Gordon Ker quit his high-flying career in the City to open Blacklock eight years ago.
As a lawyer on private equity deals in the hospitality industry, he realised he wanted to launch his own steak restaurant.
He quit his job – a move he admits was ‘definitely naïve’ – and spent a year working as a waiter at steak restaurant Hawksmoor, the founders of which are now investors in his business.
Steak break: Gordon Ker spent a year working at restaurant Hawksmoor before launching Blacklock in 2014
Since its launch in 2014, Blacklock has become a popular chain of London restaurants, so much so Ker will next week formally launch his fourth restaurant in Covent Garden.
Blacklock prides itself on its sustainability – the restaurant buys whole animals from a farm in Cornwall which helps to keep prices and food waste down.
Now, as he expands the business Ker wants to beef up Blacklock’s sustainable credentials by becoming a B Corp.
As part of our B Corp Beat series, we talk to Ker about his journey from City boy to restaurateur and what it means to go for B Corp status.
‘The customers come second to my team’
Ker did not walk blindly into the opening of a restaurant.
He worked on hospitality deals as a lawyer in the City – ‘probably quite a frustrated lawyer who didn’t enjoy his job’ – before launching Blacklock.
‘There is a certain type of culture [in the City], it’s very work hard, and then work harder… Bill loads of money to the client, climb the corporate ladder, maybe don’t think so much about what you might be doing to yourself.’
It was this toxic culture that eventually led to him thinking about launching Blacklock.
‘I feel very strongly that people can do fantastic things when they’re motivated, passionate and believe in something. If you believe in something you can typically be very good at it.’
His passion and knowledge for the restaurant industry was evident – he worked on private equity deals in the industry and worked with companies to help them open in new territories or invest in new concepts – but he had little operational experience.
It was then that he turned to the team at Hawksmoor who took him on as a waiter for a year.
There he realised that he had to prioritise building a strong team.
Blacklock specialises in affordably-priced chops and champions lesser-known cuts
‘I wanted to set up a company where the focus is on people before anything else and the people there are our people… and creating an environment where everyone is happy… where you’re motivated, passionate, there are good career progression opportunities should you want them. If you don’t it’ll be a great place to work in any event.
‘We’re a customer service business. Most customer service businesses say the customers are most important, customers are always right. Our guests are very important to us but they are certainly second to our team who come first.’
During his time at Hawksmoor, Ker observed just how much responsibility team members have at a relatively junior level.
‘If you’re running a restaurant you may be running a team of up to 60 people… you’ve got a building that’s had a lot of investment put into it and lots of health and safety requirements…
‘So my managers who are running the restaurants probably have far more responsibility than I probably as a junior lawyer at the time.
‘It’s one of the lovely things about restaurants and how people can develop fantastic responsibility at an early stage and then build from there.’
How sustainable can a chophouse be?
It’s clear Ker has cultivated a good atmosphere and internal development policy for his team. While governance forms an important part of the B Corp certification, so too does a company’s environmental impact.
But just how sustainable can a chop house be?
We have long been told that cutting meat consumption can help the environment. Last year the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he was considering a ‘full vegan diet’ to tackle climate change.
Some studies show opting for meat-free options can reduce emissions by up to 30 per cent.
Blacklock has beefed up its credentials by partnering with environmental organisation Ecologi to plant trees in the UK and Africa to support wildlife habits and offset their carbon footprint.
On a day-to-day level, Ker has tried to ensure his supply chains are as sustainable as possible. One of the company’s key selling points is quality at a cheaper price, which Ker says is born out of the desire to be as sustainable as possible.
What is a B Corp?
In our new B Corp Beat series, we are interviewing British businesses which meet these strict standards.
They are described as businesses that are said to meet the ‘highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.’
One the website, it says: ‘B Corp Certification doesn’t just evaluate a product or service; it assesses the overall positive impact of the company that stands behind it. And increasingly that’s what people care most about.’
B Corp was started in 2006 and gives scores to companies in order for them to be verified.
These five areas are: governance, workers, community, environment and customers.
Blacklock suppliers are rigorously assessed to ensure they tick all the boxes to ensure ‘they’re like minded to our ethos and sustainable themselves’.
‘The meat that we buy is incredibly sustainable, regeneratively farmed and climate positive. By that we mean we give back to the environment rather than adding carbon into the atmosphere.
‘The animals that we buy are all raised slowly down in Cornwall on a small farm where they’ve lived a long life outside, eating grass with no fertilisers in the soil.
‘They’re outside all year long, there’s no killing animals early or pumping them with steroids or hormones to make them grow quickly to fulfil mass volume and demand.
‘Blacklock takes probably two years longer than it normally takes which makes [the meat] super sustainable and high quality because it’s as nature intended.
‘There’s a difference in the quality of the meat we buy and what you can buy in a supermarket.’
Jonathan Petrides, founder of vegan meal service allplants, told us last month that opting for a predominantly plant-based diet is one of the easiest things consumers can do to affect change.
Ker, surprisingly, agrees.
‘Meat is a celebration. People should be eating better meat when they choose to eat meat. They shouldn’t need to eat or should be eating meat because then you’re getting into mass consumption. When you do choose to eat it, go somewhere where you know the animal’s been celebrated and it’s been raised sustainably.’
Unlike other restaurants that may sell steaks and opt for a few prime cuts, Blacklock orders the whole animal and champions lesser known cuts.
Their customers can enjoy everything from a Denver steak to a prime rib cut.
‘It means the farmer has no waste and we get a better price on the product which means we can offer super high quality meat at really good value for money… Our farmer needs to farm even less, we’re killing fewer animals because we’re using more of the animal.’
Blacklock also offers wine on tap which cuts down on the storage, shipping and packaging of wine.
Becoming a B Corp will validate our eco credentials
It’s clear Ker has placed purpose at the very heart of Blacklock which makes the decision to become a B Corp an almost inevitable one.
He started to think about the B Corp process during the 2021 lockdown: ‘once we were able to come up for air, I engaged the team on it and everyone was super up for it.’
The certification process is an extensive one. The companies we’ve spoken to as part of our B Corp Beat series spoke of the long timeline from application to eventually being certified.
Businesses have to achieve a score of at least 80 out of 200 against five areas of impact, governance, community, workers, environment and customers.
‘Going through this process… it’s really going to validate [our approach], how the meat is locally sourced, well raised, environmentally considered.
‘It really gets you to look inwardly at yourself… there is a real physical evidential requirement. It’s not okay to say we train and promote our team… they will require you to have that written down, that it is an actual tenet of your business.’
Once a business is over the 80 point threshold they can send their application off to be independently verified. Businesses then have to recertify through the review process every three years to ensure they still meet the standard.
‘I think a big part of this for us is engaging our whole team on it. So whether you’re washing dishes in the kitchen, manager in the restaurants, working in the support team, everyone is aligned and working towards this goal. So for us, it’s about making it engaging everyone to build its own momentum.’
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