I am a terrible entrepreneur. My current not for profit status is a stark reminder of this.
The problem is not that I don’t have good ideas, it’s just a lack of conviction and drive to follow those ideas through. I can think of at least two examples in the food sphere alone.
I distinctly remember the occasion 4 years ago when I walked out of Lords cricket ground so angered by an overpriced and frankly terrible burger, that I determined to revolutionise Britain’s mobile catering industry. I told everyone I knew that I would set up independent street food vans serving quality food at reasonable prices, because no one offered anything remotely like it at that time …
… but of course I didn’t. And whilst a market is never too saturated for a high quality entrant, lets just agree that the valuable status of being an early purveyor of good food from a van may not be there for the taking anymore.
The second idea struck me about six months later, during a wasted day waiting for a flight in Geneva: a city where there is only one restaurant that sells food you don’t have to remortgage your house for. It sold chicken, chips and salad in a basket. Nothing more. Maybe there was a choice of either a half or whole bird. But that was it. And it was cheap, and tasty, and totally rammed throughout the day.
“Why doesn’t anyone do anything like this in Britain?” I wondered aloud using my best Rick Stein voice. This was brilliant. It reminded me of holidays to France, picking up a rotisserie chicken and chips and taking back to a campsite to eat the best tasting and easiest meal of the year. Low overheads, low wastage, give the people what they want and they’ll be happy to pay for it. Everyone likes chicken.
I sat there, typing furiously away on my blackberry: a business plan; a resignation email; emails to wealthy friends requesting small capital investments. This was it. My Branson moment. Within two years I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams.
And then I walked out the door. The glare of flat grey sky, some bracing February wind and a depressing thought hit me: Nandos. Bollocks.
So that’s where that idea stayed. Until three or four months ago when I noticed that every man and his dog had decided that, if they were too late to open up a burger joint, or a restaurant that sells only lobsters and burgers, then they sure as hell were going to be in the vanguard of setting up somewhere that simply sells chicken and chips. Having tried some buttermilk fried chicken from their van, my money is on Roost being rather good. The esteemable Hugh Wright rounded up a few others here.
Of course they are all flawed. Obviously, unlike me, none of these people have any entrepreneurial sense. Take Nick ‘Soho House Group’ Jones’s Chicken Shop in Kentish Town, for example. What does he know about restaurants and hospitality?
Apart from clearly quite a bit.
Chicken Shop sits in a basement on Highgate Road, below the newest Pizza East and round the corner from a corrugated iron lean-to that is Dirty Burger, the third and most charming part of the Soho House development on the site. Very local people can pick up a takeaway chicken and chips, but I imagine most will want to wait (no bookings) to sit and eat in the forty seater space. It’s heavily and expensively designed and decked out to look like a 1950s American diner; and it does, in a cartoon kind of way. The rotisserie and grill lines one side. Seats are comfortably padded and nicely spaced – they could have crammed a bunch of 8 seater booths in and increased capacity, but I’m rather glad they didn’t.
The menu is short and painted on the wall: a quarter, half or whole; chips, coleslaw, corn on the cob, green salad as sides; a couple of beer options; “decent”, “good” or “best” wine available by the glass, carafe or whole bottle; a cheesecake, brownie or apple pie for dessert. And that’s pretty much it.
On the positives, the chicken was done simply but very well. Steamed then nicely charred on the rotisserie, leading to crispy skin but moist and flavoursome flesh. It is right, I think, that it comes portioned up, rather than being a whole bird for the customer to massacre. I liked the smokey and incredibly hot sauces that were on the table, though preferred the meat just with the lemon and juices it came in. Coleslaw was good. Crinkle cut chips were fine. A very full apple pie with excellent short and buttery pastry was bought to the table and our waitress portioned it according to how much she liked us. If that’s genuinely how dessert will be served, it is mighty endearing.
I have few, if any, substantive complaints. The side of corn was suspiciously sweet. A tinge of unnecessary sugar on the corn or in the butter sauce drizzled over it perhaps? Maybe I’m wrong. Apart from that, to me the branding feels lazy and unimaginative (it’s as if someone found a font called Acme Americano and thought that’ll do) and, actually, too expensive (the brown paper bags, napkins and condiments are too thick, too good a quality to be authentic takeaway/diner). A more indy, less Brand Agency approach would have been more attractive and pleasing. But these are minor gripes and there’s not really much more to say. It is just chicken. But it’s free range rotisserie chicken at reasonable prices and is pretty good.
Annoyingly, just as I thought, good quality chicken and chips for the masses is a simple idea but one that appears to have legs … and breast, wings, and thighs (sorry). So I was clearly wrong to have given up on this one. There is no reason why there shouldn’t be an alternative to Nandos, and whilst there are other contenders about to launch, Chicken Shop has the financial backing and industry expertise to prosper. I have a feeling you can expect to see them rolled out to a corner near you.
“It sold chicken, chips and salad in a basket. Nothing more. Maybe there was a choice for a half, rather than a full bird. But that was it. And it was cheap, and tasty, and totally rammed throughout the day”.
“Low overheads, low wastage, give the people what they want and they’ll be happy to pay for it”.
Chicken Shop in 3 words
Scalable business idea.
More chicken, sides and apple pie than two people could eat, washed down with a bottle of OK wine, for less than £25 a head.
www.chickenshop.com – 79 Highgate Road, NW51TL – 02033102020