Philip Reicherstorfer is a proud LGBT City success turned entrepreneur, who has started a new business venture in the burgeoning LGBT hub, Vauxhall. He talks to LGBT History month about being out in the City and his latest project.
What was your experience of being openly gay in the financial sector? Your resume clearly shows you were very successful in this role, but did you find that being LGBT had any stigmas or challenges?
The City is an exceptionally meritocratic environment. Particularly within JP Morgan, where I worked for 15 years, there was and is also an understanding that diversity makes good business sense to allow access to a wider talent pool.
I remember early in my work in the City, going down to the trading floor to change the TV over to watch Queer As Folk. Some time later, when I had to have the coming out conversation with my bosses, their response was: ‘Yes, but you came out 9 months ago [when another LGBT colleague had previously come out].’
What prompted you to leave your job and then subsequently start a restaurant?
About five years ago I realised I was bored of making money for other people and wanted to be my own boss. I knew the hospitality sector already as my parents used to run a hotel on the Baltic Sea Coast, so a restaurant seemed like the obvious choice.
In early 2014, we managed to secure the location under the arch in Vauxhall, with building work eventually starting in October of that year and Counter opening in February 2015.
Would you say that, starting a business as a gay man, you faced any homophobic obstacles?
I didn’t have any LGBT-specific obstacles, although that’s not to say I didn’t have any challenges at all in setting up Counter. I had to compete with several major fast-food companies for the space – now London’s longest restaurant at 200 feet.
Also, Lambeth Council suspected that I wanted to set up a nightclub under the arch, so they imposed strict license regulations to prevent that occurring.
What advice would you give to other members of the LGBT community who are looking to start their own business in London?
As an entrepreneur, use your energy and drive to push through all the obstacles that stand in your way. Bring other big businesses up to the speed you need to work at, don’t let them slow you down. Draw on the local community, for example the LGBT community has businesses across every sector and its likely you will already have some contacts. If you have a supportive partner, even better.
How does Counter differ from other brasseries (across London)?
Counter is officially London’s longest restaurant, housed in a 200-feet-long arch. We’re a New York-style brasserie with a menu that changes every three months.
What differs for us, though, is more the two neighbourhoods in which we’re located. The first is Vauxhall, where there is a mix of creative types and spies (with MI6 close by). The second is, of course, the metaphysical neighbourhood of the LGBT community.
Why did you decide on a Vauxhall location for Counter?
I live close by, in Kennington, so opening a restaurant in my local community played a part in the decision. Several years ago, I made an unsuccessful bid on the arch that is now Nando’s, so when this location became available I wanted it.
Vauxhall is also undergoing a towering development so, by arriving early, I want Counter, as an LGBT-friendly business, to become an engrained brasserie in the area.
How do you see Counter developing?
I want to create a family of restaurants, with Counter being the first. Each will be unique. We’ve done a lot of work in the background, building up back office IT systems and training guides to support future venues. We’re still looking for the next location.
What are your favourite things to eat at Counter and what’s your favourite drink here?
The Cosmopolitan is my favourite cocktail. It’s the standard by which I judge a bar or bartender. We also make a ‘Fashion-politan’, made like a Cosmopolitan but with chilli-infused vodka and passion fruit.
My favourite food item is the tuna with rice cakes and miso vegetables.
Our food menu changes every three months, though. I let the chefs do the creative work and I ‘channel creativity’ – for example, making sure we have sufficient vegetarian options and the right balance of options on the menu.
Can you tell us a bit more about Sassy Saturday – when we come back, what can we expect?
Sassy Saturdays is a seductive cabaret dinner and show with different artists every month, hosted in the BackCounter lounge. It’s hosted by Ivy Paige and Dusty Limits, and as the tables are set out in a runway setup, everyone has a front row seat of the artists.
The cost is £30 per ticket, which includes a three-course dinner and the show.