Forging ahead in uncertain times

SLTN Award-winning Monterey Jack’s set for further expansion

Richard Fergie collects the SLTN Award for Best Soft Drinks Offer
Richard Fergie (left) collects the SLTN Award for Best Soft Drinks Offer, in association with Vimto Out of Home

By Jack Walsh

You need only glance at the news these days to see reports of companies freezing investment and shelving expansion plans due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

And the impact of the UK’s protracted negotiations to leave the bloc is being felt across the on-trade too – from staffing concerns to inflation.

Yet for Richard Fergie, founder of casual dining chain Monterey Jack’s, the UK’s exit from the EU is not getting in the way of his plan to open three new restaurants a year.

With private funding from a number of investors, Monterey Jack’s has expanded rapidly; from one unit in Stirling in 2015 to eight today.

Sitting in his latest venue, in Glasgow’s Merchant Square, which opened five months ago, Richard admitted that it’s been a long process finding a suitable location in the city.

“We’ve been looking for a unit in Glasgow ever since we opened,” he said. “There are always locations in Glasgow and Edinburgh; but it’s about getting the right location that works for the brand.”

The unit, which is leased, joins the group’s portfolio of seven other venues.

And Richard is keen to continue moving forward.

“It’s an exciting time and it’s a good time, I feel, to be opening three restaurants a year because I think we’ve got the infrastructure, the management team behind us that can help and support us.”

There are also plans to expand beyond Scotland by franchising the Monterey Jack’s brand. But Richard stressed that while the goal is to continue growing the business, he won’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

“The restaurant number doesn’t bother me; it’s the quality and the reviews and what the restaurants are in the community,” he said.

It makes sense, then, that catering to everybody, including families, has been key to Monterey Jack’s success.

While a well-considered range continues to underpin the business, Richard said that the brand’s offer has grown since its inception.

“The plan back then (2015) was burgers, pizzas, cocktails and that was the business model,” he said.

“As we started to excel and try different categories over the next two years, it really took us that time to get our identity, to get our product range [strong], to work out what we were going to do – and at that point we said, ‘right, now we have to grow and venture into new towns and new cities and expand what we do’.

“And it’s probably been the best thing we’ve ever done, because you only get better as you grow and you move on – and that’s something we’ve done.”

One area of growth has been Monterey Jack’s drinks range; specifically, it’s non-alcoholic offer.

Working with Matthew Clark, Monterey Jack’s bars stock a wide range of packaged soft drinks, including the likes of Franklin & Sons. There’s also an extensive range of milkshakes and mocktails on offer.

With all of its fruit purees and syrups already made in-house for its cocktails, there was a solid foundation on which to build the group’s mocktail offer, said Richard.

“If you had to think about making a mocktail list [from scratch], you probably wouldn’t put this much effort in, with all these purees and syrups; but because we were making them all anyway – and they’re non-alcoholic – we thought let’s just put on a fruit one, a fizzy one, and a creamy one,” he explained.

As well as sourcing the fruit for its purees and syrups from supplier Farm Fresh, each Monterey Jack’s has ice cream machines for use across its mocktails and desserts.

And the company’s efforts in the no-alcohol area were recognised last November when its Stirling outlet took the 2018 SLTN Award for Best Soft Drinks Offer, in association with Vimto Out of Home.

Having been highly commended in the category the year before, Richard admitted he had “that bit more grit to make sure we were better than last year”.

“These awards are great because it’s recognition for the team for their hard work,” he said.

“That award is for the staff to say, ‘look guys, well done – what you’re doing day-to-day is working and it has been recognised’.”