Ben Walton of Ben's Canteen
Marketeer turned food entrepreneur Ben Walton quit his job at VICE to launch his own bar and restaurant back in 2011. Now he is set to open his third outlet and has ambitious plans for the future…
Like many aspiring entrepreneurs, Ben Walton decided to call it a day on his day job and chase his dream of becoming his own boss.
“I used to work in marketing, harbouring a dream to launch my own bar and restaurant,” he said. “I also passionately wanted to start my own business and it made total sense to do something I was really excited by, namely food and drink.
“When I hit 30, I decided it was time to press go and start the next chapter of my life. I wanted the responsibility and to test whether my decisions and ideas would resonate, to take control and create something of substance.”
Drawing funding from close friends and family as well as his own savings, he decided to take the plunge and launched Ben's Canteen on St John's Hill in Battersea, close to Clapham Junction in 2011.
The idea was to create something which was an alternative to the pub; with the informal spirit of a great bar, but without sports on the TV screens and countless beer taps. Every night, delicious burgers would be paired with exciting wines.
“Ben’s Canteen is a neighbourhood hangout specialising in burgers, wine and brunch,” he added. “We stand out from our competitors because we put the emphasis on quality ingredients and we have a soul, we genuinely want to be the best we can and we’re always working towards that goal. We also have a 70% female customer base which makes for a unique atmosphere!”
The first year for any business is always a challenging one and no more so for businesses in the hospitality sector – which has one of the highest rates of insolvency when it comes to start-ups. There are some which hit the ground running, some that just need time and some which are doomed from the off.
Luckily for Ben, he had faith in his business idea and his patience proved a virtue. He recalls: “Most restaurants don’t survive their first year and we almost joined the statistics. However, in about month 11, we started to draw a crowd, our offering finally started to resonate, we had got better at what we did and we started to turn a profit – just in time!”
Once the customers started rolling in, that was it. Ben had got himself what every successful venue needs – a loyal customer base of which the venue would be embedded in their everyday lives. From here, Ben’s Canteen really started to take off.
“After we had been trading for three years we decided to open our second outlet,” he says. “The intention has always been to create a sustainable business and to do that we needed to grow.
“I chose Earlsfield as it felt similar to our St John’s Hill site (just by Clapham Junction), it was another corner property and a lot of our customers were moving there to live. It’s only 10 minutes away, it felt a prudent way to grow to a multi-site operator. We had brand recognition, we’re serving a similar audience and staff and stock can easily swap within sites.”
Opening a new outlet so close to the existing site was a calculated risk. The catchment areas of his new potential customers would’ve overlapped with his existing customer base at Clapham Junction but it proved a shrewd decision.
“I received amazing support from my friends and family,” he said, “they helped fund the first two restaurants and also came in as customers. They were always on hand to say nice things. There are a lot of tough, soul searching moments, having a strong support network is vital and really helped us grow as a business.”
It has now been six years since Ben opened the doors of his first outlet and he is now set to open a third site at Battersea Power Station after raising almost £500,000 from a recent crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube.
Ben launched the campaign in a bid to raise £250,000 however the funding round proved such a hit with investors that the business went on to overfund by a whopping 199% to raise £499,000.
He said: “The funding means we will be able to successfully open at Battersea Power Station (we’re taking over an old railway arch on the development, the old against the new). We will also be able to reinvest in our two existing restaurants, making them even better places to hang out at."
There are other means of raising funding when it comes to growing businesses of course but Ben decided crowdfunding was the perfect avenue as it would help him repay his loyal customers which he hails as vital to not only the company's survival but also its rapid growth.
He said: “The reason we looked to the crowd is because we decided we wanted to engage with our loyal customer base. We serve over 2,000 customers a week and we wanted to give them the opportunity to share in our journey – crowdfunding was the perfect vehicle.”
Ben’s Canteen isn’t the only business expanding into Battersea Power Station either as tech giant Apple is also opening its stunning new London HQ at the site and is bringing 1,400 members of staff with it.
Boasting such a relaxed atmosphere and quirky offering, you can see the Battersea site being just as successful as its predecessors in Clapham and Earlsfield and Ben will be hoping to prove a huge hit with the Apple staff from the off!
And like any entrepreneurial businessman, Ben has even bolder ambitions for the business. He concluded: “Looking ahead we are hoping to open a further 10 sites over the next five years, we are also looking to bottle our unique Bloody Mary spice mix under our new Bloody Ben’s brand (which in time will extend to hot sauce and more).
“London is the core focus but I believe the brand would also work well in cities such as Bristol and Leeds and if I allow myself to dream even bigger for a moment, then I also see it working in Scandinavia, NYC and the Balearics but in order to achieve that we have to execute the here and now and not lose sight of that!”