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Business Profile - Yorkshire Meatball Co.
08/09/2016 - 11:02
Yorkshire Meatball Co has already opened two sites, but following a successful £350,000 crowdfunding round, plans to expand are already being rolled out. Nathan Pearce reports.
It took just a little inspiration from a US food show and a text message from David Atkinson to his son Gareth to get the ball rolling on their craft beer and meatball concept, The Yorkshire Meatball Co.
Currently operating two sites, in York and Harrogate, the business was first conceived in 2012 and the father-son co-founders spent two years perfecting the idea and finding the best site before launching.
“We had absolutely no experience of the food and restaurant sectors whatsoever, which you could see as a hindrance but I think we both saw it as a benefit because we could come at it with a fresh perspective,” co-founder Gareth Atkinson says.
“We were both keen restaurant goers, we both love our food and we knew the sort of experience we wanted to create from the brand and where we wanted to sit in the market.”
David’s background is in the armed forces and he previously owned several businesses before moving into the mergers, acquisitions and insurance industries. It was while watching an episode of US TV show ‘Diners, Drive Ins and Dives’ where the New York-based Meatball Shop was first brought to his attention.
“He saw how buzzing it was and thought it looked fun and started wondering if we have anything like that in the UK,” Gareth says. “So, he did a bit of research, found out there was no meatball offering over here at the time and dropped me a text, as he normally did when he came up with a hare-brained business idea. This one caught my attention.”
The idea quickly caught other people’s attention too as a recent crowdfunding round saw the co-founders successfully raise £350,000 to fund the brand’s expansion, alongside an entry into the retail market.
“It’s always been our ambition to grow the brand,” he admits. “Our plan has always been to open five restaurants in five years, quite a humble plan but we’re on track with that plan. We’ve been going steady for two years and have two restaurants.
“Our plan is most definitely to expand through Yorkshire, so Leeds is a very important target for us. There’s also an exciting dining scene in Manchester and some other spots in the north too.”
Pushed about a possible entry into the London scene, Gareth admits that it’s not a priority. “We’re not precious about London. I think it’s a great city, but it’s also a big challenge. Rent prices are so far apart it’s unreal and I think that’s why a lot of the bigger brands are choosing to expand into the regions.
“If we were to open in London, I think it would be through franchising, whereas our Yorkshire sites would preferably be company owned sites.”
Gareth was running a youth marketing division before coming on board. Fresh out of university he’d written a thesis on effective menu design so was well versed when it came to creating the Yorkshire Meatball Co offer.
“The core proposition has refined itself. I’m on version 37 of the menu I think. We’re constantly redesigning it to find the sweet spot,” he admits. “Our best seller is the Combo – balls, sauce and side – with over 75% of sales generated through it."
The menu has since developed around that core offer, with a range of salads and alternative meatball subs available, as well as an extensive range of vegetarian and gluten-free options.
“In terms of pricing, we’ve always set out to provide a good quality two-course dinner and a craft beer or spirit, for under £20. We’ve also started looking at price points around the lunch spot and experimenting with an express lunch menu, offering slightly smaller dishes at a lower cost point, which we’re launching soon.”
Although there are currently two other meatball focused offers in the UK– grab and go concept The Bowler and the more fine dining Balls & Company, Gareth looks towards the likes of Byron, Honest Burger and Pieminister as competition in the market.
"A meatball is comparable in style to a burger or a pie. Just like our motto it’s ‘proper food, proper drink, no fuss’ and we all produce hearty food, with fresh high quality ingredients, cooked to order.”
Keen to support customer loyalty, Yorkshire Meatball Co currently has over 4,000 subscribers to its ‘Ministry of Meaty Balls’ newsletter, which regularly offers discounts and promotions. The use of social media has also been key to promoting the brand.
“For us, social channels are vital. In the beginning everything we did was through social, because it was free. I think for start-ups it’s really important to utilise it to the best you can because it’s a channel where if you do it right, it can be very effective for very little cost.”
The brand is also working with Deliveroo to promote its takeaway and delivery options at its sites and regularly rotates the range of local, Yorkshire craft beers on offer.
When questioned about the wider casual dining market and where it’s heading, Gareth identifies a blurring. “I think something interesting is happening between the casual dining and fast casual markets, with brands keen to offer more of an experience to their customers.
“I don’t think their food offering is changing that much but the level of service and the environments in which people are eating are perhaps taking a little away from the casual dining market.
He also noted the growth seen in a lot of the larger casual dining brands is causing an issue with independent and smaller restaurant brands. He said: “It’s perhaps limiting some independents, slowing down their growth. If they had access to better sites they could grow a little quicker. It’s certainly one of the major challenges in the industry, alongside the skills shortage.”