Brixton legend and Caribbean restaurant owner Brian Danclair says he often has his best ideas during the stress of a busy service.
We spoke to Brian to get an insight into how he’s scaling his business, the importance of building an authentic brand, cultural appropriation in food, and what customers want. He has a wealth of knowledge for other small business owners, as well as for big brands trying to compete in the pop-up restaurant space.
Research shows that 58% of people prefer to buy from businesses that are transparent about how their ingredients or products are sourced.
How did you set up Fish, Wings & Tings in Brixton, and why?
“My first restaurant failed and that taught me a lot about community and lean beginnings. It was called MOCA (MOdern CAribbean) and it failed because I set up in pre-gentrified Brixton; the area just wasn’t ready.”
“But I’d been honing my skills for many years. From cooking with my grandmother as a child in Trinidad as a way of bringing the community together, to working as a chef in the US from the age of 19. And then failing in my first solo venture. So when I signed a lease for a very run down plot in Brixton Village in 2012, I knew what I needed to do.
“I was so confident that I didn’t even tell my wife before I signed. When I told her what I’d done I was expecting a negative reaction. But she actually said ‘good’ and told me to put the set-up costs on my Barclaycard. Those costs were £7k for the first month’s rent, kitchen equipment and décor, and ingredients.”
“We made that £7k investment back in the first week of trading, without spending anything on marketing and that’s because I brought my grandmother’s sense of cooking for community, all the way from Trinidad to Brixton. My business is built on connections and rapport, on making everyone feel like they’re a part of Fish, Wings & Tings. People come because they feel like a part of my family straight away, and they come back for the same reason.”
1. Give customers great experiences, not just good food
2. Make eating out really quick and simple
3. Accept cash and card payments; its good for business and customers
So you think starting on a small budget is possible and a positive thing?
“Yes, if you make the effort to get to know people. People know me in Brixton. People can feel my energy and feed off my energy. That’s why I didn’t have to do any marketing; the success of my business relied heavily on word of mouth at the start, and it still does.
“I know a lot of people open a restaurant and kit it out with all the latest gear, spending a fortune on setting up. I don’t play with other people’s money; it’s my money and I wanted to grow my business only when I had the right staff and once I had the brand established in the community.”
Do you think small food & drink businesses actually have an advantage over their larger, less agile competitors these days?
“I absolutely agree. We can be authentic, build a community, without the expectations, perceptions or politics that come with being a big, established brand. So if we want to test new recipes, change our menu or pop up at a food market for example, we’re agile enough to do that.
“So far, we’ve got a restaurant in Brixton Village and we’ve recently opened another one in BOXPARK Croydon. Both feel very different in terms of the area, clientele and what we need to do to give customers what they want. But both have a cool pop-up vibe, which continues to be really popular. The next step is a permanent bar and restaurant in Brixton. It’ll be like Caribbean tapas and we’re really excited to bring something completely new to the area and to bring Caribbean cuisine right up to date.
“To be honest, I don’t need to do festivals, street food markets and so on, to generate business. But I see this as a potentially really valuable route for some businesses. It’s a way of testing customer reactions to products and the brand without forking out thousands on permanent premises, for example. I suppose we’re doing that on a smaller scale at our two locations.”
Did you know that over half (57%) of people say they enjoy finding brands outside of the traditional high street setting?
Why BOXPARK Croydon for your second restaurant?
“Croydon has a more mainstream feel; it’s very different from Brixton and I think both locations work really well for the community vibe that Fish, Wings & Tings brings.
“Our Croydon restaurant is much bigger, with a bigger kitchen so we can have more on the menu. Not only that, but being part of BOXPARK means we don’t have to think so much about marketing and social media. They take the weight of a lot of that.
“But maybe most importantly, I picked these two locations so I can see my family and have a work-life balance. That’s critical; otherwise the community feel behind my brand wouldn’t be authentic. Fish, Wings & Tings started because of my roots and my grandmother Valentina’s attitude to food and community, which she passed on to me. ”
What do customers want from a small business and how can you give it to them?
“We see a lot of cultural appropriation in the food and drink space and a lot of consumers don’t appreciate that. In my experience, customers want to feel like they’re part of something authentic. That’s massive for us. My food is truly Caribbean, based on my grandmother Valentina’s recipes, some with a London spin, and all cooked with love.
“Thriving in the food and drink industry is about so much more than just good food. It’s about giving people an experience, helping them to make an emotional connection. ”
“Aside from that, people don’t want to think about the logistics of eating out. They don’t want it to be hard to get a table, or to wait for ages to get the bill and to pay. They want to enjoy the meal and then settle up however they choose, whether that’s by cash or card, contactless or chip and PIN. It shouldn’t interfere with the experience, but enhance it. In fact, in my mind, the payment part of the experience is just another great excuse for customers to interact with our lovely servers.
“That’s why my Barclaycard terminals are so important to me. They give us a point of difference in an environment that’s mainly cash-only.”
One final thought – 68% of people think the eating and drinking out experience is as important as the food or beverage itself.
If you want to start taking card payments or find out more about Barclaycard's range of payment terminals, go to our card reader page.
 A nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults and 250 business owners conducted by Barclaycard Business between 19th June – 5th July 2018.
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