Getting To Know Missy Flynn, The Creative Behind Rita’s – London’s Coolest Restaurant Yet
Everything from the food and drinks offering to the design behind Rita’s exudes that it’s a venture born from passion and a genuine love for hospitality. Missy Flynn, the restaurant’s co-founder and the lead on its innovative drinks menu, has bestowed her cool-girl charm onto Rita’s for ten years, during which the business has taken shape as pop-ups and residencies all over London. After originally studying fashion at university, Flynn realised she was drawn to hospitality after visiting the electrifying dive bars of New York, where she was enamoured by both the staff and patrons’ genuine ardour for these spaces. It’s thanks to this that we’re now at the highly anticipated opening of Rita’s in Soho – a place where we can congregate to drink the best margaritas we’ve ever had, fill up on irresistible American comfort food, and tell our friends to meet us at what might be London’s coolest-sounding address: 49 Lexington Street.
When did you realise that hospitality was what you wanted to pursue a career in?
My Dad ran a pub, so I grew up in and around hospitality environments. I remember being very aware of the fact it was a completely unusual profession in terms of the hours and effort compared to other industries. Later on, I went to university to study fashion promotion and I hated it. Alongside that, I worked in a bar – which was an obvious place to work after having helped my parents out in their pub from a young age. Here, I discovered a whole world of cocktails and mixology, I started spending my student loan on trips to New York, and I’d use my fake ID to visit dive bars. I completely fell in love with them. It transformed hospitality for me, and I began to see it as something people loved to do rather than something they did as a necessity to make money. Soon after, I dropped out of university because I knew it wasn’t right for me.
Do you ever wonder what life would have been like if you hadn’t dropped out?
Yeah, I do actually. Sometimes I think maybe I missed out on a chance to do something creative. But now, after researching Rita’s for almost ten years, my job has evolved into a more curatorial role, and that’s creative in itself.
"I completely fell in love with New York dive bars. It transformed hospitality for me, and I began to see it as something people loved to do rather than something they did as a necessity to make money.”
So you’ve just opened the new restaurant in Soho, how has the journey been?
Finally! We’ve had the site for the restaurant since July last year, and we ran it as a pop-up bottle shop for a bit, opened a bodega, and have been slowly working on the site. We began Rita’s back in 2012 and since then have done various versions. Bodega Rita’s, which is our deli, started in Kings Cross. What I loved about that was we’d get customers who were about to hop on the Eurostar stopping off to grab some lunch. They’d board their trains with sandwiches that were almost inappropriately tasty, and perhaps not the kindest thing to take on a train journey with other passengers around you!
What have been the biggest challenges of gearing up for the opening?
So very obviously, two things have been the fallout of Brexit and COVID. It’s insane, we can’t get any tequila until the end of the month, we can’t get anchovies for another two weeks and at one point we couldn’t even get white castor sugar. It’s been a bit of a shock because the reality of running a restaurant is now manifesting in quite an extreme way. I think having too much time before opening has actually been quite challenging also, because there’s been so much time to sit, overthink and second guess if everything is right or wrong, especially when things are changing around us so rapidly.
Can you talk us through some of the best drinks on the menu?
Well Rita’s is half-named after the margarita – my favourite cocktail – and they’ve always been at the centre of our drinks programme. We’ve got a really nice hibiscus and almond variation, which is a little citrusy. Another one incorporates sancho, which is a Japanese peppercorn that has the same tingling property as Sichuan peppercorns. It’s kind of numbing but ultimately mouthwatering, so we infuse it into the tequila and make a really nice, simple, Tommy-style margarita. It’s quenching and green, and comes with a bag of plum salt on it. It’s really fun. There’s another old-fashioned-style drink that we’re doing too. We’re trying to create a cohesion between the food and drinks menus by using similar flavours, and one that is really prominent in a lot of Rita’s offerings is corn. We’ve offer a corn old-fashioned that has a really interesting flavour profile. It’s a round, slightly sweet whiskey drink that I really love.
"We're trying to create a cohesion between the food and drinks menus by using similar flavours, and one that is really prominent in a lot of Rita's offerings is corn."
What do you love most about the restaurant’s surrounding neighbourhood and why did you choose to open in Soho?
At Rita’s, we always want to draw in a mix of people to unite over food and drinks, and I think central London is the perfect place to do so. For me, I feel quite at home in East London, but it’s only because of COVID that we could afford to take something central, so the opportunity is amazing. Another incredible thing about the location is that our building is Grade-II listed. This means that not much of the structure can ever change, so even down the line, if somebody else takes it and we leave London, it will always have the imprint on the shape of what we were working with. I just think, philosophically, even if we can put our stamp on it for now, in 50 years time I can walk through Soho and say, “That building that used to be my thing!”. Also, the address just sounds really cool, “Meet me at 49 Lexington Street!”
"At Rita's, we always want to draw in a mix of people to unite over food and drinks, and I think central London is the perfect place to do so."
"I want to make use of our footprint in this neighbourhood by hosting community events, fundraising dinners or even just contributing to and supporting local causes in a meaningful way."
You’ve already evolved Rita’s so much, but do you have any other goals in mind?
There are a few people I’d love to collaborate with, but broadly speaking, I just want to debunk the myth that central London is full of chains and big brands. I want to make use of our footprint in this neighbourhood by hosting community events, fundraising dinners or even just contributing to and supporting local causes in a meaningful way. We want to grow; I really love employing people and I love the idea that we can create lasting jobs in a comfortable and ethical environment. The goal is to drive the commercial side to make sure we pay people well and make money, because ultimately, that will afford us opportunities to give back more in our community.