Having set up his food business out of a wagon in 2009, entrepreneur Yianni Papoutsis now has three London locations and a Brighton site on the way. GrowthBusiness finds out how the industry has changed.
Rapidly expanding restaurant empire Meat Liquor is now turning over £9 million and has 200 staff on its books. Founder Yianni Papoutsis was a pioneer in the burger craze that is now sweeping London, and has just secured a site for a Brighton restaurant. We ask him how the industry has changed, and what role food entrepreneurs have in today’s economy.
1) How has the food scene in London changed since you founded Meat Liquor?
Well there’s a lot more burger joints than there used to be…! There’s been huge expansion in what the media have dubbed ‘fast-casual’ dining and right across the board consumers are expecting, and getting, a lot more for their money. The ‘street food’ scene has become ever more popular and a few operators have started to make the leap into bricks-and-mortar premises. That being said, the industry is getting more and more competitive every day and the barriers to entry are getting higher all the time.
(2) What were the big hurdles to you getting going?
The same as any other small business: obtaining the required finance under fair terms and navigating the Gordian knot of regulations and bureaucracies that exist today.
(3) What mistakes did you make along the way?
Too many to list here: pretty much everything I did was a mistake. The trick is to learn from your mistakes and not let them bring you down.
(4) How will you be growing the business now?
We’re opening in Brighton in September which will be our first site outside London. After that we don’t have any immediate plans. We’ve always tried to be adaptable so we can react to new opportunities relatively quickly to take advantage of them.
More on food entrepreneurs:
- Eating out sector now worth £25 billion in the UK
- Gü’s James Averdieck: From luxury chocolate pots to healthy coconut treats
- Keeping it simple: Peter Ilic
(5) Will it become harder to differentiate yourself in an increasingly congested market?
Right from the early days of the MEATwagon we’ve always provided an experience rather than just selling food. Whether it be the food, the cocktails, the music, the design – we’ve never had a problem standing out in the crowd.
(6) Do you think the food game is recognised in terms of its entrepreneurial contribution to the UK economy?
There’s a vast industry out there that employs tens of thousands of people from all backgrounds. A lot of the economic and associated social benefits are in providing tens of thousands of otherwise unskilled workers with jobs and a regular income. In addition to this, traditionally those workers can progress within the industry to a much higher level and at a much higher pace than they would in other sectors.
(7) What do we need to do to encourage more food entrepreneurs?
Free small businesses from the overbearing burden of excessive and opaque regulation and administration. Help them concentrate on operating their core business rather than having to focus on administering a company.
(8) Who are your business heroes?
All the small business owners who manage to start and grow a successful company from the ground-up – they’re the true heroes of the current economic times.