A passion for food and bringing the very best cuisine, ingredients and dishes to the table has driven the co-founders of Oliver James Foods throughout their 25-years in business. The privately-owned business, with a turnover today of over £16million, has grown through ambition, acquiring and buying and selling food producing businesses, supported by Lodders’ advice along the way.
Olver James Foods was co-founded by Martyn Thomas and Kevin Morel. They first met when working together for Albert Roux, the globally renowned Michelin-starred chef, who had embraced a pioneering technique, Sous Vide – slow cooking in airtight plastic bags – that today is commonplace in commercial, volume fresh food preparation for the restaurant and hospitality sectors.
Inspired by the potential for Sous Vide to meet the needs of the mid-market restaurant sector, Martyn and Kevin started their own business, and began their journey of entrepreneurship. The business began in Kevin’s garden shed, then quickly moved to a unit in London’s Covent Garden where it rapidly rose in popularity amongst many of the capital’s wine bars, restaurants and hotels.
Growth and expansion
As interest and order books grew, Martyn and Kevin felt the time was right to expand but considered that London was not the easiest location to grow the business and production facilities.
After researching the most suitable next step, Martyn and Kevin learned of a food producing business for sale in Redditch, bought the assets, and moved lock, stock and barrel to the Midlands, specifically choosing Stratford upon Avon as their homes, and the town’s law firm Lodders as legal advisers to the business.
The Redditch company was called Thomas Morel Foods, manufacturing high quality fresh dishes for numerous hotels and restaurants across the UK. The business was sold in 1998 to Best Foods, owners of many famous brands including Hellmanns Mayonnaise. Subsequently, Best Foods became part of Unilever.
The business partners were retained by Unilever and continued to work in the business for a further 18 months, before buying it back and renaming it after their first-born sons, Oliver and James, and have since continued to build the business trading as Oliver James Foods. Soon after, the business bought a dessert-producing company, which it subsequently sold, again with Lodders’ advice.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Kevin and Martyn are joint Managing Directors at the helm of a £multi-million turnover business. The Group owns two food manufacturing businesses, Oliver James Foods based in Redditch, and Proper Pies Limited, which is one of the UK’s market-leading producers of pastry products, baked goods and other wholesome foods. As well as restaurants, hotels, pub groups, supermarkets and travel companies, Proper Pies lists some of the country’s major sporting and large event venues including Wembley Stadium, amongst its clientele. All items are manufactured at its dedicated facility in Southam, Warwickshire.
In addition, the Group owns and operates a number of pubs and restaurants including The Swan at Coombe Hill near Cheltenham, Flynns Bar & Brasserie of Cheltenham, and Edward Moons Brasserie on Chapel Street, Stratford.
Martyn Thomas explains their mission for consistent, high quality food is as important today as it was when he and Kevin launched their first business in the 1990s: “We are committed to producing safe, high quality food that reflects the personalities and skills of the chefs involved. We want our food to be inspirational, unique, tasty, flavoursome and to ensure consistency whether it is eaten in Land’s End or John O’Groats. It’s real food that reflects what people would cook at home or in a restaurant.
“Our production combines traditional chef skills with modern science and technology, but with absolutely zero compromise on quality or taste. Our kitchens look much like those you’d find in a high quality hotel, and we use fresh ingredients and source local, sustainable and traceable meat and produce as much as possible.We work closely with each of our customers to deliver the highest quality product, with provenance and within budgets.”
The team, which at peak times of the hospitality season has in the region of 120 full-time chefs and staff, works closely with local farms and many organic and premium end producers.
“On a typical day, we produce in the region of 30,000 portions of food, which is subject to stringent timings to ensure they reach central distribution hubs for our clients. Our location in the heart of the Midlands and close to motorways is a huge advantage.”
This commitment to quality and taste has been recognised by many of the UK’s flagship industry awards, with accolades for innovation, taste and service. Proper Pies picked up no less than fifteen awards in the 2014 British Pie Awards, and Oliver James Foods scooped six product awards in the 2013 BPEX Foodservice Pork Product of the Year for a number of its ready-to-eat meat dishes, and its Food Service was recognised in the 2014 EBLEX Awards being awarded the title of England’s Best Burger.
“We are particularly proud of all the awards, as well as our staff retention. Lodders has worked with the business to successfully support all our business aspirations, as well as the related HR requirements.”
Working with Lodders
For a growing business, operating in one of the UK’s toughest, and most stringently regulated manufacturing sectors, Lodders’ consistent and responsive legal expertise has proved a great asset, as Martyn explains:
“We’ve worked with the team at Lodders since 1995, and Rod Bird has been our main contact but has facilitated access to the firm’s other experts as and when the business has required. Whether this be employment and HR advice, guidance on rights of way at pubs, commercial property purchase advice, and guidance on due diligence on each of the businesses’ purchases and sales, the firm’s advice has been thorough, and accurate.
“Lodders works with us with an ‘open ear’, listening to our ideas and suggestions as to how they can support our growing and evolving business. We are entrepreneurs and it is important we work with professionals who understand that and who also have entrepreneurial flair and spirit.”
To find out more about Oliver James Foods, visit: www.oliverjamesfoods.com
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