Food businesses: The steps towards the sucess

THROUGHOUT my year and a few months of blogging, I have come across many food brands and restaurants managed by people with a passion for food, working hard to target as many consumers as they could and increase footfall to make their business a success. I have talked to many people explaining me the love for their products and how they managed to turn the simple idea they got one day into a living. Listening to those passionate people is like opening a book of wonders and even if the story isn’t a fairy tale every day, a bit of dream in this world put a smile on your face and you give you the famous goose bumps feeling we like so much.

We all secretly dream of being the next one with the big idea that every consumer – whom we are – will get on, just because it is the product we have always missed or the restaurant serving our favourite food in the best atmosphere. There are plenty of examples around us that show us that the biggest successes come from the smallest ideas and the ones you get on a Monday morning in the tube could actually be the one that makes you quit your job and become a happier person.

Richard is the owner of Otto, a pizzeria in Notting Hill Gate… with a twist. He and his friend Tom decided to bring the US cornmeal Crust concept to the UK and offered something different than a traditional Neapolitan or Chicago pizza. With strong confidence in their idea, Richard quit his job in investment banking and started working on his business plan.

Travelling around America, we came across Cornmeal Crust Pizza. It was revelatory. I’ve always wanted to run my own business, and we saw an opportunity to do some that was a bit different and we felt we could make a success with. Food seemed like an obvious choice because it was something that Tom and I both had a passion for, as well as a bit of relevant experience.

Siddharth Singh created the company Made with joy in 2009 to bring bottled lassi to the market. Siddarth and his partner used to work in banking and have always had a strong interest in social enterprise. He spent 7 months in India where he met farmers to see how technology could improve the agriculture in India. Once back in London, he decided to set up Made with Joy and work with small farmers to support their business. Made With Joy is still at its early stage of its business but the range, including Mango, Strawberry & Holy Basil and Cardamon and Rose Water should be available soon in a few shops across London in September/October.

We got the idea sitting in Hyde Park on a summer’s day in 2009 wondering why you couldn’t get a decent lassi in the market and why it wasn’t more widely available seeing its refreshing and healthy benefits and considering how popular Indian cuisine is in the UK. We also thought that we wanted to take on-the-go food to the next level and work with interesting flavours and add a little ding in the food universe. We’re big fans of great food and increasingly interesting food, but more then that we wanted to do something which could impact the entire food chain, from production, processing to retail, etc.

Alan Rosenthal is the founder, chef and managing director of Stewed!, a company specialises in one of the nation favourite’s meals with flavours such as Thai chicken; Chorizo, chickpea and pork; Hungarian goulash beef, Moroccan chicken.

It was one of those light bulb moments on the tube back in 2006 when that idea first hit me….I was looking for a gap in the market and I really felt there was an opportunity for something in between a ready meal and a soup that could be eaten out of the pot – convenient, tasty, nutritious and perfect for lunch as an alternative to a sandwich.
As a boy, I was always tinkering in the kitchen and dreamt of becoming a chef when I grew up.  One thing leading to another, I ended up doing a French and Spanish degree followed by a brief stint in a food company before going into retail.  Food always was at the back of my mind as something I should really be doing and I finally decided to quit and do something with food. After some private cheffing in France and some work in restaurants in London, I decided it was better to marry up my love of food with my professional skills picked up in retail.

Aman Grewal runs Delhi Grill, a new Indian street food canteen and take-away which recently opened on Chapel Market next to Angel Station. Brought up on delicious home-cooked healthy North, Indian food it is something they love. The menu is simple with a strong focus on authenticity and honest Indian food. Flavours is the main concern of the team and their Rogan Gosht is a must-try.

On our many travels to visit family in India we were taken to fantastic Street canteens called ‘Dhabas’ that offered simple honest cooking that was delicious and far removed from the five star hotels experience. In England we couldn’t find anywhere that served this genuine North Indian food except in ethnic areas like Southall in London and Handsworth in Birmingham. So we decided to open a restaurant that served what North Indian food is truly all about, in an environment reflective of the Dhabas of Delhi.

