At potage we're passionate about delivering delicious, handmade meals in a sustainable way. Our goal is to bring people together with great food.
I started potage with £1,000 savings in October 2012 and for the first year did all the cooking at home, delivered locally on a bicycle and had a Saturday stall outside Books for Cooks in Notting Hill.
Over the last four years the business has grown almost entirely organically, thanks to our loyal customers. Today we deliver to homes and offices all over central London and I write a fortnightly recipe column for the London Evening Standard.
We really value the personal relationships that we have built over the years and look forward to introducing you to the full potage experience.
"Success is about being vitally engaged in something worthwhile, making a difference for the better, and having fun while you’re at it." Luke Johnson
I'm not a chef but I love delicious food and the way it brings people together. As a child I was really lucky to grow up in a family that always sat around a table together to eat, whether it was a quick breakfast before school or Sunday lunch with lots of people. I remember helping in the kitchen so I could learn how to cook, but I was always more interested in bringing everyone together than how the food tasted.
After leaving school I trained for 3 months at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The school is on an organic farm in Ireland and run by one of the leaders in the Slow Food movement Darina Allen. I spent the rest of the year working on farms and as a chef around Europe before starting at Bristol University. For whatever reason I never did well at University (I was very nearly kicked out after my second year) but what I got from the experience was time to start little projects. The most successful was a competition organised by Ernst & Young. They gave me £500 capital to start a business and make as much money as possible in an academic year for the Prince's Trust. I organised a national art competition and raised £25,000 for the charity.
After graduating I worked at The White Company for two years. It was an amazing experience; I started on the shop floor for a few months before moving into Head Office and spending time in a number of different departments. In October 2011 I must have been in a really bad mood as my brother Oli who hates walking, came on a walk around Hyde Park with me. We stopped for a simple autumn stew and chunk of bread at the Serpentine Cafe and that's where the idea for potage came.
2012, original potage logo & a supper club to test recipes
Whilst still working I spent any spare time over the next year writing a business plan, talking to people, testing recipes, collecting packaging samples, thinking about logistics and slowly creating a brand until it was finally time to get on my bicycle. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into but kept Luke Johnson's quote (above) in mind.
To start potage I had £1,000 savings, which I spent on a second hand copper soup kettle, trade marking the logo and the first few boxes of packaging and ingredients. My dad came up with the name 'potage' and my mum made the mistake of saying I could use her kitchen for 2 months (three years later people had to climb over cardboard boxes of packaging to get into the house).
I worked 7 days a week, delivering Sunday to Friday and doing a market stall on Saturdays outside Books for Cooks, just off Portobello Road. I grew up in a family surrounded by people who've created businesses and that helped enormously, as a child they inspired me and along the way have given great advice. My mum most recently set up Nurole, the first board-level hiring platform for both commercial and not-for-profit organisations. My uncle started Charles Tyrwhitt in 1986 and about eight years later my aunt founded The White Company.
My two brothers and parents have received a weekly sales report since I started. I also present an annual review and strategy to my brothers, friend Anthony, uncle and aunt each year. There are such highs and lows to starting a business and it's been critical for me to have the right support network, people who want potage to do well and aren't afraid to be completely honest.
Our branding and all our processes have slowly evolved as the business has grown. I built the first website, essentially a few static, badly laid out pages - our shop front for the first year and a half. Customers had to email or call to order, I recorded what we sold in excel and then typed out each order confirmation. If a customer didn't receive an email within 10 minutes they'd usually call thinking there was a fault with the system but it was because I was either in the kitchen or out delivering.
2012 original website
In the spring I met Victoria, who at the time was studying fine art at City and Guilds and she came to intern over the summer holidays. She helped with deliveries, testing recipes and one afternoon offered to do a few illustrations. These are the drawings that you will see all over our website and packaging.
In the first year I closed potage for the whole of August. I was reluctant to take so much time off but I was exhausted and everyone around me encouraged it. Sales doubled when I got back on my bicycle in the autumn and after 15 months I could just about afford to hire someone. I went straight to Books for Cooks to ask Eric if he knew any chefs and it turned out his Head Chef, Clara was leaving and looking for something new in January. Clara started in 2014 and worked with me for two great years.
I was introduced to Al, our web developer in January 2014. I remember our first meeting and showing him these really fancy plans I had for a totally bespoke website. His honest advice was to start simple. The website he went on to build totally transformed our operations. Everything was suddenly automated; orders, order confirmation emails, sales reports, product pages, the list is endless. We are lucky enough to still work with Al, he’s a magician and the genius behind our website and app.
By the end of 2014 we had two chefs in the kitchen and two guys delivering on bikes and I decided to start looking for a kitchen we could move into. It took about 12 months to find one but an offer was finally accepted on a unit in Battersea and things started to move faster.