Walcot House and Mother & Wild – branching into food delivery

We spoke to James Still, the owner of two well-established and successful family-run restaurants in the South West; Walcot House in Bath, and Mother & Wild in Corsham, Wiltshire. Whilst the pandemic has been particularly hard for the restaurant trade, James has embraced the challenge and adapted by launching a food delivery service across the region and nationally called pastaboi.com.

What challenges has your business faced as a result of lockdown?
We run two restaurants as a family — Walcot House in Bath and Mother & Wild in Corsham, Wiltshire — which we shut at the start of the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis also meant we had to place our seventy-strong workforce on furlough
How have you adapted?

We decided to launch a pasta delivery service called Pasta Boi, offering restaurant-quality pasta dishes which we deliver to people's homes across Wiltshire and Somerset. Doing so allowed us to get back into the kitchen and express our passion for seasonal, locally sourced produce while people were unable to eat in our restaurants. This also allowed us to take four members of our workforce off furlough, with two chefs cooking and others helping to deliver and package boxes. We are now expanding to deliver nationally.

What were the challenges of launching a new service during lockdown?

Developing and launching Pasta Boi had its challenges. First, there was a lot of work around the kitchen table developing menu ideas and working with our West Country Suppliers that were still open for business. We also established a market garden with the aim to produce as much of the veg as possible.

There were hurdles, such as sourcing high-quality equipment that could do the job, not so easy during lockdown with many suppliers closed. We have also needed to source cooling materials and packaging and agreeing competitive terms with new suppliers isn’t as easy during lockdown. We had to be careful not to restrict our margins, our new venture had to be profitable and not have a negative impact on the mother business. We also had to balance taking people off furlough in a way to not put too much financial pressure on the business.

To start up local delivery, one of our suppliers - vegetable wholesaler Lovejoys - were amazing, they were closed at the time and not using their refrigerated vans so they said ‘borrow one’! It’s a great example of businesses helping each other out at this time.

It’s been extremely successful, the feedback has been really good and we’ve had a lot of repeat customers, including some who have ordered from us every week of lockdown!

What practical tips would you give other businesses on how to approach business in this changed world?

We have benefitted from ensuring that despite the pressures of the pandemic our new venture retained the core values of our existing business. We have used the same suppliers and retained our focus on seasonal, flavour-led cooking which means we are confident in the strength of our offering. It also meant we had more capacity to rise to new operational challenges, such as rolling out nationwide delivery and sourcing sustainable packaging.

Whilst there were some logistical challenges to work through, software is becoming very user friendly and I think being light on your feet and not afraid to have a go is the key to adapting and finding ways to trade. If you told me we would be cooking 100’s of restaurant quality meals and sending them out across the south west by courier 6 months ago I would never have believed you!

And the future

We believe that habits will have changed permanently during this pandemic and we think even after restrictions ease, people will continue to order restaurant quality for more home delivery, alongside actually going out to eat.

Our strategy is for Pasta Boi to sit alongside our restaurants, which are now gradually reopening, and we have taken the delivery service national. The next big push will be to tell our story, marketing will be important and we are currently looking for a pop-up site in Bath where people can find out more about us and Pasta Boi. As an independent business our customer base tends to be interested in our provenance and ethos, which we’re proud of.

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