Tell us about yourselves. Do you have chef backgrounds?
Ross: We’re old friends from our university days. We don’t have hospitality backgrounds; post university I worked in finance for six years and Alex was a corporate lawyer, so it’s not a conventional route into this.
What led to Finish & Feast?
Ross: We have always had a shared love of food and drink; the cornerstone of our relationship over the last decade has been catching up over a bottle of wine and a nice dinner.
Alex: Back in May 2020 I handed my notice in because I wanted to try something new. We saw a lot of these early adopters of these kits coming about such as Patty & Bun, and Pizza Pilgrims, so Ross and I started talking about it. The more we talked about it the more we thought there might be something there. There has always been the at home dining angle with the likes of Mindful Chef and Hello Fresh but lockdown has been a catalyst for this fine dining at home and it’s really opened up people’s eyes to the fantastic product you can still achieve at home. We went through various iterations over the next few months and have gone from there.
How did you get it off the ground?
Ross: Because we have not come from a food and drink background we started reaching out through Instagram and emails to chefs proposing our idea. Chefs were enthusiastic about it, that’s how we came across Tom Aikens and his team.
Alex: We thought that if you take it so that it is 90% prepared for the end consumer there’s loads of wonderful value add for them, plus you take out a lot of the risk and it allows people to create a really premium product. It’s surprised a lot of people how good a product you can actually achieve. But we’ve had to do a lot of work to get up to speed with the industry. We did a lot of research on all the various different aspects - from packaging through to how you manage your courier so when we were reaching out to chefs we could instill confidence in the business. If they are going to put their name to something, they had to be sure we had the required quality our end.
How does the process work in choosing what the meal kits look like?
Ross: The starting point is always the chef recipe, with our team giving input into that. We often suggest tweaking certain components that will travel better - so there’s an element of collaboration.
Alex: Seasonality is very important, so we aim for quarterly changeover with recipes to allow for that. Initially the chefs will provide us with the recipes we’ll then go through with them make sure we understand how it works and how they want their recipes to be presented. We then go through a test kit phase where we do a batch of kits and then another batch of kits making any slight corrections that the chefs want us to. We then do the photo shoot with the final kits. There are three to four different sign offs with the chefs themselves.
Lockdown is lifting for restaurants in May. Where does this leave the makeaways market?
Alex: If you’re providing a great product to people then we’re pretty confident there will continue to be the demand there. The feedback we’ve had is that people are going to want to continue buying this. If you’re living in a city centre it’s very easy to think that you’ve got all of these fantastic restaurants on your doorstep, but in reality there’s a huge amount of our customers who don’t have that. Muse is a great example - it has just got a Michelin star and there will be an awful lot of people who want to eat Tom’s [Aikens] food, but it’s a 25-cover restaurant in Belgravia so a very limited number of people are going to be lucky enough to dine there. This is a way of trying Tom’s food in the meantime.
Ross: We get emails from customers ever week saying they’ve got young kids and are really busy and that it’s great to be able to have that fine dining experience at home. The postcodes where we send the meal kits to are not all in central London.
Once restaurants reopen how can chefs manage the meal kit side of their business?
Ross: We understand that once restaurants reopen most chefs lack the time, the space the personnel to be able to operate their main restaurant plus a meal kit company so by working with us we have our own teams of chefs they can draw upon, and our own customer service and packing teams and storage warehouse. All these limiting factors that might prevent chefs from doing meal kits after lockdown but we’re working with them to address these issues.
Will they need to evolve one dining out proper is resumed?
Alex: Not every dish that Tom will do in Muse with his team of highly-skilled chefs is one that will translate to a meal kit format for consumers at home. You do have a different style of dish and menu - we view them as complementary products that can sit alongside each other nicely rather than one stepping on the toes of the other. People might have a restaurant booking for a few months’ time and then order a meal kit before as a bit of a warm up act to get a flavour of that chef’s cooking and enjoy the slightly different style of it. They then might have another meal kit afterwards if they enjoy the restaurant food
Ross: The great thing about meal kits is they are another outlet for a chef to be creative. If you’ve got your restaurant and menu, you’re limited to let’s say five starters, five mains and five desserts, but you might have so many more ideas that you want to display to your customers. Meal kits are a fantastic way of taking those ideas and getting them out to a wider audience.