The Pantry is an award-winning contract catering business that operates within a number of industry sectors including over 100 schools and sixth forms, a handful of industrial sites and also provide event catering for companies such as Amazon across the UK to over 75 Amazon Distribution Centres across the UK, as well as buffet and event catering to a number of clients local to where the business is located in Uxbridge, West London. Paul Andrews spoke to Luke Consiglio, the Founder and Managing Director, to find out more.
When it comes to the business and how it all started, Luke is proud of what they have already achieved since the business began in 2006, growing to over £12 million in turnover and employing around 500 people which includes 17 family members and now serves over 20,000 meals to school children each and every day.
As Luke explains, “Like most family businesses, ours began in a humble home – a Sandwich Shop on Hayes High Street in 2006, to be precise.”
With the support, guidance, and very often concerned expressions of his parents, 23-year-old Luke Consiglio set about creating a business that would have a family ethos at its heart, and family members at the forefront.
“My Mum and Dad provided an initial loan of £10,000 to help get things started and right from the start Mum helped by making sure the books balance whilst I took on just about every other responsibility in the shop, from creating the menus, preparing the sandwiches, pushing promotions, and even delivering platters myself,” adds Luke.
Luke is an entrepreneur at heart, loves his family, and the team that works for him and his desire to succeed and be the best he can be is apparent for all to see. Born in a flat on the 17th floor of a tower block, Luke was brought up by hard-working parents, a father who is a cobbler and runs his own shop and his Mum was on hand to help with the family. Luke is one of three brothers and they were brought up with traditional family values that still resonate with Luke today, as he drives the business forward balancing life with his own wife and three young daughters.
“Work is really important to me and with a family to provide for and a growing number of staff, it is important that we continue to evolve, but retain the family values at the heart of our culture too,” he continues. “Our shop offered a family-owned alternative to the High Street giants and word soon spread about the sheer quality and range of freshly-prepared food on offer – with our first year’s turnover at coming in at £36,000.”
“With queues stretching down the High Street, and my dreams stretching far beyond it, The Pantry soon started branching out and broadening its horizons. Within 2 years, we were providing and serving buffet and event catering for both local and national businesses, including DHL, Amazon, Hertz, and many more – all of whom we still count as loyal customers,” adds Luke.
Their first ‘contracted’ job beyond the confines of the High Street Shop came in 2006, within Hillingdon’s Civic Centre, where they were tasked with delivering a coffee shop and hot food offer for the c.1,000 people on site. This served as a significant jumping-off point for the Company, as it demonstrated that their catering offer could be scalable, adaptable, and most importantly – high quality wherever it was delivered. This provided the catalyst for the next stage in their growth.
As Luke explains, “From here, The Pantry were asked to look into providing school lunches which were historically very poor within the Borough – and in the same year, reached an agreement with Botwell House Catholic School to provide their students with packed lunches – all made within our sandwich shop. From here, our business quickly garnered a reputation for reliability, trustworthiness and delicious food within the Borough, and we were quickly awarded other school contracts where we could cook on-site.”
The business continued a growth trajectory that involved more staff and more customers, with a key aspect of their growth centred on customer experience and quality of food, education and nutrition, factors that remain at the core of the The Pantry today.
As Luke continues, “Having outgrown the High Street, The Pantry soon required a more suitable home, and moved into brand-new offices in Uxbridge, barely a stone’s throw away from our first home in Hayes.”
Luke was determined to maintain the Family influence on the business as it grew, and he soon recruited his cousins – one who had already carved out a successful career within the restaurant and events industry who both had carved out successful careers of their own within the restaurant and events industries – to act as his right-hand men as the business blossomed into the contract catering arena. With his Uncle Dave serving as the wheels of the business with his delivery van, The Pantry soon became a feature in Schools across West London, with family members driving excellence across every corner of the business.
Luke carefully nurtured the business as The Pantry’s reputation sky-rocketed, being careful not to over-reach as he instead built-up industry-leading practices and systems across a clientele of 40 Schools over the next decade turnover grew to over £2 million. The Pantry were also the first contractor within Hillingdon to be awarded the Soil Associations Food For Life Gold award, with notes from the awarding body claiming that if they could have awarded a Platinum, they would have!
Luke has a clear vision and purpose for the business that offers a genuine family-feel amongst a sea of far more corporate competitors. “We believe in our offering and for me it is important to live and breathe what we do. All of our team are on board and understand what makes us different. Our values are lived from the top down and we go above and beyond to exceed the expectations of our clients. We have to be the best and take real pride in delivering an excellent service and living the values. Our reputation is second to none and we care. I make it a personal objective to ensure that I lead from the front and attend each and every pitch to show that I care, as much as the team do, and the client knows that it is important to us at each and every level of the business,” explains Luke.
The Pantry’s ‘People over Profit’ mantra allowed them to continually re-invest in the people and the services they offered, rather than skimming off profits for outside investors, something that stood them in better stead than most when the pandemic hit.
As Luke adds, “When most other companies were making redundancies and hollowing out their business, our family ethos came to the fore. Thanks to prudent investments and a diverse portfolio of services, we were able to keep every member of staff on our books, and even strengthen our Head Office team as we recruited high-quality industry professionals who shared The Pantry’s vision for a personable, accountable and family-driven operation.”
Once the effects of the Pandemic eased, The Pantry kicked into overdrive. With a staff that was highly-motivated and committed to The Pantry cause, they were able to acquire over 60 new contracts over the course of the next 18 months, driving turnover over £12 million for the first time in their history, and expand a roster from being mainly London-based, to having outposts from Sussex to Staffordshire, and Surrey to Suffolk!
