Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Money & Me: 'I've built a business from going out to brunch'

Adrian John, the male half of F&B review website Mr & Mrs Brunch, has been to over 1,000 brunches in 10 years

Adrian John says those looking for a good brunch deal should shop around for offers. Reem Mohammed/The National
Adrian John says those looking for a good brunch deal should shop around for offers. Reem Mohammed/The National

Adrian John is the male half of Mr & Mrs Brunch, an F&B review website, and money saving app Let’s DXB that he runs with his fiancée Lucy Melts. The Briton, 34, is also a relationship manager with a company that oversees sports providers operating within UAE schools. Once a youth prospect with Premiership football club Tottenham Hotspur, Mr John, who now lives in Hayat Town Square, Dubai, graduated in law before moving to the US to coach and then to the UAE to launch a football academy.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I’m the youngest of three, born in Bedford, near London, to a big family. My parents are from Granada, West Indies, and came to the UK with their parents. My dad was in the navy and then the police. Mum went from the civil service to various office manager jobs, but she is in the nursing industry now. We never had large amounts of money, but always did OK as a family. We grew up in a frugal, strict, typical Caribbean household; whatever you get you share with your brothers, sisters, cousins etcetera. We saw mum and dad do shift work - sometimes double shifts. As we got older we realised it was to buy things for us, pay for things. If they wanted something they had to save for it.

How much were you paid in your first job?

At 14 I worked in a shop called Furniture Village. I used to make tea and cookies – were were told smells make people feel at home, so they end up parting with their money. I was paid £30 (Dh145) a day, my first taste of customer service, getting a feel for money. I loved it. I’m not a salesperson, though, and hate being sold to. My thing is soft skills, getting people to buy into me and then buy whatever I’m selling, I guess.

What brought you to Dubai?

I spent five years in the US, travelling to 37 states. Football was on the up and being a Brit was top currency. I lived in Vegas, New York, Chicago, Rhode Island. The experience was great, but financially it was never long-term, unless I put down roots. Somebody was starting a football academy in Dubai. I thought I’d give it a try. That was December 2009. I grew it to 10 full-time staff. The owner pulled the plug after four years. Six years later I’m still working in sport and have progressed more to the operational side, managing the relationships of over 60 sports providers with schools.

What made you launch a money-saving F&B app?

Mr & Mrs Brunch started five years ago as a blog, website and information directory. We reviewed brunches and it grew from a blog to an app, Let’s Brunch, two years ago, and recently changed to Let’s DXB. It has grown into a fully-fledged business with a full-time employee plus my fiancée Lucy Melts, a former dancer turned teacher, and myself running it every spare minute we have. It’s a passion, not like a job; going out, having good times with your partner.

Are you a spender or a saver?

There’s a song called I’m A Raver Not A Saver; that was basically me. When I first came here I didn’t have long-term plans; the first three years were a bit of a party. I’ve had to change. Now I put away Dh1,500 to Dh5,000 each month, send it to a UK current account. I know that’s not giving the best returns but I know at any moment I need access I can get it. I keep a little here to live on, for food, holidays. We put a certain amount into the business, for if licenses need topping up.

Is there anything you regret spending money on?

Five years in when I thought about long-term investing, I met a financial adviser. I used to fob them off, but one day I thought ‘why not see what he has to say’. I ended up investing Dh2,000 per month for maybe 18 months - and he left the country. I had no idea what I was invested in; Dh28,000 in a black hole. It took two years to track down everything and get back 70 per cent of it. I got completely sold to. That left a sour taste, but I’m glad I experienced it as a ‘you either win or you learn’ type scenario.

Have you become wise with money?

I like to think I am now. Anything I put away I’ve got complete control over. If someone said ‘you have to stop work tomorrow’ would I be OK financially … no, but I want to get to that point as much as possible.

What is your best investment?

The license to turn Mr & Mrs Brunch into a business. It allowed us a platform to monetise; bring in revenue from advertising and commission. Before it was ‘come and do this, we’ll give you a free brunch’, but brunches don’t pay rent. I’ve built a business from going out to brunch. Over 10 years, the number of brunches I've been to is close to, if not already surpassing 1,000. Of course, this is all in the name of public interest and serving the greater good. Our record is six brunches in the same week and most weekends will include Thursday, Friday (sometimes a day and evening) and one Saturday. The business is a passion project that has turned into an all-consuming entity in it’s own right.

Brunch is a luxury - what's the secret to getting good value?

Spending upwards of Dh485 per week on brunch can seem outrageous to some, but the initial reason we got into brunching - aside for the social benefits - was we could place a predetermined limit on our spending, per outing. We started off by using The Entertainer, but we found that sometimes brunches were less than we’d hoped for. Halving the cost of a terrible brunch for two kicks you in the teeth as much as paying full price for an exorbitantly priced one. Neither represent good value. This was one of the main inspirations for starting Lets DXB; we've tried to combine free savings as well as our industry knowledge and honest reviews. My advice: shop around once you’ve decided on a particular brunch to see what offers are out there and read as much about it as possible.

What do you enjoy spending on?

I enjoy travel. For the last six years my mum has come out for Christmas. I love being able to pay for her. I like treating Lucy and myself as well, but she hates flying. We were on Emirates to Bangkok and I upgraded her to Business on the A380. That was probably my best feeling of buying something for someone, an experience.

Mr John says clearing his debts in the UK and getting rid of credit cards in the UAE has been his biggest financial milestone. Reem Mohammed/The National
Mr John says clearing his debts in the UK and getting rid of credit cards in the UAE has been his biggest financial milestone. Reem Mohammed/The National

Do you have a philosophy about money?

Not to let it rule you; don’t be a slave to it. I’m the epitome of someone doing what they love, both in my personal and professional life. I could have gone down the legal route, ‘the money route’, but I chose football. There wasn’t great money in it at the time but it led me to eventually be in a senior enough position that it was. Patience is key.

What’s been your financial milestone?

Clearing debts in the UK; credit cards and two student overdrafts. Also getting rid of my credit cards here. To be disciplined enough to overpay each month, get the balance down, took two years. That was a sense of achievement. I didn’t have anything massive to show for it (the balance), it just built up.

What financial advice would you give to your younger self?

Never get sucked into getting credit cards and buy Bitcoin, early. I got in late, when it was right on the cusp. I’m going to leave it a couple of years, see what happens.

Are you planning for the future?

Yes; to get married. And Mr & Mrs Brunch can’t get married and it not be the party of the century, so we’re going to have to go all out. That’s a milestone. We’ll start saving together then, look to buy a house.

What would you raid your savings for?

Family emergency. The majority live in the UK but we’ve still got some in the Caribbean. The last thing you want to be thinking is ‘how am I going to pay for this?’

Updated: March 28, 2019 11:01 AM

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