Did you hear the one about the banker that opened a bar? He went into a brasserie, ordered a drink and said to the barman, “there must be more to life than working in an office.” The barman poured him a gin and tonic and said, “you should try my job mate!” And so, he did.
As punchlines go it’s not a rib-tickler but Mark Taft is definitely having the last laugh having developed the La Bastille Brasserie into one of the island’s premier restaurants along with an adjoining craft beer bar and a new venture that will deliver his own alcohol offering to the Channel Islands. As Mark approaches his second anniversary at the helm of the business, it’s a journey which has not only taken over his life but shaped it in ways he couldn’t have imagined from behind his banking desk. “It’s given me complete control over my own destiny,” explains Mark, which is pretty impressive for an eatery by anyone’s standards!
Swapping keyboards for crab forks may not sound like an obvious move, but for Mark the change was one that was sorely needed, and which has allowed him to unlock the potential hidden away in the French brasserie. “The success of any good business is evidenced by its customer service. You need to give the customer what they want, whether they know it or not, and I feel that is something that has become lost in the finance world over more recent years.”
Outwardly the changes to the brasserie may look purely cosmetic but dig a little deeper and you’ll find an entirely fresh approach to modern cuisine and the drinks industry. “I may not have come with much experience in this sector, but I looked to the UK and could see the way the market was heading. It has become less about what the big breweries and chains can provide and those who are making waves are the smaller more niche brands.” Mark’s business model was founded on a changing culture, one where people are willing to pay more for quality and where they see good value.
Mark set out to forge what he considered was a Jersey first – a bar serving only top-quality beers and spirits combined with a modern French tapas menu that perfectly embraced Jersey’s heritage and cultural diversity. “The biggest challenge we have faced to date has been change. People are so resistant to something new, but I think we’ve now had time to prove that often new can also mean improved.” The craft beer bar now boasts a range of 14 draft beers and a growing cult following. All beverages have all been hand-selected by Mark, mostly from off island, but he is pleased to see local producers now stepping up to the plate with names such as Stinky Bay and his own company’s Wheadon’s Gin both hitting the high mark.
If craft beer and boutique dining is the future, it is one that Mark is more than happy to shape in his quiet corner of St Helier. “There’s a real regeneration happening in this part of town, it’s adopting a very cool, hip vibe with plenty of alfresco areas, top quality restaurants and new independent stores popping up like Mini Mall and Consume. I would like to think that La Bastille is at the heart of this evolution.”
His role as a banker may be long behind him now, but Mark doesn’t regret the experience or life lessons that this has afforded him. He continues to juggle plenty of balls with further plans to tweak the Brasserie as well as focusing on the launch of new spirits and a St Helier based distillery through the Channel Island Liquor Company. “My background in finance has definitely helped me get where I am and whilst I’m glad I’ve made the change, I’m not beyond giving a bit of banking advice across the bar top. But you’d do well to catch me earlier on in the evening!”
With the recipe for success lurking at the bottom of a seemingly-endless beer keg, the move from banker to Bastille has prompted many in unsatisfying office roles to comment that maybe Mark has got the secret to happiness just right? An unbeatable range of beer and ale, an accommodating crew and a tale that delivers more than just your usual food for thought.