INTERVIEW: Le Bistrot Pierre – the French connection

While there are new restaurants popping up nearly every week in cities and towns across the UK, the old favourites are still bringing in the crowds. Such as Le Bistrot Pierre – founded in Nottingham 21 years ago – and with the loyal following many of the new chains yearn for


So, just what is the success of Le Bistrot Pierre, the independent restaurant group founded in Nottingham more than two decades ago?The restaurant down in Milton Street is always a-buzz with diners enjoying authentic French cuisine at affordable prices. It’s lively and there’s a great ambience – and it’s beautifully decorated inside with an authentic French edge. But there’s more to Bistrot Pierre than Nottingham. While it was created here, the group has expanded throughout the East Midlands and all over the UK – there are now 13 restaurants from Ilkley to Cardiff, Sheffield to Torquay, with ambitious expansion plans in place.The secret of their success, says owner Rob Beacham, is down to Bistrot Pierre’s loyal following. In a world of discerning diners, eager to chase the new opening or the latest restaurant brand, Bistrot Pierre is a constant – bringing in the crowds and wowing them with great food and great service.It’s that loyal following spanning 21 years in Nottingham which has helped the business not only stand the test of time – but has propelled Bistrot Pierre into a new era. Founded in Nottingham in 1994 as Pierre Victoire, Rob and his childhood mate John Whitehead, took the Nottingham and Derby restaurants when the franchise folded. They then rebranded as Bistrot Pierre, determined to grow the group.Rob is modest about their achievements with Bistrot Pierre. Along the way, the businessmen took on the Lace Market Hotel in Nottingham which in turn took their attention away from Bistrot Pierre’s growth. Once they walked away from the hotel, its restaurant Merchants and the upmarket pub Cock and Hoop next door, Rob and John could concentrate on their ideas for their French bistrots.“Yes, we’re pleased with the growth of Bistrot Pierre,” said Rob. “We think we could be in an even better position if we hadn’t taken on the hotel. But since then, we have concentrated our time on Bistrot Pierre and it is expanding – and that is down to our really loyal following.”Rob keeps all the press clippings dating back from the early days – along with reviews of their restaurants around the country. From the bulging lever arch folder of newspaper and magazine cuttings, there’s not a single bad review among them. Not one.Critics instead talk about the quality steaks, the finest ingredients, the excellent service, and the unbelievable value. One seasoned reviewer said the restaurant was “magnifique” and “inspirational.” Meanwhile, Trip Advisor regularly brings five star reviews.“We may have been in the business for a long time,” says Rob. “But it’s fair to say that John and I are still learning. It’s true to say that some of the restaurants do better than others, but we make a clear choice about where our next place is going to be.“Each restaurant is different to the next. The interiors are different – Torquay is very different to Nottingham, for example. We endeavour to give each restaurant its own look. Some restaurants are slightly on the edge of the city or town centre, whereas others are slap bang in the middle of the action. “The business is very competitive and we have to compete with the new restaurant groups – and innovate. One of our new restaurants, for example, will be the very first in a shopping centre. It’s different for us, but we have to adapt.”Bistrot Pierre has seen both organic growth – and through investment. To further expand, Rob anticipates further private equity funding over the coming months and years. The group can’t stand still. Originally from Hemel Hempstead, Rob – who’s 47 – and 46-year-old John, went to school together. They went their separate ways to go to university. John did an English degree and came to Nottingham to work. Meanwhile, Rob was studying in Edinburgh, working part-time as a waiter at the first Pierre Victoire restaurant.When he saw a pile of brochures at the restaurant offering franchises in Pierre Victoire, he contacted John and persuaded him to be a partner. So John left his job and Rob moved to Nottingham which, they say, was “one of the most exciting cities outside London.”They set up Pierre Victoire in Nottingham, and then took on Derby. When the company collapsed, they negotiated to keep their restaurants. Since then, the aim has been to “serve excellent French cuisine and offer value for money.”There’s a clear distinction between their roles. While Rob prefers the ‘front of house’ side of the business, John prefers to be behind the scenes. It’s the sourcing of produce, the planning of menus which is his forte.To celebrate 21 years of trading in Nottingham, there are plans to thank their loyal following for their years of support. Rob said: “Seeing our business grow, working with our fantastic restaurant teams and delivering a great customer experience that you cannot get anywhere else gives us a sense of enormous satisfaction.“To be expanding during tough economic times make us both very proud. But it’s the people at the sharp end, those who work on the restaurant floor and in the kitchens, who should take the credit.”As well as its original site in Nottingham, Bistrot Pierre now has restaurants in Bath, Cardiff, Derby, Harrogate, Ilkley, Leamington Spa, Leicester, Plymouth, Sheffield, Stockton Heath, Stratford upon Avon and Torquay.The group plans further openings, Newport 2015, Birmingham and The Mumbles in Swansea in 2016, with further sites in the pipeline for 2017 onwards. Bistrot Pierre also operates The Bear Freehouse and Kitchen in Stratford and The Crescent Inn, a pub with 11 boutique bedrooms in Ilkley. These are exciting times for Bistrot Pierre. A great brand which is synonymous with Nottingham. Not quite up there with Raleigh and HP Sauce just yet, but the guys are working on it…