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Blog #5: In Conversation with Oliver Weeks - Managing Director of Ideal Collection

April 2014

AT A time when five or six pubs nationally have been closing every week, Southampton’s Ideal Collection has bucked the trend and doubled in size. 
What started as a small group of restaurants and pubs based in and around Southampton has grown to include bars and eateries further into Hampshire and beyond. 
Ideal Collection now employs 170 people across its seven sites and boasts a multi-million pound turnover. Managing Director Oliver Weeks explained they were ready to grow in 2008 when the recession hit. “The timing just wasn’t right so we held back on the expansion plans and instead we did a lot of work on the infrastructure of the company. “We focused on training our staff and we’ve seen the business grow as a result. “When the time was right and the right properties became available we were able to act swiftly,” he said. 
The brainchild of Matthew Boyle, Ideal Collection was founded in 2002 and was then made up of The White Star Tavern – dining and rooms in Oxford Street, The Bugle in Hamble and Cantina Mexican restaurant in Bedford Place. The group also operates The White Horse at Otterbourne, No.5 Bridge Street in Winchester, The Boat House Cafe at Swanwick Marina and the Boat House Cafe in Chichester. 
Recently Matthew has set up The Ideal Foundation to support local good causes and they are backing an allotment project that has the potential to grow into a really positive focus for the business. “We were very keen to give something back to the city that has been so good to us. Working with Southampton Voluntary Service (SVS) and Two Saints we are supporting a group of people who are learning all about growing food by getting involved in the allotment project. “The next stage is for us to develop a not for profit cafe using local produce grown by the group with the aim of giving them skills to pursue a career in catering,” he said. 
Looking ahead Oliver is keen for the Ideal Collection to continue to grow in the city and they are particularly interested in some of the VIP projects identified in Southampton’s Master Plan. “Southampton has changed a great deal in recent times. The number of students has grown, there are more people living in the city centre in the new housing and apartments and the development of the Cultural Quarter means more people are wanting to spend time in the city. “We are excited about the opportunities. Going around the city, you can see the cranes in the sky and you can see change happening. “If we can play a part in the development of Guildhall Square, Watermark or Ocean Village, we will be there and we are already involved in discussions. “I’ve worked in Southampton for many years and there is definitely an increased energy in the city,” he said.
Ensuring they have well-trained staff has been at the heart of the Ideal Collection success story. Josh Dunnings, 24, explained how his passion for food has been ignited since working for the group. “When I left the army four or five years ago I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did a bit of bar work and ended up working in the kitchen at The Bugle pub doing the washing-up and prepping veg. “I was offered the chance to train to be a chef and if I’m honest I still just saw it as job. “Two weeks later I’m training to be a Commis Chef and I’ve fallen in love with cooking. Group Development Chef Jim Hayward has really helped me to develop and I’ve been encouraged and supported all the way. “I came to the White Star because I view it as the best food-led venue in Southampton city centre. “I can’t see myself doing anything else – I live and breathe cooking,” he said.

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