Bad Brownie, the gourmet brownies specialists, selling their fine products across many of London's markets.
Paz Sarmah and Morag Ekanger left their careers in branding to pursue their passion to become chocolate experts.
What do you think are the benefits of having a pop up store for young restaurants/retailers?
Pop up stores allow brands to experiment and try ideas out without a full-on commitment. It creates excitement and a buzz for visitors, as the fact it is temporary means there is a sense of urgency in people visiting and purchasing items, hopefully resulting in relatively high sales given the time period involved. It also offers the flexibility to try several new areas in a short period of time, and allows a much wider audience to experience your product.
At what point did the idea turn from concept into reality?
Very quickly! When we decided to start a brownie business, we started tasting and testing on friends and family to a very positive reception. We then got a very good deal on a short term spot in a local market and said yes without fully realising the work involved. Before we knew it, we were selling to real customers - all within a couple of months!
You came from a branding background, why did you choose to set up a brownie stall?
When Morag and I worked together at one of our branding agencies, we worked on a global chocolate account which was brilliant and made us realise we each loved chocolate as much as the other! We also knew that we would need our branding experience to set ourselves apart from the other, more traditional retailers since our offer was more modern and contemporary.
As a young start-up, what has been the hardest thing to deal with?
Initially, it was the fact no-one knew us and when markets get 50 or even 100 applications a day, they go with concepts or names they immediately understand, often mistakenly lumped us together with traditional cake stalls or traditional bakeries, whereas in fact we are neither, being chocolate specialists. More generally speaking, it has been the constant lack of time and resources. As a start-up the world is your oyster - as you have done so little, there is so much more to be done, so many open doors before you, but the things you lack are money, time and experience, so you can only follow one or two of those paths realistically, whereas you might want to do it all from the start!
Where do you believe the next exciting fashion/food hub will be and why?
London's food scene is so vibrant now and it seems there is an amazing opening every week. However, traditionally there has been little happening in West or South West London whilst East, Central and South London have hogged the limelight, so perhaps West London is crying out to be the next foodie focus.
You set up with your business partner Morag, what would your advice be to any other entrepreneurs thinking of starting up together?
Doing things with someone else makes things so much easier in many ways, one reason we grew so quickly was because there were two of us, so effectively twice as many resource as any other start-up, and we could divide and conquer right from the start. Since we were both equally vested in Bad Brownie, we knew that we would each be putting in 110% at all times. It's amazing to have someone to bounce ideas off and to be there - sometimes it can be lonely as an entrepreneur, since you work long, antisocial hours, and sacrifice your friends and family to do so, so having two of us has meant we have managed to stay sane! At the same time Morag and I have learnt just how different we really are - as friends before Bad Brownie we focussed on all our similarities, as friends naturally do. However, as colleagues we suddenly realised just how different our various work approaches are - we are very different people with strong opinions, often at odds with each other, leading to many arguments and disagreements. Nonetheless, ultimately we know that regardless of the path we each want to take on a particular subject, we are both aiming for the same thing, which is the success of the business, and we are both doing what we think is the very best thing to do - so it comes down to the fine art of compromise and understanding, to listen and be listened to.
The product is beautifully designed, how do you ensure consistency as you grow the brand?
The bigger you get, the more difficult it is to maintain consistency of quality. We do not bake anymore (instead having hired people far more skilled and qualified than us!) however, we taste every new recipe, and we are fully involved in all developments in the kitchen, to ensure everything is perfect. Also, we hire people we trust - we have a fantastic team and only through them are we able to maintain standards. From our head chef who prides herself on running the most efficient kitchen with the best product output, to our driver who ensures his deliveries are always on time and in perfect condition; our whole team shares the same values we do and it is that which allows us to trust them to manage their own responsibilities, to the same standard as we would do in their shoes.
Where have you biggest influences come from?
We love anything and everything to do with food - whether it is a high end triple Michelin star restaurant, or a random supermarket product from a South American country. We strongly believe inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time. Whether it’s the latest flavour trends in Asia, or the freshness and scents of a UK Spring, there's always something around you to inspire and inform.
What are your current plans for the brand/restaurant?
Our focus is the search for our site in Central London, where we have a slightly expanded menu, serving brownies as our core offer, but with added treats and indulgences. With the ability to eat inside away from the cold and rain - so different from where we are now! We've worked with great architects (Kennedy Woods) to create an eye-catching and disruptive design for the space, very different from the current norms of stripped wood and filament lighting!