Running a pub sporting his old school tie

Old Etonian Alex Langlands Pearce got a job in a bar after being 'booted out' of home by his father. Now he runs pub group 333 Holdings, with a £5m a year turnover.

Eton, Sandhurst, the Guards. On paper, Alex Langlands Pearce embodies the sort of upper class upbringing that Monty Python loved to ridicule. But rather than graduate straight to a job in the City, as he might have "in the old days", 37-year old Pearce has built up a successful London pub chain under his own steam, after being booted out' of home in 1989 by his father, a Royal Navy Commander. Pearce had decided he wouldn't rejoin the army after shattering his shoulder on a training exercise. "Dad was quite tough on discipline. He said, OK, if you're not going to rejoin the army, there's the door. Go get a job'."

Pearce moved to London, where he found work as a trainee bar manager with Davy's, the wine merchant and bar operator. "I really enjoyed it," he says. By 1991 he was running the City Vaults by Saint Paul's, and several other pubs. He realised it was perhaps an unusual career choice for someone of his background when he came into work wearing his old school tie one day. "This bloke came in and said, What are you doing wearing that tie? That's my old school tie'. I said, Strange that, it's mine as well'. His last words to me were, Oh my God, what are you doing working behind a bar?'"

But not all his peers were so dismissive of his trade. In 1994, an old school friend asked him to buy the Goat and Boots pub in Chelsea with him. They raised the £150,000 price from the bank and a year later bought Vingt Quatre, a late night restaurant and bar. "They were literally 20 yards from each other." The idea was that people would come in to the late bar at the Goat until 1:30am, "then fall into VQ and have a burger at three in the morning. So we created this web", he says. It was soon known as Chelsea's beach' a strip of premium bars for all-night revellers. It helped that many of the pubs were run by a big brewery, who were very good at the "management training side of things", but disastrous when it came to supervising the drunken landlords who often ran the places. "You almost had to help yourself if you wanted a drink."

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In 1999, they sold the Goat for £1.5m, and invested the profits in another pub, the Admiral Codrington in South Kensington. They then bought a gym in Piccadilly and in 2001, Soho's Groucho Club. But it was starting to turn into a property business, whereas Pearce's passion lay with the "bar and restaurant side of things". So in 2006, he conducted a buyout with another old Etonian, Simon Prideaux, who had just sold his restaurant, Tartine, and was looking for a new challenge. Raising £3m from several small investment houses, friends and family, Pearce sold his stake in the gym and the Groucho, then bought the rest of the group with Prideaux to build 333 Holdings. Two years later, 333 is turning over £5m a year. Their next venture, a New-York style bar at Devonshire Terrace near Liverpool Street, opens next month.

And Pearce's father, despite being "incredibly supportive", is as conservative and disciplinarian as ever. "I'm very proud of you," he says, "but you still have a long way to go".

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and was a senior writer for MoneyWeek. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example digging into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.