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Earlday Limited: Small Businesses VS The Big Boys

Chris Lonergan proves that bigger doesn’t mean better

Written by . Published on September 20th 2011.

Earlday Limited: Small Businesses VS The Big Boys

 IN a bustling metropolis full of chain restaurants and branded eateries, where a Starbucks pops up on every corner bringing with it the depressing homogeneity of bland tasting coffee served to customers that should know bitter (sorry, better), it can be hard to find a ‘real’ place to eat in London. With the country still locked in the jaws of a recession that refuses to abstain from biting into our financial concerns, the chances of a small food business surviving for longer than a few months is looking more and more akin to a tasty snowflake’s that has landed in the Devil’s dining room.

However, there is always hope. One man is waging a crusade against the blanket uniformity of major corporations force-feeding the population their predictable produce at prices that we simply cannot refuse. Chris Lonergan spent twelve years working his way up the proverbial food chain of the service industry, holding several top positions including Executive Head Chef for the 580 group of gastropubs. Yet it took a trip to Australia and a eureka moment to trigger the chain of events that have led him to set up Earlday Limited, a company whose mission statement is clear: to provide small companies with ‘a smarter approach to food solutions’.  London Confidential caught up with the young entrepreneur to sink a few beers and get to the bottom of his plan to resurrect London’s ailing small business trade.

What small village needs three fucking Costas?! Everybody in each of the Costas looked bored and not particularly happy to be sitting and drinking coffee, which should, by rights, be an enjoyable experience

Costa CoffeeOne seems to be enough...

Hi Chris, thanks for meeting us; you must be rushed off your feet with all of the preparations for setting up Earlday Limited; is this the first time that you’ve worked for yourself?
Yes, I’ve worked in kitchens since I was fifteen and was promoted to the position of Head Chef in a number of pubs and restaurants, so essentially I was in charge of the kitchen, but this is the first time that I’ve ventured out completely on my own.

Scary stuff?
More exciting really…the advantage of being your own boss is that you get to make the decisions that you know are right without having to run them past anyone. I’ve always had a good work ethic and pushed for that little bit extra in everything that I do, so it’s a relief to know that all the benefits will be shared directly between the companies that I work with and myself.

So, tell us about why you want to set up a business that is going to help other businesses survive?
One of the main reasons that I want Earlday Limited to succeed is that I have watched so many small businesses go under, forcing their workers to find other jobs (often with larger corporations that pay more but do not encourage originality or flair) and I think that the next few years is going to be particularly tough for a lot of family-run cafés and restaurants, or even slightly bigger businesses that are being undercut or out-priced by the big guys.

So what can you offer these businesses?
What I aim to do is act as a consultant for my clients and help them on any and every aspect of their business, whether it’s re-designing their menu or training their chefs to helping them meet their GP through the introduction of new suppliers and showing them unique ways to avoid wastage. But the real pull for the customers is the contacts that I can draw on to help their business survive; I have a long list of experienced suppliers, producers, bar trainers, tea and coffee merchants, butchers etc, etc, all with impeccable credentials whom I can introduce clients to and therefore guarantee them the best price.  I’ve trialled this food consortium approach with other businesses that I’ve worked for and it has increased their profit by unbelievable amounts.

So it will be like a club?
Ha, yeah if you want to put it that way; however, the membership to this ‘club’ means that you will have me at your beck and call, ready to iron out any problems or issues that arise. As the ‘club’ grows, the suppliers recommend the restaurants, the restaurants recommend the clients, they all recommend Earlday Limited, and the whole infrastructure grows organically, giving small businesses an opportunity to operate at the top of their game through quality training, clear and astute business advice and by getting their stock at decent prices.

What do you aim to achieve with Earlday Limited?
I’m not in this to become a millionaire, (although that would be nice!); I’m offering businesses my services at a very reasonable rate of £25 per hour for consultancy, with which they will receive an incredible boost to their business and the opportunity to make very useful contacts that they couldn’t necessarily do otherwise. I’m giving them this rate so that they can afford it, because I know how tight money can get when you’re operating without the funding of a big backer.

Clearly you’re incredibly passionate about food; has this always been the way for you?
Well, being Irish, food has always been a big part of my life; whether it’s a wedding or a wake, you can always rely on good food to bring people together and bond with each other over it. What I’m particularly passionate about is how to get good food into people’s mouths at a reasonable price to both businesses and the consumer; this is becoming increasingly difficult with the large conglomerates undercutting everybody with sub-standard produce.

Here’s a little example; I run a stall down in Acton Markets a couple of days a week and sell everything at a cost that is both reasonable to a customer and to me as a business and this is the way business should work. I hand make every sausage roll and use fresh, locally sourced ingredients and it costs the customer £2. Then I’ve got Morrisons round the corner selling eight sausage rolls for a quid. The key difference – other than the fact that mine taste infinitely better – is that I can tell you exactly what goes into my sausage rolls, whereas supermarkets put all sorts of crap into theirs, including phosphates and other stuff that simply shouldn’t be in your food; when a supermarket promises you 100% pork, alarm bells should start ringing.  Anyway, this is a clear case of quality vs. quantity and it’s not a choice that businesses or customers should have to make.  With my help, neither of them will have to.

StarbucksAre they the enemy?

And how much is this in a reaction to the progressive domination of megabrands such as Tesco and Starbucks?
Well, what really set the Earlday wheels in motion was when I was in Australia last year and I realised that England simply doesn’t have the coffee culture that they have over there. Now, I know that they have the weather, so it’s easier for them to sit al fresco, but what it’s more about is people gathering together in their favourite, unique coffeehouse and enjoying quality food and drink that has been produced on the same day, often to order. 

When I returned to London I was walking around my hometown of Ealing and saw that it had three Costas. Three! What small village needs three fucking Costas?! Everybody in each of the Costas looked bored and not particularly happy to be sitting and drinking coffee, which should, by rights, be an enjoyable experience. It’s because chains like Starbucks and Costa offer the ‘choice’ of all the different varieties of skinny half-fat white sugared creamy bollocks but they don’t offer people what they want, or at least should want and have been forced to forget, and that is simply proper coffee. So this led to me thinking about all of my favourite cafés, pubs and restaurants that have had to shut over the years, not through poor food standards or service but simply because of not being business savvy enough to make good profit margins or not having the right contacts to get them decent rates. I then thought of what I could do to prevent this to happening to other small businesses and well, here we are.



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