Nick the Gastropreneur
The Whisk founder and ex-Apprentice on success in the food business
Nick Holzherr, The Apprentice 2012 candidate, came in at number three on Sir Alan Sugar’s famous ’12-week job interview’. Now based in Birmingham, Nick is preparing to launch his latest foodie business venture. We caught up with him at Gingers Bar (pictured below) to talk dining, turning a profit, and finding a decent coffee…
[by Ahmed Ahmed]
You were in Birmingham as a student [at Aston University] and now you’re back again – what are your memories of being a student here?
I came from a village to Birmingham thinking ‘Wow, what a great big city!’ It was overwhelming but as a student you quickly settle into your niche. The big clubs were a massive draw. I was very into going drinking on Broad Street at places like The Works, which was handy with Nando’s right next door!
Now that you’ve returned to the city as a graduate and entrepreneur, where do you like to eat and drink?
Nowadays, I tend to prefer pubs, like the Lord Clifden, and The Jekyll & Hyde, which has a lot of character. Bacchus, of course, just for the decor. And not forgetting The Cube, which has an amazing view.
You launched your first food business – a coffee-selling unit – while still at university. What advice do you have for would-be gastropreneurs?
There’s no real barrier to entry in the food business, but that’s a good thing and a bad thing. It means it’s easy to get set up, but you can’t expect a good income unless you’re doing something different from everybody else. So many businesses are bankrupt in one year.
"I think there’s a big difference between asking for advice and taking it. You have to do both. If I could go back in time, I’d slap myself for not doing that!"
In terms of a retail outlet – like a restaurant or cafe – be very wary. Focus on net margins, not gross ones. Speak to people already in the business and find out about their expenditure and hidden costs.
On the subject of coffee-selling, Birmingham’s crawling with independent cafes these days – any favourites?
Well, it’s a bit of an awkward question – I have two friends, each of whom owns a coffee shop. So Urban Coffee and York’s Bakery Cafe have to get a mention.
Any cafes you don’t like?
Another awkward question! Erm, I was shocked to hear about Starbucks not paying any [corporation] tax. It’s difficult to get good coffee in general – so many factors go into it like the beans, the grind, the compacting, the machine…
But I have to say the worst coffee out there is definitely what they serve on the train – it’s frustrating how bad it is!
Whisk, Nick Holzherr’s latest business venture, launches in Autumn 2012. The free app converts recipe ingredients into shopping lists and exports them to an online supermarket checkout. You can find out more at the official Whisk website
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