“The kitchen is a pit” and “Between Kickstarter and my life savings, hopefully it will be enough” don’t sound overly promising as a start for a business, yet these are the words of the man sitting opposite me whose business is – I don’t think it is unfair to say – one of the most anticipated openings in the Edinburgh food scene this year. The man is Jack Muir and we’re talking about Illegal Jacks.
We’re sitting in Castello Coffee – last seen in Part II of our coffee guide – early in the summer talking about everything from how Jack got from being a lecturer in Glasgow to opening a TexMex restaurant in Edinburgh, to trying to get a date out of him for the opening. Along the way we talked beer, hot sauce, Colorado and, of course, that Kickstarter campaign. It’s too much to include here, but it’s a pretty remarkable story that, at its essence, revolves around good food, the trials and tribulations of opening and running a business, and Twitter. We’ll talk about the food in a post next week.
First things first though – ILLEGAL JACKS (mark II) IS OPEN!!! Visit 44 St Patrick’s Square for more.
The new venue – which of course comes after the highly publicised closure of the original venue on Lothian Road – is in another part of town, it’s smaller, but importantly is going to be a lot more suited to the job. It’s in ‘student land’ up in St Patricks Square – sandwiched in an area between South Clerk Street and George Square – and instead of being a “failed Pizza Hut” (Jack’s words) it was an indian restaurant. It’s much smaller than Lothian Road (which presents its own challenges, especially in the kitchen) but the new 40-seater restaurant is almost ready to go. Having some money behind the project and prior knowledge gained with Illegal Jack’s 1 has made some big differences though: “first time round we had to take what we would get” but this time there’s a professional designer involved and the venue was chosen by simply pounding the pavements.
We can’t talk about Illegal Jacks coming back without some mention of the demise of the original, but it’s the community the old place built up that is more important to the likely success of the new Illegal Jack’s. “It was the 4th largest trending topic in the UK the night Jack closed” says a lot for it, before you even get to the press coverage it received.
“The company is built on Twitter“, Jack tells me, the near-instant nature of Twitter allowing a community to build up and allow Jack’s to do everything from table reservations (he pulled out his phone to show me a couple of the photos of table reservation signs, with names, Twitter handles and even a picture of the ‘suspicious hippo’) to helping out other people in the city by crowdsourcing information for a friend about malware, of all things – the touch that perhaps offers Illegal Jack’s something more than most other eateries in town: a very human feel.
When Jack went on local TV earlier this year there was a lot of chatter online. Then came the announcement that so many wanted – Illegal Jack’s was attempting a comeback, and there was a Kickstarter campaign – JackStarter – to get it there. It was an ambitious target of £75,000, but there was a trick waiting in the wings – Edinburgh’s best known crime writer, Ian Rankin, reading a eulogy for Jack, standing in the graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church, virtually in burrito-hurling distance from the old location.
“We were talking in the pub, you need a video for Kickstarter, and the idea of the eulogy came up” but how did they get Rankin involved? Twitter, of course. “He’d been a customer since 2010 and likes a big burrito” so they Tweeted to ask – not really expecting a reply. “We didn’t hear anything, and then we got a response and he said yes… we held off a few weeks but then went for it.” Rankin, busy again by this point, only had a few spare hours, so Jack turned to Twitter again to source people “handy with a camera” from that the Jackaholic list and from there it was born.
The rest is pretty much history now: the campaign reached its target and work began on the new site a few weeks later. In fact it did more than reach its £75,000, its 1,030 backers pledged a total of £80,359. It’s a pretty incredible achievement, but again the personal touch comes through when Jack talks about it – there’s a list of names in his notepad, and Jack can tell you who each of them is. “It’s going to be a challenge” Jack says to fulfilling the commitments to those who pledged to the campaign, but I suspect one that will be met with great gusto.
With the new Illegal Jacks nearing opening, things like logistics for deliveries are really shaping up – “we don’t have room to hold stock, so it’s been a case of asking all the suppliers ‘can you deliver before 9?’ and if they can’t we can’t use them“. The menu, too is being finalised, a third of which will still be vegetarian – “almost the same as before. 2 sizes of burritos, 8 fillings, it’s all fresh because all we have is fridges“- he’s hoping that they can get some great local beers in, but the idea of a hot sauce menu (a passion, picked up like the burritos, from spending time in Colorado) is also one floating just below the surface.
Coming to the end of our chat I asked about opening up. Whilst most places try for a soft launch, Illegal Jacks has an army of Tweeting fans waiting, is opening up just as the largest arts festival in the world opens on its doorstop and will be pretty much straight into Freshers Week afterwards – it seemed only fair to ask how he felt about it. A look of mock abstract terror cross his face: “Potentially pandemonium on a whole new level” is the frank and honest answer I get back and I suspect the jovial terror is a thin mask for something a lot more real.
“My next day off is Christmas Eve, and I’m looking forward to it already“, I’m told not entirely flippantly, but you can tell that under the levels of stress, trepidation and pressure that he’s excited: “the main thing is to make people happy.” We can’t really ask for more, can we?
Illegal Jacks is at St Patricks Square – go stuff your face with a burrito! You can follow Illegal Jacks on Twitter as well.