Craig Harker doesn’t mind when people tell him what they think of him – in fact, he “loves it”.
“Most people when they meet me say ‘I thought you were an ad ** k,’ he says, ‘then they talk to me and they get it.’
The owner of the social media star of Stockton’s George Pub & Grill isn’t content with just courting controversy, he sprinkles it with extra bechamel sauce and garlic sauce.
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It opens sites in Redcar and Middlesbrough and plans to expand in Yorkshire.
His “George” and Daddy Loves Food pages, where he documents his travels across the country eating burgers and drinking beer, have grown to “the point where Facebook is paying me now”.
“We’ve had 11 million minutes viewed in the last seven days,” he says, “which is crazy.”
With 250,000 social media followers, he is known across the UK for his pragmatic reviews of food and hotels.
He gets arrested on the streets in “other towns and villages – but not in Teesside”.
The 34-year-old told Redcar to prepare for the arrival of George’s stomach-breaking portions by putting on “your big pants.”
You could almost hear the hands of the anti-obesity crowd.
But it was a post asking “Would you punch your ex in the face for a parmo?” in 2017, which arguably landed it in the hottest water.
The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) said it “trivializes and encourages domestic violence.”
Craig has also been criticized by Harbor, a domestic violence charity.
He believes that building a media profile, no matter how scandalous or provocative, “goes hand in hand” with commercial success.
And it allows the father of three to continue doing what he loves and creating jobs for others.
“People went from seeing the George to myself in newspaper articles,” Craig says of the early days.
“I don’t care what the media says about me, I love it.
“They hit the nail on the head when they said there was no bad publicity.
“Everything I’ve done is more British humor than controversial anyway.
“The way the world is going by the minute, we are constantly divided.
“No matter what I do, I will never sit on the fence.
“So I’m always going to upset 50% of people.
“Half the people say ‘why is this pr ** k still here.’
“Just by their comments, the media won.
“But I know where my own moral is.
“And as long as the numbers go up …”
Being the boss of the business means you can do “literally whatever you want,” he says – but you have to be able to “take the consequences”.
“If you are an employee, you still have restrictions.
“If I do something wrong and the business goes down, I learn from it.
“It’s my fault.
“If I’m doing something right, then it all helps the business.
“So much so that Facebook is paying me now.
“Everything is monetized, just from what you do.
“Towns and cities, local newspapers will contact me to review the places.
“It’s only in Teesside that people don’t approach from that angle because they’ve seen all the controversy.
“I’m going to Manchester this week, I can guarantee someone will invite me somewhere for a test.
“I went to London last week, it’s mind-boggling, I get arrested a lot – outside of Teesside.
“People are screaming ‘Daddy loves food’.
“I hacked to get a free drink at Maccy’s or turn a double cheeseburger into a Big Mac for no cost.
“It’s relatable, it’s instantaneous.”
Covid, or rather the lockdown and having a captive audience on social media, has helped the company.
And as horrible as it was, adds Craig, it was a good turning point for the George as they “changed the dynamics”.
“Our clients come from far and wide to come to the George,” he says.
“We focused on delivery, increased the quality.
“I used to go for the biggest burgers, the biggest steaks.
“Now we use fresh minced meat from Aberdeen Angus and Wagyu.
“We opened at Stockton Business Hub just before the lockdown.
“We have graphic designers, content creators.
“But covid took us to the next level because there were a lot more people looking at their screens.
“It was the perfect time to target the audience.
“It’s almost like Gogglebox, we sit and watch people watch TV.
“The people were at home.
“What has changed for me is living a lot more.
“I would suggest this to any business owner who has a little bit of facade, a little bit of confidence.
“Most of the time you find they are good at their craft but not at the business side.
“People can see I was eating at the pub, they connected a lot more.
“It’s interactivity when something is live.
“You can’t do that on TV, when you have 5,000 on a live stream, they feel like they can interact with you right away.”
When Craig has a good meal or good service at a rival company, he likes to yell at it.
“If we all did this it would be better for the region,” he says.
“We have some amazing restaurants here.
“I encourage people to go to places whether it is in Teesside or elsewhere.
“People say ‘why would you want them to go there instead of the George’ – there is enough money for everyone.
“If somewhere is amazing, I would happily say ‘this is the best steak I have had’.
“If I’m going somewhere and the meal is disappointing in Teesside, I don’t want to be seen discouraging anyone from going – but I don’t mind doing it elsewhere.”
Craig ran in the Bishopsgarth and Elm Tree by-elections last year.
It was a response, he said, to the powers that be which are “always on the back.”
The dispute with the ASA four years ago sparked a clearance hearing from Stockton’s Council, which ordered it to tone down The George’s social media posts, or risk causing him to lose his ability to sell. alcohol.
“Taken on its own, the post sounds awful – but in context, it was a play on a Facebook meme, which had been seen by millions of people,” Craig recalls.
The meme was ‘Would you like to hit your ex in the face for a million dollars.’
“I turned it into something from Teesside and added some parmo.
“It was suddenly a huge thing, the domestic violence groups started.
“It was seen by six million people and received four complaints.
“Most people took it in for light fun and jokes.
Another was ‘girls just wanna have fun’ – do a parmo, get your nails done – and win a crawling bunny.
“They said because I didn’t have an age limit the kids weren’t safe in my pub.
“What pissed me off is that my kids are there five days a week.
“Everything changed, families were flocking.
“I said if you keep laughing at me I’m going to shake things up.”
“So I introduced myself as an advisor.
“I took the campaign seriously, lost, but got over 100 votes.
“I don’t think you earn that respect from elders or local authorities until you are older.
“They’re like ‘who’s this young boy who articulates’.”
Craig claims he turned down offers of radio interviews about the charitable work he does.
“I don’t want people to like me for that, it’s a business – and you make up your own mind.
“The only thing worse than talking about it is not talking about it.
“This is another saying that I live by.
“As soon as you are irrelevant, the business goes down.
“Borges is amazing food, absolutely for years, everyone will always go there.
“Other businesses come and go.
“The hardest part is staying relevant.
“The media can twist a story however they want and I just make sure I share it.”
George Middlesbrough are ‘on their way to opening’ alongside Redcar and the next stop is ‘two or three more on Teesside’.
“It’s literally non-stop,” adds Craig, “from waking up to falling asleep.
“I get up at 5 am, at 7 am I have done a full day of work.
“It gets easier as we open more places.
“Hiring a new area manager means I can pretty much do whatever I want – that’s what we’re all aiming for, right?
“I don’t want to be a millionaire, I don’t run after money.
“I don’t grow up to achieve status or to hunt anyone, I do it for myself and my family.
” I like what I do.
“If you talk to my Madam, she will tell you that I am not stopping.
And a strong work ethic was instilled in him from a young age.
“Dad had a sandwich shop, I went to the warehouse at 7 in the morning.
“I used to sell sandwiches at school earning myself £ 100 a day in high school.
“I said ‘Dad, if we combined this business model, we would be the number one sandwich supplier now.’
“But he didn’t have any marketing or business acumen.”
The only thing he wishes he had done differently is “caused more controversy.”
“I am happy to be in a position where I can help the younger ones, we have 50 employees.
“They don’t have to be trapped in a business where they’re not happy, they can come to work and be creative.
“Things are snowballing and I can’t see them stopping anytime soon.
“My goal is to have Georges all over Teesside, then in Yorkshire.
“There’s not a lot of support behind me, everything I’ve done is self-funded by taking the right steps at the right time and without rushing.
“I don’t want to turn 70 or 80 and regret anything.
“But I don’t have a single regret at the moment.”
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