AUTHOR: Miranda Birch of Miranda Birch Media

Want to win people over to your next great idea?  Drawn from the Humans of Hospitality podcast collection, this festive boxset of SRA stories will spur you on in 2020.

If you run your own food or drink business, you’ll know that success isn’t just about a wonderful idea. You also have to convince customers that your new offering is so good, they won’t be able to resist it.  If, like Jennifer Wood or Griff Holland, your drink or dish challenges the status quo, people can take time to come round to your way of thinking.  But as their stories on Humans of Hospitality show, it’s worth it in the end. 

Canton Tea Jennifer Wood

1. Jennifer’s story, founder of Canton Tea

The origins of Canton Tea go back to the 1990s. For some time, Jennifer and her husband had been enjoying a deliciously fragrant oolong tea.  It was sent to them each year by a family friend, who owned a tea farm in the mountains of Taiwan.  It was so gorgeous that Jennifer wanted to introduce others to the delights of handpicked and handcrafted tea – far removed from the ‘cheap and dusty bags, stacked high in the supermarket’.

In 2007 she launched Canton Tea. Looking back, she describes it as ‘being in the wilderness’:

“The struggle it was to get people to take any of this in the F&B world…. My naivety, assuming that everyone would just get it. They would just taste it, see it, love it, buy it. Oh, it took years!”

Find the right allies

Like many start-ups searching for their first clients, Jennifer acknowledges that she was ‘pathetically grateful for anyone to buy it’.  In the early days she’d spend ‘hours on the phone to Barry Bigelow in Wales, who was buying 50 grams of something unusual and wanted to know everything about it’.

She soon realised that catering for individual enthusiasts wasn’t sustainable. She needed sizeable customers who shared her love for genuinely artisanal teas and could spread the word. It won’t surprise you that one of these early adopters was another SRA member:

“One of our oldest, most loyal and forward-thinking customers was Petersham Nurseries, who started in Richmond. I was across the river in Twickenham. I’d be packing down the tea in the kitchen, putting it on my bike, cycling down to the river and going on the foot ferry across to Petersham and delivering it that way.  They just happened to be deliciously close and they were brilliant. We still have a really nice range with them.”

12 years later, Canton Tea’s converts include some of the world’s finest hotels, restaurants and cafes. It’s easy to see why they’ve been inspired, when you hear Jennifer’s story in episode 43 of Humans of Hospitality.

 

Photo Shoot of the Friska Restaurants in Bristol, UK of Customers, staff and interiors . www.ferlapaolo.com

2. Griff’s story, co-founder of Friska

Like Jennifer, Griff was also offering something different to his target audience of office workers, nipping out to grab lunch. This was in 2009, when sandwiches monopolised the market and food trucks and street food hardly existed. Griff felt that lunch was lagging behind:   

“You had Ottolenghi books on your bookshelf; you watched Jamie Oliver on telly and may be Nigella at Christmas. But the lunchtime food offer that you would go out for, wasn’t reflecting those things that you read about or watched or perhaps cooked at home. Certainly sumac was nowhere to be seen on anyone’s menu. It might have been in your larder, but not on anyone’s menu!  So it felt like the food culture had moved on, but the lunchtime scene hadn’t.”

Hold your customer’s hand

The Friska menu aimed to fill that gap, with dishes inspired from all over the world. But this delicious proposition meant customers had to break old habits. As Griff discovered, that was hard:

“We didn’t make it easy for new customers to get on board. When they got through the door, they didn’t recognise anything.  We had dopiaza and we had gumbo. So things that you would normally order in a restaurant, or make from a cookbook, we had on our menu, and people weren’t expecting that. They’d not come across it before. They probably went in looking for a chicken sandwich. So they froze and they did the Friska-rabbit-in-headlights stare.  And if I didn’t get to them in time, to talk them into staying and choosing something, they’d turn around and go and get a sandwich!”

Today Friska has 13 venues in Bristol and Manchester.  Yes, it offers a delicious range of sandwiches as a stepping-stone to its satays, curries, gumbos and dopiazas. If you want inspiration on how to scale your business in a way that nourishes your soul, listen to Griff’s story in episode 47 of Humans of Hospitality.

3. Andrew Stephen’s story, CEO of the SRA

When you listen to Friska and Canton Tea, you’ll hear how their definition of ‘good food and drink’ goes well beyond delicious taste.   In common with other SRA members, Jennifer and Griff care about running their businesses in a good way, that respects the wellbeing of the planet and of the people they work with. Doing good, as well as tasting good.

Their approach shows how much the sector has changed over the last 20 years. Two decades ago, the prevailing definition for ‘good food’ focussed solely on taste; accessing the best possible ingredients, regardless of environmental or social costs.  Mouth-watering recipes are vital, of course.  But thanks to the vision of the SRA and its members, the status quo definition of ‘good food’ has been challenged. Now the meaning is more holistic. Andrew:

“I think that fundamentally, if you’re defining quality without any sense of welfare or provenance, you’re probably missing out on more interesting opportunities. The hospitality world is saturated and how do we differentiate?  I think there is tremendous potential to follow the path of more sustainable choices, and, in doing so, keep your staff happier, attract new customers, build loyalty and maybe save some money’.

You’ve had a taste, now enjoy the SRA boxset

Presented by independent restaurant and boutique hotel owner, Mark Cribb, these stories are the perfect listening companion as you cook, walk or drive over the festive period. As well as Jennifer, Griff and Andrew, be inspired by:

SRA members :

Rosalind Rathouse, Cookery School at Little Portland Street #45

James Golding, THE PIG

Steven Lamb, River Cottage 

SRA supporters, featured on our website:

Hugo Hardman and Arthur Voelcker, Chalkstream Foods

Mitch Tonks, Rockfish/Seahorse