After spending years in catering, David Jenkins thought event catering was a stressful and messy industry, one he had little desire to pursue. After a short stint in a junior, admin-heavy marketing role, David found the long and linear career progression prospects disheartening, so he quit and started a sushi delivery business. From humble beginnings, operating out of the communal kitchen he shared with his housemates, four years later David has three businesses; Sushi Rolls, Feastly and The Vegan Alternative. David puts his business growth down to taking on the best people you can find, slightly earlier than what may be comfortable for you. We spoke to David about the biggest changes he has seen in the food industry and the worst advice he has received.
Where did the idea for Feastly start?
I was finding that there was a real lack of exciting and innovative food being delivered to offices, whether it be for meetings or staff lunches. You could either get restaurants delivering good food badly or caterers delivering bad food well. That’s when I decided to start my first business, a sushi delivery and events company called Sushi Rolls. Providing sushi platters to offices gave us a glimpse into office life and in particular, office catering, which for the most part, was a pretty miserable affair. We were asked by one of these offices if Sushi Rolls did any other types of cuisine, other than Japanese food. I lied and said yes, and it went from there.
From Sushi Rolls, Feastly was born, do you have any other ventures?
Sushi Rolls was the first, then Feastly and more recently we’re experimenting with a vegan food delivery called Burger and Bao, where we’re trying to create plant-based foods that are at least as good as their animal-based alternatives.
Why do you think people are eating differently today than they were ten years ago?
I think there has been a significant paradigm shift in the health implications and ethics of consuming animal protein. Ten years ago people thought, and often still do, that a diet high in protein was good for you. Now people are beginning to realise that this, combined with the lack of whole foods and plants, can contribute to people getting and staying sick. We knew the problem with sugar and processed foods ten years ago, but the health implications of eating meat, fish, dairy and eggs are only just coming to the surface, despite the meat, egg and dairy industries best efforts to confuse and hide this information.
In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in the food industry over the last few years?
Specialists. People and establishments focusing on one or two food items and doing them really well. It’s where we look for inspiration for our Feastly menus, we take the best of the best and adapt them for our menus, and generally speaking, you usually get the best from businesses who dedicate themselves to one craft.
What does a typical day look like?
If you boil it down, my day pretty much consists of problem solving, which I guess makes up a significant part of most people’s days, but I probably spend longer on this than most. Partly because I’m often distracted and partly because I enjoy searching for solutions. When I’m not problem solving, I try to grow the team so that we have plenty of talented people to make up for my daydreaming.
What has been the hardest lesson you have learnt?
Starting my first business was difficult for me. I like being around people, so I found the long solitary hours for the first few years hard. It’s during these long hours that you start to question what you’re doing, how on earth you’re going to grow into anything more than a one-man band running a business from home. This uncertainty combined with the constant lack of money got to me.
The lesson I learnt from this is that you’ve got to work on yourself as well as your business. It takes a different kind of work, but is definitely worth it, because when you understand a bit about your own psychology it can be the best investment you make.
Are you more emotional or rational?
I like to think I’m a rational person, however, I’m finding more and more that the decisions we tend to make are based upon a perception of reality which is often so far from the truth. Any time we look at statistics or data we’ve collected I’m always amazed how far out my assumption was.
How many times have you been told no?
243,468. I knew I was counting for a reason. For the record though, “This is the way everyone does it” annoys me more than being told no. It’s actually used by many as a reason to carry on doing something the same way.
What is it like to work for you?
Fun, I hope. I joke around a bit and am probably not the most serious boss, but everyone that works for me is great and works very hard, so there’s not really a need to be more serious.
Who is your closest competitor?
We just do our own thing and don’t really pay attention to other companies in the industry. I don’t actually think there’s another company in London who just focusses on the team office lunches or breakfasts like we do. Most tend to focus on corporate event catering, catering for meetings, weddings, etc. There’s probably more profit in those kinds of occasions, but inevitably leads to a lower quality product across the board and greater inefficiencies.
Tea or coffee?
Oat milk flat white please.
If you could go back five years, is there a decision you would make differently?
I would have gone vegan five years ago.
If you were guaranteed the answer to one question, what would it be?
“What do you like least about it?”