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GTP21: Caviar & Chips - How taking a people and values-led approach helped us start and grow our business

Caviar & Chips

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2021 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2021 this involves 8 free online workshops taking place throughout March, and a virtual Growth Through People conference on 30th March. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Aston University, BMet College and the University of Birmingham’s Work Inclusivity Research Centre - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

Back in January 2017 myself and my co-founder, Jonathan Carter-Morris were studying at Aston Business School on the MBA programme and considering what our next step should be at the beginning of another new year!

We both knew we wanted to start a business and that we had found the perfect partner in each other to help scratch our entrepreneurial itches!  Both Jonathan and I had started various business ventures in the past and having not quite hit the right ingredients just yet, we felt our MBA studies would be the catalyst to making the next business journey a successful one!

Jonathan and I both have an eclectic career background and we have different personality types, but our moral compasses are thankfully aligned!  Jonathan began his career in kitchens working as a chef and climbing the hospitality ladder to the point he was running multi-million pound sites and experiencing every aspect of hospitality at a high level.  For myself, I had meandered around marketing, sales and fundraising and it was the fundraising roles that brought us both together working at Aston University.

As we sat in a study room after one lecture about career planning, Jonathan and I started chatting and hypothesising about what our business could be, but having struggled to be inspired by a particular product or service, our starting point was just to create a great place to work.  We thought if we began here, then the “business” would start to unfold and show itself rather than us trying to “invent” something!  So our foundations have always been about doing the right thing for our people, even though we had no people working for us at the time!

This however gave us the next natural step and that was to do the same for our customers or clients and guests as they would be become known.  We decided our primary value was to do whatever our customers wanted. 

It was at this time Jonathan was engaged to his now wife, Gemma, and they were planning their wedding.  The discussions between lectures soon moved onto how difficult it was to plan a wedding.  I had been married 14 years at this point to my childhood sweetheart, Emma, and times had certainly changed!  But Jonathan and Gemma were struggling to find a caterer that could create the kind of menu they both wanted.  They were looking for five courses, matching wines, a bespoke bar and there was nothing out there like it and so we stumbled across a customer with a problem in a world where no-one was being customer-led.  This was our “ah-ha” moment and the start of Caviar & Chips, a client-led, bespoke catering business that would create menus however our clients wanted them.

If we fast-forward a couple of years, we had successfully grown Caviar & Chips, so we could leave our full-time jobs and start recruiting that team that we had talked about in the beginning.  Starting to create this great place to work for and recruiting people who were better than us at defined roles, so we could be collectively better.

With our team we extended and built on our values-led approach and defined four key values for Caviar & Chips:

  1. Client-led
  2. Collaborative
  3. Creative
  4. Positive

These were values we recognised in ourselves, wanted to aspire to be and fundamentally were told by our teams and our clients that this is how we came across.  It was for us to weave this through everything we did.

In 2020 we added a pub to our business, The Virgins & Castle in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.  As we recruited a new team and began with their training and development, we started with our values to help shape our culture and articulate how we do things.  Our four values helped define our expectations and how we wanted the team to work and it made our planning, our communications and implementation so much more straightforward.

We opened the pub on 13th March 2020 and had to close it the week after under COVID-19 restrictions.  Our first reaction was “what do we do now”?  Our second was to head to our values, because these were our guiding principles for making key decisions and deciding next steps.  Each value directed us to communicate with our clients and keep that going - they in turn would tell us how they wanted us to keep going.   Work together with our teams and our suppliers and find individual strengths and equally share whenever anyone was struggling.  We got creative with solutions and we helped each other stay positive throughout.

At the end of 2020, we launched anther business, Stockton House - a luxury wedding venue in Shropshire.  Stockton is a grade II* listed, 18th century country house in 8,500 of Shropshire countryside and we’re building a 100 seater secret walled garden dining room in 2021.  The venue will be ready for first weddings in April 2022 and we’re standing by our four values to help us navigate through whatever 2021 throws at us. 

We know that we have some incredible people around us (in fact we have over 40 people in what is becoming our hospitality group) and that comes from being values-led and people driven.  It certainly has been our people that have made us and got us this far and we aim to recruit more people better than us to take us even further.

Marc Hornby
Caviar & Chips