Once the idea is there and the business plan ready, finding the funds is the next critical step. However, stories have proven that, as long as you trust in your ideas, there are always a few friends, family and the hand of God to turn the big mountain into a small hill. And then, the top gets easier to reach.

For Alan, the investment came from a friend he met whilst doing 3 months at Leith’s cookery school in London while Aman Grewal and his partner dug deep into their own pockets…

Richard and Tom mainly invest their own money and the rest came from their family and friends. They thought about external investment but the conditions were pretty onerous. They were also confident in their offering and felt like they were offering people a great opportunity by investing.

Siddharth and his partner put in their own savings into the business and the rest came from friends and family, who are still their biggest fans. For the future, they’re looking for angels who share their values and can see their vision. Well, if there is anybody out there ready to help …

Like in every business, jumping into the wonders of food business could be a scary step to take. It requires a lot of time and energy and you never know what the next obstacle will be. However, getting yourself into that new challenge opens you the door of freedom where you are the one deciding on the next idea, the directions to take and where each day is very different from the previous and the next one.

Running a business is a lot of faith and good humour! We’re called Made With Joy, for the simple reason that if we’re not having fun we might as well close shop and go back to the monotony of 9 to 5! We think running a business is about how everything we do, every little thing, benefits the people involved in the business, be it our suppliers, our retailers or our customers. We’re still figuring out how to run a business, we’re lucky that we haven’t developed the cynicism/professionalism of corporations as yet and till then we’ll put in our hard work and faith in what we’re doing and hope for the best! Siddharth, Made with Joy

Our biggest challenge was being taken seriously due to our relative lack of experience and age. It also took a fair bit of convincing family and friends that we weren’t completely crazy to leave behind well paying city careers.  To start with Tom and I did everything between us – prepping all day, then one would cook and the other serve, before tidying away and washing up at night. Now we have a few more staff to help us out. Richard, Otto

The most challenging part was perhaps dealing with so many things at once – setting up a business is not easy, there are so many things going on when you are working on it alone.  I also had to become very thick skinned – you have to be able to accept rejection – that can be hard when your business is, at the start, ultimately your baby. Alan, Stewed!

The most challenging was and still is getting the message across to consumers that this is the ‘real deal’, no shortcuts. Nothing is easy but the most fun part is getting our aunts, cousins and elders to translate what is an instinctive cooking process into something definable. No-one has prescribed timings or quantities, they adjust based on smell, sound and taste as the cooking process is going along. Aman, Delhi Grill

Napkins are now on the table, the production of the range has been sorted out and some products are even on the shelves… How do you take your restaurant or your product out there and increase the famous “brand awareness” that every company is looking for? How do you give your business the push it needs to make costumers step into your restaurant or fell in love with your products?

We do some promotions in stores to drive awareness at shelf level and I also try to grow awareness through Twitter and Facebook. I organise as many tastings as I can as this is hugely helpful but also hugely time consuming and very expensive to do on a large scale.  With a new brand, it’s all about building trust with the consumers and face to face meetings really helps – alas I can’t give everyone in the UK a taste of my stews… yet! We are also trying to do a little bit of the festival scene and also special events such as BBC Good Food in Birmingham this year. Alan, Stewed!

We’re a small outfit, so we’re limited in what we can do. But our roll out strategy is simply to target small shops and chosen areas within London where there is a history of interest in good quality produce and new and interesting food products. We consider small independent shops the backbone of the industry and centres of joy! We’re hoping to share our drinks through friends, in their workplaces, at home and anywhere we can get access. We would be very happy to even deliver these to people’s houses if they really like the drinks and want to share them with people! Siddharth, Made with Joy

It’s difficult because we have a tiny budget for such things. Some leaflet distribution, a bit of tweeting and begging happy customers to tell their friends. Our fundamental belief is that if the food is good enough people will come. Aman, Delhi Grill

To see your business growing is such an achievement and despite the long hours and the hard work, there is nothing more rewarding than a customer loving your food.

