Chelsea power couple Marissa and Matt Hermer have joined forces to bring New York-style hot dogs to Soho. So how are they faring as business partners? Alexander Larman finds out
There’s a tendency for successful couples to be bracketed together with a portmanteau name. Think of ‘Brangelina’ and ‘Kimye’, although the likes of ‘TomKat’ and ‘Bennifer’ have long been put out to pasture. Now thrown into the mix is the Chelsea-dwelling couple Matt and Marissa Hermer. He is the CEO of Ignite Group, which is responsible for the Bumpkin restaurants, Boujis nightclub and the Eclipse group of bars; she is a former food and drink PR and one of the stars of Bravo TV’s reality series Ladies In London.
Married with two children (‘we fell in love immediately, got parted, and then reconnected in New York’), they’ve just embarked on their first joint venture together, the upmarket hot dog restaurant Top Dog in ‘busy, bustling, slightly edgy’ Soho. A more casual and egalitarian place than Ignite’s other venues, it offers a carefully- chosen range of gourmet dogs, artisan coffee and craft beers in a three-storey Georgian building; as first joint projects go, it is ambitious, but the profoundly relaxed Hermers, just returned from a fortnight’s holiday, don’t seem at all fazed by it. As Matt puts it, ‘we’re really pleased with how it’s going, but nonetheless it’s a new concept for London, and we have to wait and see how people respond to it. So far, it’s gone down very well, thankfully!’
The idea was Marissa’s, and came about because of her frustration with not being able to get the sort of hot dog that was readily available in New York; as she says, ‘while we were in Hong Kong, we went to a hot dog stand on a date night’ – ‘I’m an old romantic’, quips Matt – ‘and I was desperately missing it, as, although my mother hates to hear it, I was raised on hot dogs growing up in California, and always popped down to the dirty hot dog stand on Broadway. So I was surprised to find that somewhere like this didn’t exist in London, and I thought ‘hmm, something like this could really work’. What we wanted to do was do the best hot dog, but using top-quality meat; we wanted them to be the popular girls in school, rather than the dirty rebels.’ I can report that the ‘Sloppy Dog’ with baked beans and cheddar was very ‘popular’ with me.
This will be the seventh restaurant Matt has opened, after a successful career in finance, but he denies any intention of putting a twist on staples (such as country restaurants in urban settings with Bumpkin and now an American hot dog establishment in the heart of London), saying ‘it’s just what’s happened, and I think a good concept exists without any tweaking. That said, I don’t think I’ve done Bumpkin justice, as there should be many more of them – but it’s just a case of focusing on one project, rather than all of them.’ This has included legendary celebrity haunt Boujis, of which he says ‘it’s been open now for over a decade, which is an eternity in nightclub terms.’
If Top Dog lives up to its name, there are expansion plans ahead (including around Chelsea and Kensington), plus more Bumpkins, and presumably more media for this photogenic couple, although Marissa says of their frequent appearances in the society columns, ‘it’s not that we seek out parties… we just happen to be photographed at them. Most nights, we’re in bed by 11pm.’
Since 2014, Marissa has been experiencing her own independent fame with her appearance on Ladies of London – for those who are unfamiliar, it is a reality series that follows a group of six women in London and their interactions with one another. When asked what it’s like, she replies ‘It’s hard to explain – it’s almost like heading off to the moon. It’s been an adventure to do, and having no experience of TV, I was curious about it as a media platform. And it airs in 30 different countries. Prosaically, it’s a great business opportunity, with a lot of it filmed in Bumpkin, and series two is following me opening Top Dog, offering a behind-the-scenes look at opening a restaurant. From an exposure perspective, it’s priceless.’ The only drawback can be the relentless presence of cameras in everyday life; as Matt says, ‘I’m occasionally featured as ‘Marissa’s husband’, and there can be times when us and the children are filmed having breakfast. Oddly enough, I now have less breakfast at home…’
‘Home’ is a self-designed mews house in Chelsea, near Cadogan Square. They speak rapturously about their lives there; if they’re not popping into Zuma or Scalini for dinner, or Marissa’s favourite, La Poule Au Pot (‘my birthday treat’), then they’re buying their meat, fish and vegetables from Chelsea Green and the Saturday farmers’ market. They both talk fondly of what they call the ‘familial’ feel, with Marissa saying ‘our children know all the fishmongers and butchers, and everyone knows where the food’s coming from. And we have the gym, the office – it’s absolute bliss living here.’
48 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4SF; top-dog.com