There is a view among some culinary connoisseurs that the only thing that really matters when examining the quality of a dining experience is how the food tastes.
It is an argument that Paul Goodfellow has got used to hearing over the years, but as you would expect from a renowned expert in professional tableware and front-of-house items, he has a slightly different take on things: “The point is, when the taste of the food gets to that certain level and [the quality of] his [food] is the same as his, what is going to set him apart? What is going to make it memorable? Presentation — something that catches the eye,” he says.
Incidentally, it is a stance that could quite easily sum up his current catering venture, Goodfellow & Goodfellow — or Goodfellows as it tends to be known. Goodfellow set up the business with wife Valda 18 months ago, quickly capturing the attention of chefs that have known him throughout his long career in the industry. For those unfamiliar with the history, Goodfellow was the founder of Continental Chef Supplies (CCS), which he ran for the best part of 25 years before selling the company to Bunzl.
Both Paul and Valda remained with the business for three-and-a-half years after the takeover, before spotting an opportunity to go in a new direction at the start of last year.
“We felt it was time to move on and do our own thing again. I think when you are an entrepreneur you want to be in charge of your own destiny. And that is what this gives us,” he says. “The market place is changing so quickly and we realised that we wanted to come in with a completely different business angle. We’re working with a lot of manufacturers in wood, glass, pewter, copper, silver, stoneware and porcelain, and we are using a lot of UK manufacturers to produce niche products, because that is what people want.”
Tableware was one of the big success stories for Goodfellow when he ran CCS, so it is perhaps no surprise that he is immersed in this world again through the current venture. The focus, though, is considerably different this time, with a much stronger emphasis on providing high-end tableware and unique designs.
The company’s plush showroom off of London’s Baker Street houses a range of elegant tableware, while its product catalogue looks like it would be more at home on a desk in Harrods or Fortnum & Mason than a kitchen pass. When Goodfellow left a copy at one Michelin starred restaurant in Mayfair, the world famous chef behind the establishment rang him back the same afternoon.
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The showroom is by invitation only, providing a sanctuary for chefs and caterers to browse product, discuss concepts and tap into the company’s global sourcing ability. It is a strategy that appears to be flourishing if you believe the company’s assertion that it now supplies 49 out of the UK’s 50 Top Restaurants.
Goodfellow’s connections have clearly helped the business thrive much quicker than your average start-up. He was a chef before founding CCS, working with the likes of The Ritz’s John Williams and The Lanesborough’s Paul Gayler, who he remains friends with to this day.
“It is easier to tell you who hasn’t been here,” he says when discussing which famous chefs have visited the showroom since it opened.
The company has also done more export business than it imagined. A restaurant chain from Zurich flew in to check out the offering after hearing about it via social media, while an event that Goodfellows organised in Shoreditch last year attracted chefs from all over the country, as well as Scotland, Ireland and Spain.
The frequency at which new styles and patterns emerge makes it a challenge to keep up to date with trends, a point that prompts Goodfellow to compare the tableware industry to the fashion world.
That, in essence, is one of the reasons that chefs keep returning to its showroom. “They all come round to see what we are doing because it changes all the time. You might come in three months’ time and go, ‘wow, there are lots of products I didn’t see last time’. Sometimes the products don’t exist in catalogues, or here in the showroom, but we have them on iPads. It is about maintaining that secret of what we are doing because I think everybody wants something different these days.”
Goodfellow admits that his target market is what he refers to as the “top 30% of the catering industry” — those he says can cook and have a passion for it. That doesn’t just extend to chefs with Michelin stars, however. Hotels, independent restaurants, chains and contract caterers have all bought from the company since its launch.
This year has seen a distinct attempt to fill some of the gaps that it had in certain pricing categories. While Goodfellows is the place to go for £100 plates, it can also supply £6 ones, though as the company stresses, it is more interested in using its knowledge of concepts and markets to help customers work out how they can create a proposition that stands out from the competition.
He says: “I think the market place now wants something different. If you looked at this showroom you would say it is [aimed at] Michelin Star [restaurants] but this afternoon I am going to see an operation that serves good food at a fast food level, which is at the complete opposite end of the scale. They are looking at things which are different and they want innovation.
“They realise that the competition is quite large and they have to be better than the others. We also had a famous Italian chain in here last week. Again, that is not an area that we have naturally marketed to, but they came in for a restaurant they are going to do in Manchester and ended up taking quotations to improve the operations of existing restaurants in the south of England as well.”
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If Baker Street is the face of Goodfellows, the hub of the operation very much resides in Peterlee, County Durham, where it has telesales, accounts, warehousing and marketing functions employing 15 people. “We have probably got more people on board than a normal new business, but when you are competing at this level you have got to otherwise you don’t become a player,” explains Goodfellow.
As it stands at the moment, 70% of business is generated from front-of-house sales and the rest from back-of-house products and appliances, an area that has been developed after customers expressed an interest in procuring the full catering package from it. But while the company offers a range of light duty items, it stops at plug-in products, preferring to leave three-phase or hard wired goods to the commercial kitchen fitters.
“Our plans are bang on where we wanted to be in terms of the development of the business,” says Goodfellow. “But it is like everything — you can never rigidly plan a development because the market is changing all the time and you have to evolve with it.”
It’s a maxim that perhaps explains why the business has gone down so well with caterers looking to impress customers. In times of competition, the way food is presented really can be as important as how it tastes.
Name: Goodfellow & Goodfellow
Address: 7-8 Burdon Drive, North West Industrial Estate, Peterlee, County Durham, SR8 2JH
Telephone: 0844 334 5232
Focus: Tableware, clothing, kitchen utensils