Whether it’s reading a review or just seeing people having a good time, nothing beats it. I also love the atmosphere we get in the evening when it’s busy. Richard

Recognition and seeing pots on the shelves of the supermarket shelves thinking – ‘I did that’ gives you wings! Had I not got out of bed on April 6th 2008 when I sold the first one in a farmers’ market, there would be no stewed! Alan

The most rewarding feeling is seeing the look of pleasant surprise/joy on people’s faces once they taste our drinks! Siddharth

The best feeling is the positive reaction from Indians who visit and tell us it’s delicious. Two weeks ago our Mother came in for dinner and loved the food. There’s no bigger critic of North Indian food – so it was a really special moment. Aman

Setting up a business is also about continuously thinking of the next step and how to bring that dream to the next level. Having a idea is a good start but to make it work, forward-thinking is the key of the success.

In five years time, Alan would like Stewed! to be a household brand, stocked in all the Multiples, developed into new categories and to have started growing overseas whereas, for Siddharth., it is all about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. On the other hand, Richard and Tom have already surpassed most of their expectations and they’re currently re-evaluating their ambitions.

Aman and his partner see themselves in the same place – still searching for the perfect Rogan Gosht, with lots of delighted customers amazed at the quality of cooking at street prices. For them, this is a journey not a destination.

There is nothing more frustrating than regretting what you haven’t achieved in life.  If you feel that the idea and the passion is there, then, go for it and there will always be a  Richard, Alan, Siddharth or a Aman to give you the advice you need.

Close your eyes and jump and then talk to people! Also if you have an idea, it’s better to go ahead and produce the product/deliver the service rather then spend time on figuring out how or creating numerous business plans. Siddharth

Plan, plan, plan. But once you have done all the planning, if it reinforces your confidence in your ideas, then just go for it. Richard

Go for out, don’t try and build Rome in a day – try your ideas out on friends and family – get advice and talk to people.  It’s amazing how many people like to give advice and are happy to help. It is also the best way to learn from their mistakes.  Stay focused, understand what you want to achieve and stay true to yourself.  There is no point creating something that you end up not enjoying because it strayed from your original idea…. You will succeed if you love what you do. Alan

Go into it because you want to serve customers delicious food, not for riches. Aman

All I can wish you now is good luck .. and make us dream!

020 7792 4088
6 Chepstow Road, W2 5BH
London, W2 5

Otto on Urbanspoon

Delhi Grill
020 7278 8100
21 Chapel Market
London, N1 9

Delhi Grill on Urbanspoon


11 thoughts on “Food businesses: The steps towards the sucess

  1. What a fantastic post, really love it and the way you’ve walked us through parts of the process with four separate businesses.

    Lovely to have their quotes, too!

  2. This was inspiring to read – thank you Mathilde. Great quotes from the business owners.

    It can be very tiring – mentally & physically when setting up a business but being tenacious in taking the knocks with the joys is essential – it keeps you on the path. As I’m doing this on my own, it can be lonely and I’d love more people to offer advice / help tho (almost be a mentor) – sometimes I find myself deliberating over asking for it, thinking people won’t be interested or they’re too busy but I’ll have to overcome this shyness to achieve my business goals.

    I just know I love when people can eat my gluten & wheat free creations with a smile and peace of mind and also love it when non coeliacs are pleasantly surprised when they’ve tasted some of my products. I want to change the perception that a free-from is not inferior in any way.


  3. Great post.
    I haven’t eaten in Delhi Grill, but I’ve had their wraps on a Sunday afternoon. I found them ok but had way to much salad in them, and not enough meat.
    But am looking forward to eating inside though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s