“We were flying by the seat of our pants”
Foodpreneurs Jonny Inglis and Seb Evans lost their fledgling F&B platform ‘Fodder’ almost overnight as the coronavirus pandemic struck earlier this year. But, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, their new foodie vision was born. Banquist is a home fine dining experience where you or I can don the guise of a Masterchef (thanks to a hamper full of delicacies and video instructions from a top-notch chef). From an idea to first delivery in just 10 days, it’s been a whirlwind year – so I was lucky to grab some time with the entrepreneurs.
The first day Seb and Jonny’s new venture Banquist went live, they tell me it’s what can only be described as a successful car crash – literally. As soon as their pioneering product went on sale, it sold out in an unexpected seven minutes. After frantically sourcing the food, (think black garlic, Himalayan salt and 300 day-aged wagyu) then realising they didn’t have any packaging yet, to borrowing a friend’s refrigerated van – and crashing it – and then mistakenly telling customers their food was arriving at 2 am, the venture has been a roaring success ever since.
“There was a period in which we were flying by the seat of our pants so much that we were getting stuff in on the very day we needed it,” Jonny tells me. “So, an order of wine would come in and it would go straight in the boxes. The margin for error was so, so small. But now it’s a lot more organised.” Chaos and disaster is a common theme we hear amongst startups, our interview with founder Dame Stephanie Shirley shows just how much can be learnt from them.
Lockdown lost their first business venture
It’s extraordinary to think that earlier in the year these entrepreneurs were on the cusp of making it big with a different F&B venture – ‘Fodder’, an app for professionals to order convenient, delicious food straight to their office smart fridge. After signing a deal with a premium co-working brand, Seb and Jonny were hoping to shake up the ‘£8 for a mostly spinach salad’ culture with their new platform. Then the pandemic closed The City down in one fell swoop – and Fodder, with it.
“It was just so exciting. And then the following week, London went into lockdown,” remembers Jonny. “We just lost our business overnight. It was kind of heart-breaking. We spent some time kidding ourselves about how brief lockdown was going to be and how minor the behavioural impact was going to be on the office worker.”
But, as one door closed, another opened. With our lives seemingly turning virtual, we all started looking for that entertainment fix we used to get from going out to bars or restaurants. And as the pandemic figures seem to be spiralling once more, fleeting moments of fun seem more important than ever; I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this. Jonny and Seb’s Banquist packages help with that fix. What started as an idea to do online cooking classes, soon morphed into a home-delivered smorgasbord of beautiful ingredients, Michelin star menu, paired wine and pre-recorded step-by-step video guide.
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Banquest was a startup forged by lockdown
“In March or April, when we were originally discussing this idea, it was a bit like the Wild West – there were loads of people trying different things. I remember thinking there are all these restaurants closed and there’s a whole bunch of talented chefs doing very little,” Seb tells me.
Jonny adds, “one of my old friends is Head Chef at Galvin La Chapelle. So, once he was persuaded to take a punt, he did the most incredible menu for us. It got us off to an absolutely flying start. And then we went on to work with twice Michelin starred chef Atul Kochhar, a TV personality – and we were four weeks young.”
Rather than a one-off taste of cooking like a pro, Jonny and Seb want Banquist to educate people at home so they can become connoisseurs of specific types of cuisine. In large part thanks to what’s at the heart of their concept, and what stands Banquist apart from more mainstream competitors – sensational ingredients.
Jonny agrees: “What gets me up is making sure that we’re making customers days with an incredible product. And the best part of my week is on Instagram on Friday and Saturday, seeing people’s creations come in.”
Innovators & disrupters on the look out for capital funding
Seb and Jonny are clearly innovators and disruptors. They’re entrepreneurs who’ve been able to pivot overnight and reinvent themselves. But that makes it sound like a breeze. There’s no doubt it’s been a hard slog – they tell me they’re not yet in a position to pay themselves. Investors, if you’re listening, Banquist is on the lookout for venture capital funding – and with it, the entrepreneurs hope, a boost to propel their burgeoning business to the next level. Although they’re doing a damn good job of it on their own, having just expanded their deliveries nationwide – a major feat in my opinion, given the economic downturn that’s lambasted other parts of the F&B industry.
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The future of hospitality post lockdown
“It’s just going to be so tough for a restaurant to make a profit when their margins are already really slim,” admits Jonny. “I think the biggest shift we’re seeing and we think is here to stay is restaurants having to diversify their revenue streams – whether that’s putting out a product that’s available in retail or doing these direct-to-consumer meal kits, pop-ups or food vans. They can’t just sit in a restaurant and expect people to walk in through the door.”
And that’s perhaps one of the biggest lessons Seb and Jonny have learnt since the pandemic – that they describe as jolting them into an immediate re-think.
What the entrepreneurs would tell their younger selves
“If I could tell my younger self one thing, I’d just say don’t be afraid of failing because no one’s really looking and the first thing you do is never going to be the last thing you do,” muses Jonny. “It’s just all an essential part of the journey.”
And I can’t wait to see where Banquist’s journey will take them – and us foodies at home – next.
For more stories on entrepreneurs, wellness, social media, tech and more, head over to our blog. Interested in trying out Banquist? We’re excited to share an exclusive offer for 10% off a Banquist order, just use code CHAPTER10 at checkout (ends 29th of November, 2020)!
Some may say we’re food-motivated, but we’ll come clean to being fully founder-motivated. For more content relating to food and drink, click here.