This chapter highlights Pearce’s strengths as a London caterer. Resurrecting his career after his resignation, he formed a new company, JP Restaurants, remedying previous flaws in organisation while advancing a new business philosophy. Returning to the well-established Victorian family business model, he built a new firm, its directors made up of family members and friends, with himself as the undisputed chairman, beholden to no one or nothing except his own considerable skills, judgement and work ethic.
Pearce discovered his peacetime activities had ill-prepared him for wartime disruptions. By 1916, restaurateurs testified that prices across the board had soared by some 75%. Contributing to disorder, experienced staff took better wages in munitions work, leaving him constantly shorthanded with inferior replacements. German Zeppelin attacks demolished three of his restaurants, and the coachman of the brougham who drove him to inspect them afterwards disappeared. Poison gas factories gave the surroundings a saffron-coloured look. Bombs had not directly hit some civilians, but many nevertheless showed distinct signs of exposure—sickness, deranged behaviour and unattended horses whose boy minders had been killed.
Soaring rents, rates and taxation, together with intensifying competition in the City combined to obstruct the company’s expansion in the 1920s. To these new commercial pressures, Pearce responded in different ways. Doomed were his traditional working-class depots, the Pearce & Plenty chain with which he began so many decades ago. Low-cost meals became unattainable owing to new economic constraints. Pearce & Plenty houses either closed down or were converted into more upmarket premises. Other caterers of the working class had similar experiences with catering to plebeian patrons.
JP Restaurants not only survived serious wartime dislocations, but recovered faster than any other catering company in the post-war era, even outperforming huge competitors such as Lyons and ABC. To the end of his career, Pearce embraced new ideas, especially in regard to the welfare of his staff.
To what did Pearce owe this sustained level of astonishing success? The Financial Times pointed to JP Restaurants’ shrewd strategy in crossing class lines with both middle- and working-class shops as responsible for its popularity. Food distribution ensuring the freshest cooked food likewise distinguished the company from rivals. Competitors centralised food preparation at one site, where they cooked food and then distributed it to branches, which reheated it for customers the following day. JP Restaurants, in contrast, cooked food at one site in the early morning before dispatching vans with it to branches. This was what his firm had done before the war, and now continued.