When I first clocked a recession was imminent – after I’d checked the relevant terms of my contract and cancelled the statue of myself in solid gold I was having made for the front garden – I began to think about the opportunities that a recession can create.
It’s now well established that many business start up during a downturn, largely because lots of people are out of work and have nothing better to do than be a bit imaginative. This time round, with the recession taking such a toll on incredibly wealthy financiers and bankers, who earned far more money during the Great Moderation than they could ever spend no matter how much they ballsed up house prices trying, I was convinced some fascinating new businesses would emerge.
And so it has proved. A while back, a man called Ajit Chambers got in touch with me to promote his bold plan to open up London’s disused Tube stations to the public. He is still ruthlessly pursuing his vision and will, I believe, realise it, sooner rather than later. For more, watch this space.
At around the same time I heard from a friend, Marisa Leaf, who has set up a company called Hubbub that takes orders from customers for posh delis around Islington (of which there are many) and delivers them all in one go to your door. I wrote about it in 2008 and on Tuesday, she was interviewed in the Evening Standard. In that piece she mentioned in passing one of the people whose food she sells, a banker from Highbury who jacked it all in to become a fisherman on the south coast. I interviewed him yonks ago, and the piece is due to run in Time Out sometime before I die, or so I have been promised.
So that’s three stories that have come to me without me even looking, as all the best stories should.
Where am I going with this? Well, I am in a decent position to start up a business of my own, being all of a sudden time, if not cash, rich and finding freelance journalism a potential struggle given that I’m not descended from anybody famous, daringly tedious/controversial or Stephen Armstrong.
But there is a problem: I am suffocatingly risk-averse. And I am quite lazy. However, I do have one idea that I would love to take forward if somebody else is prepared to do the taking forward bit for me.
It’s a crisp shop. A shop dedicated to selling not just any crisps, but the most interesting crisps – or other potato-based snacks – from around the world. These would be crisps of the rarest and most unusual flavours, the best packaged, golden oldies, with lots from Japan, where I do not know for sure but am pretty certain they make some of the most incredible crisps known to the crisp-world, in wonderful flavours and colours, and all with pictures of schoolgirls on the cover. This shop would be in south London, probably Streatham, and look like one of those trainer shops where people buy lurid and expensive footwear that they never intend to wear. It will be a design classic, floor-to-ceiling cellophane. Whenever Jay-Z comes to London, he will make my crisp shop one of his first ports of call, because I am sure Jay-Z loves crisps.
The irony of this is that I do not particularly like crisps. Or Jay-Z for that matter. But this only adds to the beauty of the concept.
If you like it, I will next tell you about my plan for a restaurant that only serves starters and desserts, because main courses are, and we really should be prepared to admit it by now, invariably a crushing disappointment.
I would definitely support this crisp based endeavour. I don’t have much capital sadly, but perhaps lots of people with not much capital would be a better way of raising the necessary funds than a single Dragon.
It is drive I am looking for James. Do you think you have what it takes?
Oh, yes. Drive and ambition I have, money and business expertise I do not.
I’m liking the crisp shop idea. Could be as big a hit as my chain of risotto restaurants that never got off the ground due to my similarly risk-averse and relatively drive-free nature.
Kanye West strikes me more as a crisp fiend than Jay Z; always had him down as more of a dry roasted peanut man.
My ideal chain of restaurants would be a rival to Hummus Brothers.
It would be called World of Guac.
I don’t have any capital to put in, but I’d definitely patronise your crisp-based venture. I don’t know if you’re a fan of Fags, Mags and Bags (R4), but you can get lots of inspiration from them on how to arrange your Wall of Crisps.
You may even have prompted me to revisit the plan I have with my friend Violet for a potato-centric restaurant. (potato pizza, potato cakes, bread, aloo gobi, gnocchi, baked, chipped, mashed, dauphinoise… and the best roasties you’ve ever tasted.) Or you would have done if I didn’t have to rush to get the kids from school…
A bold idea! But why Streatham? Do you think its residents have a particularly large disposable income they’d gladly spend on crisps, or is it just that the rents are cheap?
I’m guessing high end crisps are currently mostly sold through places like Selfridges, Fortnum & Masons and Harrods.
It certainly looks like a big market: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/3336456/Its-a-crisp-Jim-but-not-as-we-know-it.html
Streatham feels right – it’s waiting to become trendy and this could just be the concept that tips it over the edge. Also, lots of schoolkids.
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There was a wonderful restaurant in Newcastle upon Tyne called Starters and Puds. They served just starters and puds, tapas-style. It was amazing but closed down last year. Such a shame.
I definitely want to be a part of this, would love to course all the weird and wonderful crisps. I have no money but plenty of drive and consider myself a bit of a crispspert