What’s Sow all about?
It’s an all-day bowl food restaurant that’s opening on Soho’s Great Marlborough Street in June. The space will be split over two floors and be 1,100sq ft in total, with 22 seats inside and another eight outside. We’ve created this model to give us the best chance of scaling up.
Where did the idea come from?
I did a lot of research into what has mass market appeal and bowl food came up a lot. Sow is counter service, average spend is less than £10 and it follows the Leon model, which is a good one. It has been developed from looking at what’s working and not working out there at the moment. The middle market is not working and high-end is hard to scale up, so it made sense to develop a counter service concept. And bowl food, such as poké, is doing really well in London.
And the name?
It doesn’t mean anything really. I like it because it’s short, sweet and memorable.
What were you doing before?
I had a street food business but it was more high-end food. We got pulled into the vegan scene but I found the more I waved the vegan flag, the more I was isolated by the mass market. The vegan scene is a very loud but very niche space still. Off the back of that I got accepted onto a NatWest accelerator programme, and that was when I met my future investor, Shemeel Khan. He’s also behind Stevie Parle’s Pastaio and The Vurger Co and we decided to create a new concept together and take the learnings from my time doing my street food operation to create something we could scale up. To do that, we knew we had to attract the mass market.
Do you have a food or operations background?
I’ve always had a passion for cooking. I did a four-year Culinary Arts degree in Dublin and I have a masters in business and entrepreneurship. I worked in the kitchen at Wild Honey [in Mayfair] but discovered it would serve me better to move front of house to help me become more of a generalist and open restaurants. I first moved front of house at Wild Honey, then became assistant manager at its sister restaurant Arbutus. I’ve also worked for Prescott and Conran as opening general manager at Albion Bankside and then at Les Deux Salons, before deciding it was time to do my own thing. I initially returned to Dublin and started to develop a restaurant idea with a friend but we were at different times in our lives so it never really got off the ground. So I got back on the boat and opened my street food business in London.
What will be on Sow’s menu?
It will be an all-day offer from 7am-10pm Monday to Thursday and 11pm Friday and Saturday – with a location such as Great Marlborough Street it makes sense to stay open as long as possible. At the start we engaged a food development agency to help us, but it didn’t quite work in terms of our long-term plans, so we decided the best approach would be to take someone onto the board of directors to fully focus on food and standards. Frederick Forster came on board on 1 May and will be responsible for the menu. He’s a former National Chef of the Year and Roux Scholarship winner and an ex colleague of mine. Sow will have a breakfast menu including granola and porridge items, and then around six hot and six cold bowls as well as a few sweet ones. Options will include buckwheat noodles, shiitake mushrooms, sesame and nori broth; spiced chicken, savoury rice, pickled cabbage; and for breakfast, organic egg, chorizo beans and broken avocado. Breakfast bowls will start from £3, with all-day bowls from £7. We’ll also do pastries throughout the day.
And expansion is on the cards...
We are looking to open in A1 sites, which are easier and cheaper to find and fit out, are usually in better locations and don’t require extraction. We have a strategy to grow the concept from day one and to do that we are getting a central production unit. That might seem unusual so early on but it’s about reducing risk: it’s more risk in terms of capital and outlay, but it’s reducing risk in terms of the chances of Sow failing. It gives us the best chance of success. Because of the running costs of the unit, we need to scale up quickly to offset them, so we’ll also look to open smaller kitchens in high-density residential areas in London that will only do delivery to increase our revenue.
So what’s next?
We are eventually going to introduce a grab-and-go element, with food in fridges at the front of the restaurant – at the start it will just be drinks. We’d like to go into a Market Halls-type of establishment and we have two different venues lined up for this summer, although they are yet to be confirmed. They are very easy to set up, require low capital expenditure and are low-cost to run . They also don’t require a long commitment, which is good. We also want to open two more restaurants like Great Marlborough Street but in slightly bigger sites. We are discussing terms on two prime locations – one 2,000sq ft, the other 2,500sq ft. Both will have more seating than the debut site. Following that, we’ll probably look for more capital to open another five sites. We won’t take huge leases though, and we will take our time to find good locations.
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