We spoke to one of the brains behind Rita's Bar & Dining, Missy Flynn, about how to run a successful pop-up
Cocktail expert and bartender Missy Flynn is resident cocktail artist at Rita’s Bar & Dining in London’s trendy Dalston. She started the ‘travelling food and drink collaboration’, which is currently enjoying a residency at Birthdays bar, with Jackson Boxer, the man behind South London’s Brunswick House Café and chef Gabriel Pryce. Previously, she was a resident cocktail expert at the Hawksmoor.
We caught up with Missy to ask her about her career as well as her tips for running a successful pop-up.
How did you begin your career in the bar world?
I grew up above a pub in London and my dad was a landlord, so I’m quite used to being in pubs and just hanging out. When I was at university I worked at a few pubs and decided I wanted to learn how to make cocktails, so I went to All Star Lane in Holborn and I met these amazing guys who I didn’t realise were big in the London bar scene. Their names were Henry and Drey – Henry in particular was like my mentor. He hired me on the spot. And I soon found myself in a position where I met lots of really interesting people in the industry.
Is networking really important?
You don’t realise until you’ve got your own thing going on how much you’ve learnt from every single person that you meet along the way, such as the amazing bar managers that become good friends. The way I now work, the ideas I have and the way I want to do things, I learned from all these people. I’ve worked in lots of different bars and always went that extra mile to learn that little bit more and get an understanding of it all.
How did Rita’s come about?
It was a really interesting time in London, with a lot of young people doing fun things with food and drink. I thought as I’m someone who’s young and been doing this for a long time, as well as motivated to come up with new ideas and new projects I thought I should be doing that too. I decided to quit my job. I didn’t know what I was doing but my good friend Deano said he’d been speaking to Jackson Boxer, who is now our chef, about setting up a food café. He got me on board to look after the drink side of things. We wanted to de-mystify high-end food and drinks and the result is a really nice cocktail bar.
What do you think are the secrets of your success?
At the beginning it was very important for people to see that we were actually there working. We relied a lot on our friends and family to put bums on seats and that made a huge difference to us. Especially when you’re trying to open a neighbourhood restaurant. We all live and work in London and the biggest testament to our success is seeing people come in week on week and getting genuine regulars. We wanted to make it the perfect place for people to go to regularly but also if you were to make a trip from across town because you’d read about us, we’d make you feel just as welcome. Hopefully, the personality behind it has been the key to our success. Everyone around us helped a lot and people were willing to support us because they could see we were working very hard. We didn’t do it to make money but because we saw there was a massive gap for something like that.
What future plans do you have?
We want to open our own restaurant. We’d love to have more control of the bar and own a space that feels 100 per cent ours. We’re still desperate to get the whole package so our main focus is getting a space, developing it and going right back to the beginning and implementing everything we want to. Hopefully in Dalston because we’ve built up a really nice customer base so we’d like to stay and retain that. We’ll also do some events like supper clubs and parties.
What’s the best part of your job?
I really enjoy being in the restaurant, whether it’s a busy Friday or a Sunday daytime with lots of children. When we opened last June we had an incredible summer – we had to run across the road to the shop to get something we’d run out of and we’d see the restaurant looking really busy. It was really fun to see it and think ‘we’ve done it. That’s our restaurant and all those people are there having a really great time’. Also, our development meetings are fun. We get to try lots of nice food and figure out where we want to go next. Working with your friends is the funnest thing in the world but it’s also the most difficult thing. When you get to a point that you’ve achieved something and overcome the mild battle between friendship and business and you see it work successfully that’s a fun part of it.
Finally, what are your top five tips for people who are just starting out?
1) If you have an idea you truly believe in, make sure you have a good understanding of the business aspect. While it’s fun to open up the doors and cook lots of food, you are offering it as a business. I’d suggest drafting in the help of someone who’s good with numbers sooner rather than later because that can really spoil the fun further down the line.
2) Don’t rely on anybody too much but value the support of your friends and family. I don’t think you realise until you open the doors that they’re the ones who will really support you and help make things happen.
3) If you’re doing it from a chef’s point of view then cook as much as you can and get a lot of feedback. Always be open to feedback because ultimately you’re not making a restaurant for you. It’s easy to make something you’d love to go to but you need to be open-minded enough to realise there are other opinions out there that can make your business even better if you listen to them.
4) Learn from mistakes. The beginning was very hard because we went into it so quickly. We had to accept our mistakes and our lessons and move on. People respected us and gave us numerous chances to get it right. Success is not assuming that you’ve nailed it immediately, it’s improvement.
5) Be confident but not cocky. You’ve got to believe you can pull it off. I found that I look back at our early days and although it was a lot of fun, it’s much more rewarding to see how it’s developed. It’s a sense of achievement that comes from looking at your pros and cons to make what you’re doing the best possible thing you can. Giving yourself that journey is one of the best possible things you could do.
Missy recently designed the cocktails for Baileys Spirited Women event to mark the global launch of their new bottle.
Rita’s Bar & Dining will be at Birthdays until April 20.