After struggling with staff shortages and rising costs at his Buckinghamshire restaurant, Russell Hardiman recognised an opportunity for a concept that could support other hospitality operators in similar positions.
He and business partner Mark Davenport developed "plug and play" pizza concept Barrel & Stone, as a simple way for operators to add an ancillary form of income to their businesses. Hardiman (pictured below with Davenport) told The Caterer that the concept can increase sales during downtime with minimal capital expenses while tapping into the lucrative collection and delivery markets. Importantly the pizza can be made by anyone with just a few hours training, taking a minute or two to prepare and three minutes to cook.
Hardiman explained: "Pizza is a £4.5 billion industry in the UK alone and continues to grow. It is a perfect solution for so many reasons, it is universally loved, suits the requirements of vegetarians, vegans, carnivores, all religions, nationalities and can be served day and night. Whilst investigating ideas of how to increase turnover in one of my restaurants outside Marlow, I decided to add pizza to the menu.
"I identified two standard solutions offered in the marketplace. The first, a costly labour and time intensive operation where sites make or use a fresh dough, this required expert skill, which is difficult to find. The second leant towards a frozen or pre-topped product, which disconnects staff from the enjoyment of making fresh, delicious pizza and never quite reaches the standards required to satisfy the expectations of today's educated consumer."
The pair spent 12 months developing the stone-baked pizza brand as an alternative. The branded concept can be installed into businesses as a concession with Hardiman and Davenport supplying clients with a pizza oven, ingredients, menu development, staff training, support, social media and marketing.
Development saw them source pre-rolled bases and ingredients from Italy, working with chefs to create the product while ensuring that costs were controlled and waste kept to a minimum.
He explains: "We wanted something slightly different, slightly disruptive, that we could expand quickly. It was really trying to de-skill something that could offer ancillary income as well as opportunities for collection and delivery. The growth of collection and delivery is very important for us and is an area we aim to seriously grow in the future. The rise in the number of delivery aggregators such as Deliveroo, has simplified that process. It's a really straightforward solution with an acceptable gross profit for any organisation."
Barrel & Stone opened in its first site in August 2015 and is now installed in 100 businesses across the pub, hotel and leisure sectors. In the next 12 months it hopes to be in another 300 sites, including an opening in the Shard scheduled for later this year.
Hardiman said the company has had particular success in the hotel industry with demand growing to provide room service, functions, events and appeal to business visitors. DoubleTree by Hilton Swindon replaced its own pizza offering with Barrel & Stone and has seen a continuous five-fold increase in sales.
He said: "It's a great solution for business people who only have a short time to meet and eat, whilst also providing another reason for non-resident guests to visit."
Hardiman and Davenport are continuing to innovate their offer working with food consultant Nellie Nichols, who has worked with businesses including Leon, Wagamama and Pret, as well as developing additional concept Zonium. Zonium will be a moveable pod system that can be positioned in an open space, such as a hotel or pub car park acting as a drive thru for customers.
Looking to the future Hardiman said: "We aim to sell our pizza in the best locations and build a brand as universally recognised as Starbucks. We hope that the growth of the brand will only support our existing customers and their businesses, which is why we are looking at a number of exciting projects such as franchising and Zonium, yet remaining focused on sticking to our model of providing ingredients within a branded concept and making and giving our customers a healthy gross profit."