In this new instalment of our Aspire interview series, we meet Mark Jackson, Bar Manager at Maray, Liverpool to talk about his hospitality journey.
Leadership comes in many forms. There are those who lead through fear, through charisma, through example. Some prefer to lead from the front, some from the back, some from within, but all wish ultimately to inspire positive action.
Mark Jackson from Maray never wanted to be a leader, not in a stereotypical sense. For a while he’d been in a band (“We did ok, but it was time for a change, I needed something else to wake me up”), worked in shops, supermarkets, warehouses, and had a stint as a sound engineer.
A new beginning
He’d never worked in hospitality when Maray – now one of Liverpool’s most critically acclaimed restaurants – opened in June 2014. “They took a chance on me,” he says, “this was the first restaurant they’d opened, and I was new to the industry, so it worked well that we were learning together.”
Mark initially started on the floor, but admits it wasn’t really his bag (“I was definitely out of my comfort zone”). When a colleague failed to show, Mark took his chance to get off the floor and behind the bar, where he instantly felt more at home.
“The discipline and focus intrigued me, and definitely the creative side of it… I think you connect with people in a different way… and you do get away with a bit more.”
Mark began taking on more and more responsibility (“I was doing stocks, GPs, and had full creative input on menus”) as Maray grew from one site to two in 2016. By the time they opened their third on Albert Dock in 2019, Mark had been promoted to bar manager. He was now a leader.
“I don’t think I’m a natural leader,” Mark admits, but what he did have was a hunger and a desire to learn, to make Maray the best it could be.
So, he travelled around the UK doing ‘disco shifts’ (“going to a bar for a day or a couple of days, jumping on the bar and seeing how other places do things”), absorbing as much as he could, learning tips and techniques to apply back in Liverpool… plus one or two things to leave behind.
Motivated by the trust placed in him by the restaurant’s directors, Mark, who admits to being “quite an anxious person”, grew to become a more confident individual and manager. “I feel like I can deal with any situation now,” he says, “I’m better at dealing with problems and finding solutions, because in a restaurant you have to find solutions.”
One problem the wider hospitality industry is finally facing up to is mental health, and Mark is proud to be part of a group trying to find their own solutions.
“We’ve got first aiders trained in mental health that you can go talk to, we’ve done workshops on wellbeing, yoga sessions to get involved with,” he says.
“It’s just generally everyone being open with each other, and if you’re struggling then you can say, and we can do something about that.”
Leadership is not static, it is continually changing and improving. Mark may not see himself as a “natural leader”, but his desire to learn, to improve, to make Maray a better place to be, certainly marks him out as one.