This Norfolk couple have just given their £7.5m restaurant to their staff

PUBLISHED: 10:40 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:12 05 December 2018

From left John and Maxine Murphy, with John Collings, managing director and operations director Sharon Collins outside Arbuckles in Downham Market  Picture: Chris Bishop

From left John and Maxine Murphy, with John Collings, managing director and operations director Sharon Collins outside Arbuckles in Downham Market Picture: Chris Bishop

Archant

The parents of Premier League footballing twins Josh and Jacob Murphy have scored a dream goal for staff, by giving away a £7.5m restaurant business to the workers who made it a success.

John Murphy and his partner Maxine have decided to give away Arbuckles, the diner business they have taken more than a decade to build on the outskirts of Downham Market.

And to the staff who will receive the gift – valued at some £7.5m – it’s a lucky break which could be worth a life-changing amount of money.

And to the staff who will receive the gift – valued at some £7.5m – it’s a lucky break which could be worth a life-changing amount of money.

The decision, which has been more than a year in the preparation, was finally revealed to the 130-strong workforce at a staff meeting at the Downham Market restaurant on Monday morning.

John Murphy, Jacob Murphy, Josh Murphy and Maxine Murphy at Arbuckles in 2013 Picture Matthew Usher.John Murphy, Jacob Murphy, Josh Murphy and Maxine Murphy at Arbuckles in 2013 Picture Matthew Usher.

Mr Murphy told them the deal had been signed on Friday, meaning they had been business owners for the last three days without knowing it.

Mrs Murphy said: “What a great feeling it is to own your own business. I’m so proud of you, I’m so pleased for you.”

Afterwards, many staff were overcome by the news. Bar manager Andy Lucraft-Townley said: “I’m delighted for John and Maxine that they’re moving into retirement and it’s great they’ve bestowed the business on the staff who have become like their own family.”

Supervisor Gemma Jacklin, 31, who has been with the business for two years, said: “I’m absolutely shocked, it’s very exciting.”
Waitress Elaine Bowles said: “It’s really exciting, it’s a good opportunity, it really makes you proud to be working here.”
Fellow waitress Claire Dennis said: “It’s not just a job any more.”
Earlier, Mr Murphy said he and his partner had been looking for a way in which they could take a step back from the business, protect its future and reward their staff.

Hugs all round. Maxine Murphy embraces a member of staff who she says are all like family. 
Picture: Neil DidsburyHugs all round. Maxine Murphy embraces a member of staff who she says are all like family. Picture: Neil Didsbury

“We’ve done incredibly well out of it, but we didn’t do it on our own – we had a lot of help,” he said.

“We put in a lot of graft to build the business, and luck played a part.

“There are people who don’t get that break. We are now saying: ‘We are going to be your lucky break’.”

With their sons Jacob and Josh Murphy both playing Premier League football, having come through the Norwich City academy and first team, the couple admit they have “had a lot of luck in our lives”.

John Murphy chats to his staff who have inherited the restaurant business. Picture: Neil DidsburyJohn Murphy chats to his staff who have inherited the restaurant business. Picture: Neil Didsbury

They have now set up an employee ownership trust which has bought the restaurant from them. Over the next five years, it will repay its loans using Arbuckles profits, after which 51pc of the business will be owned by the employees as a collective.

The remaining 49pc will be held by individual employees and managers personally selected by the couple for having helped them to turn the diner into one of the area’s most popular restaurants.

In some cases, that will be as much as 5pc – a stake which at current values would be worth £350,000.

“I want to be able to help all those people who have stayed with us in the hard times,” said Mr Murphy, 43,

John and Maxine Murphy announce to their staff that they will be the custodians of their succesful Arbuckles restaurant business going forward. Picture: Neil DidsburyJohn and Maxine Murphy announce to their staff that they will be the custodians of their succesful Arbuckles restaurant business going forward. Picture: Neil Didsbury

“I want them to be able to look at those who left and say ‘I now own a share that’s now worth £75,000 or £150,000 or £350,000’.

“That’s life-changing for most people. If they keep their noses clean and work hard for the next five years then they own something tangible that takes them on to the next stage of their life.”

Mr and Mrs Murphy do not hide the fact that they will do well from the deal – they will ultimately be paid for the restaurant – and that the tax incentives offered by the government for employee ownership make it an attractive model.

But they could also have taken a more traditional sale route which would have unlocked the cash more quickly, or simply taken a step back, allowed their management team to run the restaurant and collected the profits.

Staff listen to owners John and Maxine Murphy who tell them they are already the owners of the Arbuckles restaurant business. Picture: Neil DidsburyStaff listen to owners John and Maxine Murphy who tell them they are already the owners of the Arbuckles restaurant business. Picture: Neil Didsbury

They have also contributed £1.5m to the ownership trust from current profits, and will continue to sit on the board of directors. A management team has been appointed and will oversee the transition and the future of the business.

The move is expected to help retain talent at the restaurant – the shares can only be sold once the debts are repaid in five years – and give staff greater responsibility for driving its success.

From his research, Mr Murphy says that such businesses run with an employee ownership model tend to outperform traditional structures. They are particularly popular in the USA while in the UK, John Lewis and Partners is the best-known example.

Since reviving a derelict Little Chef restaurant in the teeth of the financial crisis, Mr and Mrs Murphy have turned it into one of the busiest restaurants in the area.

An Arbuckles employee takes in the news that he will part own the business thanks to the generosity of owners John and Maxine Murphy. Picture: Neil DidsburyAn Arbuckles employee takes in the news that he will part own the business thanks to the generosity of owners John and Maxine Murphy. Picture: Neil Didsbury

It opened as a 100-seat restaurant but has been expanded several times and can now accommodate 340 guests, while a second site in Ely was opened in 2017. The two have a combined turnover of more than £6m.

The couple’s philosophy is summed up in the name of the trust they have set up to take on the restaurant – Karma Enterprises.

“We called it Karma Enterprises because we are big believers in karma,” said Mr Murphy.

“Do good things, and good things happen. I know it’s a mumbo-jumbo concept but it’s a good way to live your life.

“We’ve adopted it in work, and this is it coming back full circle.”

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