Lucha Libre is a partnership between Alex Hannah and myself as directors. We formerly worked together for Living Ventures before leaving and going our separate ways, one working for a drinks distributor in Dubai and the other backpacking around the world. We were to join forces again in the not so distant future in Liverpool at a 250 year old Catholic Church recently renovated into a restaurant called Alma De Cuba. We made a success of this restaurant and made the decision to go it alone, opening Lucha Liverpool in April 2012, followed by Lucha Manchester in November 2013. In May 2015 we will open a third venture, Miyagi’s, a Japanese Ghetto-Asian restaurant in Liverpool. It is very exciting times!
The inspiration for Lucha came after Alex and I both visited the country and instantly fell in love with the place, the people and, importantly, the food. It is a great whirlwind of a culture and we wanted to somehow bring this back and present it to the UK without losing any of the authenticity. I think we are on the right track.
What’s Lucha Libre’s proudest achievement?
I’m really proud of our employment record. We currently employ close to 100 people, with an excellent retention record. We invest a lot into the development of our staff, which makes them feel valued. I like it when a staff member tells me they enjoy working for Lucha Libre.
How many employees work for Lucha Libre?
Just fewer than 100, but we are anticipating this to go up to 120 by next year. We are continually expanding the business.
Hospitality is generally thought of as low-skilled, low wage, long-hours employment. How do you keep employees engaged and retain the best staff?
We pay them well and give them the right tools and training to make a success of their role. We take staff development very seriously and our people are key to the company’s progression. It’s also a great place to work with fantastic tips!
As directors, we intentionally set out to have a good relationship with all staff members and are contactable 24/7 should a problem arise. It is all about creating a strong team ethic, and this goes from the top down. No one is excluded.
I also genuinely think that employees like the identity of the company. Mexican is cool, fun exciting and fresh. Eating at Lucha Libre is all about the experience – it’s not just about satisfying hunger pangs. The menu deliberately encourages people to try new foods and to share food, something that is not always encouraged in other restaurants. It’s all about giving people a cultural experience because this is key for retaining their loyalty. This is not just limited to food; we also like to educate customers on drinks like Tequila. Most people’s experience of Tequila is slamming down cheap shots after a few drinks, yet this is not really Tequila. We aim to introduce people to real Tequila.
The design of our restaurants is also very important to us and we invest a lot of time and money into getting the design right, from lighting to art work to signage. It is all part of the customer experience. I think the good design helps to individualise our identity and this is what our employees love. It allows them to feel part of something unique.
What attributes are you looking for in employee – what is a good employee?
Personality is everything in this business. To be honest, I often don’t look at a candidates experience as it often comes with bad habits. We can train a lot of the technical stuff but you can’t train a personality into someone. We want people who smile and genuinely love what they do, otherwise service will suffer.
We interview for all our roles and have frequent recruitment days where we analyse the suitability of over a hundred candidates. We want to make sure we are doing everything right.
Lucha Libre has a strong social media presence. Do you have a social media policy setting out best practice and what staff can and can’t do with regards posts?
We control our social media broadcasts and only two people have access to Lucha Libre’s profiles across all platforms. These people know Lucha Libre inside out and understand our personality and the messages we want to present. I couldn’t imagine this being done by anyone who wasn’t completely familiar with the company. We have experimented with other companies doing this for us in the past but it just didn’t work out. That’s why we now only go with people we know, and who know us.
High standards are critical for a restaurant’s success – food, presentation, service, hygiene. How do you go about ensuring high standards?
We are very hands on as directors and visit and work at our restaurants on a daily basis. We are constantly checking standards. Both Alex and I come from a big company and have invested that mentality into our business, using proven and tested methods.
We also employ high skilled staff who know how to run good restaurants. There is plenty of valuable experience in the team.
What makes you optimistic?
My belief in the company keeps me optimistic. We are extremely good at what we do and we don’t plan to stop this pursuit of excellence anytime soon.
I also love that I enjoy what I do. It is rewarding to introduce different cultures to customers, not just in the food but also the décor and whole culinary experience. We bring a sense of fun to our restaurants and service and we have the ability to innovate with both concepts – from Mexican to Japanese.