Interview with Tony Byrne, founder and boss of Lauren's Catering in Gloucester
PUBLISHED: 15:11 27 November 2018
25 years in business is no mean feat – and the owner of Lauren’s Catering has lost none of his ambition
“I would love to make it a £1 million turnover,” said Tony Byrne, the former baker, founder and boss of the Gloucester catering business, Lauren’s Catering, – which is already three quarters of the way towards the seven-ﬁgure target.
Listening to him talk about his business – possibly the most sought-after supplier of sandwiches and hot and cold food delivered to businesses county-wide - it is obvious he thrives on what he does.
“We’ve been going 25 years now and I still love it. Some of my customers used to come in here as kids on the way to school and now come in as adults,” he said, talking about his Bristol Road front counter.
“They say to me ‘you’re still doing it?’ Yes, I am. And if an order came in this afternoon for 1,000 sandwiches for tomorrow, I would be on it straight away. We’d have the radio on and we’d be working away for as long as it took to make sure it was delivered.”
Which, when he was starting out on his own, was a regular 12-hour day.
“Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be so hands-on. I should be out there getting more business,” he muses.
“I would like to hit £1 million, but it is hard work in food.
Turnover this year is £750,000 – a leap of £35,000 on last year.”
That was not just Mr Byrne and his 15-strong team working harder. First came the move to new premises at Waterwells Business Park, made possible with the help of agents Ash & Co. A shrewd move made necessary because of growth into a ready ﬁtted-out former catering premises – setting him up nicely with more capacity.
Then came a key spend all his customers noticed and appreciated - the ﬂeet of new vehicles to deliver Lauren’s Catering’s produce – the freshly made baps, sandwiches, wraps, baked sausage rolls, pasties, snacks and drinks.
Customers include some of the biggest ﬁrms in Gloucestershire and business parks large and small county-wide – from Clarkson Evans and Hartpury College, to Blades and Gardner Garages to schools.
“We are currently running six vehicles - jiffy vans – ﬁve are new. We will be adding more to the ﬂeet as we move outside of Gloucestershire,” said Mr Byrne, who began his business career early and learned the hard way.
“I was a baker from when I 16 and worked for three of the biggest bakeries in Gloucester, before taking one of them over. It was in the High Street in Tredworth. But it didn’t last the recession back then.
“It was not a good time for business and I was just too young. I was 24 then. I’m 52 now,” he recalls.
Undeterred he kept hold of the small shop that was part of the bakery.
“I opened Lauren’s with £600 in my back pocket – my redundancy money. That was on Bristol Road, and we are still here,” he said. The company was named after his eldest daughter.
The shop also helps him keep in touch with those who buy from Lauren’s.
“I think knowing your customers is vital. You have to be out the front, get to know people and learn what the customers want,” he said, adding that a spell also running a café at a city health club had been another valuable lesson in both business and what customers want.
“Importantly people want value for money. They want quality, but they want to feel like they are getting a good deal too.”
A quarter of a century has seen the business build good relationships with his suppliers too, signiﬁcant in a market always at war over costs.
His scale means the relationship with Lauren’s is valuable to suppliers. Any savings they deliver are passed on by Mr Byrne to his customers.
Despite all the nous and willingness to lead from the front he gives most credit to his incredibly hard-working staff – which includes those back of house preparing the food and those front of house at the counter and in the vans, and his daughter, company secretary, Aisling Byrne.
And then there is Carole Kurylak.
“She has been with me since day one. She is my PA, my mother, a member of my family,” he said, trying to sum up just how valuable she has been and is.
“I have been able to enjoy the other parts of my life because of Carole. If I could clone her I would be a millionaire”.
For more information, visit laurenscatering.co.uk.