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Houston & Hawkes launch catering business to ‘challenge status quo’

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Houston & Hawkes launch catering business to ‘challenge status quo’

Senior foodservice directors Simon Houston and Dave Hawkes have said their new B&I catering business will “challenge the status quo”, with an entrepreneurial spirit and innovations in systems, technology, service and food offer.

Houston, previously sales director of Bartlett Mitchell, and Hawkes, former BaxterStorey regional managing director, said Houston & Hawkes had been launched in response to a customer desire to deal with owner-operators.

There has been a marked absence of new B&I-focused caterers in recent years. Kendall and Simms was the last to launch in 2012, but within 18 months Duncan Kendall had joined Gather & Gather as sales director, while David Simms went on to become managing director of Simon Rogan’s Umbel restaurant group.

“There’s been big consolidation in the market with Harbour & Jones joining CH&Co and Lexington joining Elior,” said Houston.

“Customers want to deal with owner-operators. We’re at the start of a cycle. They want trust, security and longevity. Our first customer will be dealing with the two of us and there will be no lengthy decision-making process.”

Talking to The Caterer in January 2018, Genuine Dining Company managing director Chris Mitchell, who formed the business in 2010 following a management buyout of Yes Dining, called for the emergence of new boutique caterers.

“I am sure we will see new caterers emerging from all this period of consolidation as business leaders leave their current companies, so we are waiting with bated breath to see where they end up,” he said. “We embrace this – it’s good to be challenged.”

Rather than investing in a big company structure, Houston & Hawkes has formed “strategic partnerships” with health and safety, people, development, nutrition, food and finance organisations.

“We may be a boutique start-up, but this approach allows us to achieve critical client objectives with heavyweight support and expertise,” said Houston.

“Coffee is easy to get wrong, but can be 40% of revenue. We will have a head of coffee who has helped develop our own coffee brand and will offer support, training and strategic advice.”

Currently in discussions with potential customers, the pair said they were targeting businesses with between 150 and 300 members of staff, which are looking to partner with an entrepreneurial caterer.

With more than 40 years’ foodservice experience between them, the pair first met in 2002 when Houston worked a university placement at BaxterSmith, where Hawkes was operations director.

“We’re here for the long term and are self-funded with no external pressures. We’ve got low overheads and will build as the company grows,” said Hawkes.

“Large companies are about systems and structure. Small companies are about doing what’s right for the customer in the moment. It’s what excites us.”

Focusing on winning business in the south east, Houston & Hawkes’ strength will be in the quality of their food offer, say the founders.

“Six businesses can claim to have a good food offer. We will have a great food offer,” said Houston.

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