Keith Goddard wasn't exactly prepared to run a multi-strand catering company, but through determination, business-acumen and a bit of luck, he's created a bespoke business based in the ever-expanding south-west of central London. Janie Manzoori-Stamford reports
Keith Goddard's thirst for knowledge and experience has led him to some of the most high-profile chef opportunities around. While training at the French Culinary Institute he took on a work placement at Daniel in New York, before moving to Sydney and completing stints at three-hat restaurants Quay and Sepia. He returned to the UK and worked in various places including the River Café, Eric Chavot at the Capital and Restaurant Tom Aikens before honing his butchery skills at Jack O'Shea's. It was during this period at the Knightsbridge butcher that Goddard first made a foray into catering. "I started private cheffing for customers, which wasn't planned but just happened," he explains. "That led me to doing private parties, which is probably why I eventually did this."
The ‘this' to which Goddard refers is Keith Goddard Catering, his multi-faceted business that started life as Munch Food Company. Officially founded in 2011, it has grown to include an event catering arm dubbed Goddard Events; Munch Food Company, a provider of high-end and healthy lunchboxes serving 10 to 500 diners at businesses across the capital; Arch 65, the Battersea home to the company's central production kitchen and a smart and exclusive private dining space (designed by Goddard's sister Orla Read of design firm Nicola Harding); and London Kitchen Rental (see box).
Setting up his own catering company was by no means Goddard's first experience of running a business. Prior to the formation of Munch, he and restaurateur Will Guess opened 101 Pimlico Road in London SW10.
"It was an amazing opportunity. At the time I was about to go to France to work for Michel Bras and I was faced with a crossroads decision. I could keep working and learning in restaurants, but I think you could probably just do that forever. When you're in your 20s and you don't have much responsibility but all this desire to learn, you can get almost addicted to it," he explains.
"I decided not to go to France and to take my first job as head chef. It was a massive challenge. Having worked in kitchens with 15 people, I went to it being just me and two others. It was a start-up and, to be brutally honest, the product either hadn't been tested or the framework of what the product would be hadn't been determined. I went into it slightly blind and had to learn very quickly. The phrase ‘learning on your feet' was very appropriate."
Inexperience and multiple efforts to establish an identity for the restaurant that would prove successful continued for the best part of two years before the decision was taken to close 101 Pimlico Road's doors for good, which ironically coincided with a glowing 8/10 review in The Daily Telegraph, but by then there was no going back.
Aside from countless business skills, Goddard also acquired a substantial potential client base for his next venture. While working 18-hour days, seven days a week at the restaurant he was met with an ever-flowing pipeline of requests to do outside events, but his capacity to fulfil them at the time simply wasn't there. But when the restaurant closed, it was an avenue of opportunity Goddard was happy to explore.
"Arrogantly, as a chef, I thought outside catering would be so easy because restaurants were so difficult," he says. "I set up a company to cater for a few photoshoots. It was quite casual. I was also doing private dining in people's homes. For 12 to 18 months, it was just me and one other person trying to see what was out there and gain the skills for outside catering."
Trade was decent enough for two people, but two years ago Goddard realised he didn't want to be cooking one-on-one in people's homes forever and began to investigate ways in which the business could be scaled up.
"We started in 2011 but in my mind the company as it is now is just two years old. Before that it was a private-dining firm. Now we do big events and all sorts of stuff. Munch Food Company is now one of the divisions of the wider business."
But what prompted the move to creating a multi-strand company? According to Goddard, it was a conversation with the firm's newly appointed PR and communications adviser, Isobel Klempka, in the spring. She wanted to fully understand everything that the company did but when it came to explaining all its various elements, it became apparent that it was as clear as mud. If it was this tricky for those that run the business to describe it, what must it be like for its customers?
"I was describing the business to Isobel and it dawned on me just how confusing it was," says Goddard. "We realised it couldn't all work under one brand because while everything we do is at a really high quality and level of execution, a lunchbox is a very different product with a very different market compared to a fine-dining private dinner."
Despite initial reservations about giving the over-arching business his own name, the decision was ultimately made to form Keith Goddard Catering. Six months down the line, Goddard says the rebrand is paying off. While trade in each division has tended thus far to fluctuate with the seasons and variable needs of their respective markets, they are also all holding their own in terms of sales and standing largely shoulder to shoulder in terms of sales to date. Goddard declines to disclose the annual turnover of the business but says that it has more than doubled every year since its launch, adding: "If we can do that again next year, we're in great stead. The team of 10 I have here now could handle that on its own, which is a really great place to be."
Crucially, the close-knit nature of the team coupled with a strategic decision to never take on more than one job a day has meant that there remains a focus on the quality and consistency of the company's service and product.
"I have no ambitions to be the biggest caterer in London, or to be doing events daily for a thousand people. That's not what we're aiming for. We want to keep it manageable and quite bespoke," he explains. "If you've booked us for a job, you will get the whole team from start to finish. Our clients like that they can pick up the phone to us and we'll answer. We offer the personal touch."
Goddard's time at 101 Pimlico Road laid down some vital business foundations, but he admits that the learning curve when you're your own boss is just as steep, if not more so. As such, he has a number of people he can call on for business advice.
Goddard was previously operating out of a larger caterer's kitchens in Park Royal, north-west London. But while the site was adjacent to the A40, a major artery into London, the road's tendency to become clogged with commuter traffic proved a hindrance as often as a convenience. The location of Arch 65 in Battersea, by comparison, is a prime piece of real estate for the caterer's central production kitchen, particularly as so many of its clients are situated a stone's throw away in Mayfair and Kensington, but also because of the £8b Battersea Power Station development, which is set to include around 1,300 new homes, 1.25 million sq ft of office space and plenty of scope for growth opportunities for Keith Goddard Catering.
"If we can tap into just a fraction of it, it's going to be massive," says Goddard. "It's very exciting for us because we've got the American Embassy going in and all these new flats. We've already started doing events with Battersea Power Station and if we can get a bit of that business, it will be massively positive for us."
Reflecting on the journey to this point and the latest stage in his professional adventure, Goddard adds: "It was a combination of a bit of luck, a bit of good timing and a bit of perseverance. I feel we've been lucky that we got here when we did, because it does feel like everything is now happening around us. And that's incredibly exciting."
Arch 65 and London Kitchen Rental
The newest business asset of Keith Goddard Catering is Arch 65, a site in an arch beneath Battersea Park station that, following a major revamp, comprises a central production kitchen, elegant private dining room and business headquarters. Funded through a combination of private investment from outside parties and Goddard taking loans, Arch 65 offers the business room to grow.
"It was a massive decision to take on the space. We've got a 10-year lease on this site so we've got the time to make it work and pay the money back, but we need to keep everything very tight. There have been a couple of things that I've done to slightly soften the blow since. If I'm honest, the space was probably too big for what we wanted but my thinking was that it's better than going somewhere small and having to do the move all over again. It was such a headache, not to mention a huge cost."
Goddard cushioned the blow by letting out work stations to one-person cooking operations, and thus London Kitchen Rentals was born. It was an idea that came from his own experience as a start-up, knowing there were few kitchen spaces available.
"When I moved in here, I thought there must be a market for that kind of thing and I had a huge response. I interviewed about 50 people and from those I've got three here that share our values and have the right attitude."
2011-present Keith Goddard Catering (formerly Munch Food Company), London
2009-2011 Head chef, 101 Pimlico Road, London
2008-2009 Chef de partie, Restaurant Tom Aikens, London
2006-2008 BA classical French cooking, French Culinary Institute, New York
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