done sort of accounting back at school and under degrees at varsity... it’s a massive help to understanding any kind of business.”
  2. “One of the biggest issues that I frequently see in the restaurant industry.. if they [restaurant owners] don’t have a strong understanding and grasp of the numbers, that they often tend to try and manage their restaurants based on a cash flow basis and that’s a very dangerous thing.”
  3. “What Christa and I brought was a lot more structure, a lot more process, a lot more appreciation for what the numbers mean.”
  4. “Even though you might have a whole lot of cash at the end of the month, you’ve still got to realize that you’ve got to pay PAYE, seven days later.  You’ve got - cash that is due for that month’s VAT, you’ve got various accruals which you need to settle and so I think that’s been a big eye-opener I think, for other non-sort of financially-minded partners.”
  5. “It can be a very dangerous game to not you know what kind of liabilities you need to settle versus just spending the cash that you have on hand in your bank account at that time.”

On Spotting Opportunities

  1. “We knew that South Africa often follows trends, particularly from the US and from the UK”
  2. “What is working well in the UK, you might start seeing happening in South Africa a couple of years later... craft beer, craft gins, rum all those kinds of things.”
  3. “So you can generally see the trends that are happening... South Africa will eventually follow suit.” 

On Finding the Right Location 

  1. “We knew that it was quite a high LSM location and that certainly, if you look at the prices of our menu at Perron, that’s definitely where we operate and we knew that there was a lot of foot traffic with a lot of hipsters living around in that Illovo area and so we were quite confident in the location as well.”
  2. “I haven’t seen the official numbers but I mean you know people out there who know that location, you know how many cars there are passing that corner on a daily basis in the morning and in the afternoon.”  
  3. [Bruce Beattie (a friend's) approach to looking for good locations] "He would basically drive around and if he saw a lot of cranes, he was like, “Right, I’m going to find a space there.”

On Marketing 

  1. “We didn’t do any - apart from getting your reviewers and your bloggers who were contacting us, so it kind of really took care of itself.”  
  2. “Once the hype all dies down, then you know we slowly evolved into getting digital media guys involved to help keep the brand out there, to keep people aware of it and that kind of thing.”

On the Restaurant Lifecycle 

  1. “With a restaurant typically you know if it’s a successful restaurant from day one.” 
  2. “Typically you’ve maybe got about 18 months to two years of it being ridiculously popular and then it slowly starts tailing off.”

On Dealing with Customers

  1. “We had to develop really thick skins dealing with customers.”  
  2. “The saying is that the customer is always right but honestly there are many instances where they are completely wrong… you definitely don’t want to point that out… but every now and again you have to.” 

On Operations 

  1. [On setting up online booking] “It has helped to streamline things and to make things easier... it certainly helped massively in terms of just having more structure and more order and keeping the admin side of things a lot cleaner.”
  2. “I think it comes really down to an operational level to have really good recipes, really good portion control and then to train everyone and give them ongoing training and then to kind of let them fly.”

On Opening Restaurants 

  1. “When we opened our first shop we had a designer involved but they didn’t give us much input. We basically came up with the entire design.”
  2. “We worked with a builder and we said do this to this wall, do that to that wall. Paint that wall that colour and that kind of a thing.”
  3. “We found a really good strong designer whose gone from strength to strength now and is now designing, opening restaurants in - or designing restaurants in the US and in Paris and so he’s gone from absolute strength to strength.  So we used him and it became a completely different process and maybe a longer process, maybe a little bit more frustrating from our side because suddenly before we could get everything done quite quickly, it became all about okay, “Well I’ve got your idea, give us a  week to draw, to do drawings then we will do digital renders, then we’ll send them back to you, then we’ll revise then, then we’ll approve them, then they’ll go out for contract to get someone to make them” and it just became a lot longer process.  I mean I think we probably came up with a lot more of a polished finish that’s for sure but I still think that’s there something to be said for having your own input and you know creating your real kind of you own look and feel, kind of thing.”
  4. “We used the same designer but we had such a strong idea of exactly what we wanted, the colours, what we wanted to go where, that they basically came in and treated all my - almost as a roll out so they came up with very quick drawings for us of right, working drawings, this is what we need to do.  So it was a bit more of a streamlined process and for me I guess I probably enjoyed that process the most.”
  5. [On menu design] “You find 150 concepts or 200 concepts, then you start trying and you refine and you refine and you refine. See what works, see what doesn’t work.” 
  6. “Eventually out of 200-plus initial ideas, you’ve got a menu of twenty items and a cocktail list of fifteen items, which eventually have evolved into what works for you and also what works in a South African environment.”

On Operations 

  1. “Where all the process comes in, people are very happy to say okay well a spoonful is this, but is it a – what size is the spoon? Is it a heaped spoon? Is it a flat spoon?  So we actually had go a step further and start finding actual measuring containers or cups or whatever that give you absolute consistency, for this portion, you use this cup and it’s a level topped cup or spoon.”
  2. “When you’re rolling out multiple branches, what really became easy the second time was once we had got all the chefs in and the cooks and grillers and that, they would actually then go and spend a month in the lead up while we’re fitting out the shop”
  3. [On keeping the menu fresh] “We always want to just keep it fresh for the regulars, so we would typically change just a handful of items, once or twice a year.”
  4. “We’ve got a chocolate pudding that’s taking just too long for the guys to prepare because it needs to be prepared from fresh and people aren’t really willing to wait for it… so although it’s an amazing dish, we might need to pull it."
  5. “At Perron we have A3 throw away menus, and we’ll typically print a batch of 5000, so it’s quite an easy thing to change it quite quickly.”

On Managing Staff

  1. “Getting back to the labour side of things, I mean you know, the labour situation in South Africa, it’s a minefield, it’s difficult to keep on top of all the rules and regulations.  We use an external consulting firm so we pay them a retainer every month and they help us with all those kinds of things, you have to follow all those processes.”

Full interview transcript

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