To this day, Luke is still the owner and Managing Director of the Company, and his brothers and cousins are still in key Senior Management positions – alongside several 6 other family members holding various roles across the Company including his brother, showcasing how far this business has grown from the early days when Luke opened that first sandwich shop with family members in prominent roles.
Luke’s cousin, Anthony Swaby, is the Head of Operations. Anthony has over two decades’ experience curating the food and operational standards across some of the most prestigious hospitality outlets in London, including AA-rated restaurants at The Barbican and The National Portrait Gallery, and at The Pantry he ensures these self-same standards are adapted and implemented across every single kitchen within our business.
Luke’s other cousin, another Anthony, (Anthony Wright, to be precise), is the Commercial Operations Manager. Acting as the focal point for all of our endeavours in this sector, he co-ordinates the catering and events for commercial clients, including Amazon offer at over 75 distribution centres for Amazon across the UK, as well as their wider Hospitality provision.
Pete Boden, Luke’s father-in-law, serves as Head of IT, joining The Pantry after a long and successful career with Sky as an Editor. Pete’s responsible for ensuring every aspect of the Head Office workflow is managed smoothly and safely, as well as embedding all the hardware and software required at our Schools to support the digital aspects of our service. This is increasingly important as ongoing investment in systems has lead to bespoke programmes and innovative features such as enabling parents of each and every child to order their own meals from the menu, managing allergies and intolerances by ensuring children cannot be provided meals that are not suitable for their dietary requirements, and enabling parents to see a record of what their children have eaten.
Luke’s Mum, Tracey, still maintains her financial role within the Company that began all the way back in 2006!
“We have family members scattered throughout all areas of the business,” continues Luke, “which is one of the reasons our values are aligned and everyone is working towards the same goals. We all love what we do and have worked hard to create a culture of ownership and engaged staff too.”
“Family is my happy place and something that is in my DNA. We are lucky that we all get along well and share the same vision and I am also very fortunate to have a wife that allows me to do what I need to do and supports me in doing it. We have a bond that works. I love her to bits and it is a team effort and the fact that we are winning awards is not just about me. We are all in this together and we share the successes,” explains Luke.
“People are what makes family businesses special and we have an exceptional team who care, continue to grow with us and they all give the same attention to detail as I do,” adds Luke. “I appreciate each and every one of the team for the important role they play in generating our success and I think it is important to look after them the way that I would want to be looked after, the same approach that we take to the way that we work with our clients. It clearly works as we have a full schedule of schools and clients on board and are always being approached and asked to tender for more contracts and are overwhelmed with the response whenever we open up a new position to potential employees too. Something is working well and long may it continue,” adds Luke.
“We have to allow our teams to play to their ‘superpowers’ whether it is numbers, marketing or customer relations and then we get the best out of them and they are doing what they love, which is a win for everyone,” he continues. “Our team are our culture and it is important that we support them in their roles with us.”
Luke and the team continue to invest in the business, recognising the way that they want to grow and the values that they want to be associated with. “We have three nutritionists who help spread the word, visit schools teaching kids about the value of a health diet and encouraging them to eat well. We promote in season produce through the menus which is good for their diets but also good for the planet and supportive of local farmers and produce too. It is simple – we want to do the right thing and are making nutrition central to what we do too.”
It is clear that Luke works hard, loves what he does and is an entrepreneur. More importantly though he is an inspiration to others. When you talk to the other members of the senior management as well as the junior members of the team, it is readily apparent that they love what they do. There is a palpable ‘buzz in the air’ and smiling faces all round. “We love what we do and have worked hard to create a good place to be,” continues Luke. “We don’t want to be a faceless corporate but a business with family values embedded in what we do and we want to exceed expectations but have fun too. It is important that we work together and as the MD I know it is important that as we go that I need to ensure our culture remains. It is not easy but our senior team share our passion and values and regular check-ins and ‘up audits’ help make sure we are not losing touch and that the ethos remains.”
“We have come a long way and are not ashamed of who we are, what we do and how we do it. It is about balance, culture, hard work and the fact that we really do care – about our staff, our clients and our families, and by that I mean direct and those families of the people who work for us for whom we have a longer term responsibility too. Communication is at the heart of this and it is personal. This is a business that I created and is growing quickly so communication is the only way to ensure the right messages, values and information are shared and that starts with me,” adds Luke.
This is a business that at the heart provides over 20,000 meals to children each and every day. “We are trusted to feed the things that are the most precious things to the parents, their children and that send them to school and we are really good at doing it,” concludes Luke.
The Pantry is an inspirational family business. Whilst it may be in the first generation, there are generations involved and they have already created a model that has successfully embraced numerous family members into roles within the business. The team includes family and non-family working collectively with a shared vision and purpose and the growth since that first shop opened in Hayes all those years ago is nothing short of phenomenal with Luke leading from the front, working incredibly hard, long hours to get it to where it is today.
Plans for the future are exciting with a move to new premises, inclusion of a small working farm and smallholding to be able to invite clients and their customers (school children of all ages) to visit and appreciate more of the field to fork food journey and nutritional planning that goes into the diverse menus and a whole lot more besides.
The journey to date has been an exciting one but the future looks bright and full of promise. In a short period of time they have become one of the fastest growing contract caterers in the UK which is due to sticking to the family ethos and values and continually reinvesting in the next phase of the their growth. We look forward to seeing the next chapter in their growth.