NO BUSINESS LIKE DOUGH BUSINESS
A MEAT-LOVING father from LONDON is behind the LATEST VEGAN food TREND – with a LITTLE help from an ICONIC department STORE.
Ryan Panchoo still grins when he remembers the first time he saw his product on the shelves in Selfridges’ iconic food hall. “I took the whole family – kids, cousins, aunties,” he laughs. “I was so naive I didn’t even know what they were going to price them at. That’s another thing I wasn’t aware of – cost price or mark-up. I was just amazed they’d taken a chance on me, a brand-new supplier with no idea of delivery into a big retail store.”
As start-up stories go, it’s a surreal one. A meat-loving project manager working at an investment property firm becomes a gluten-free and vegan doughnut baker – and creates the latest food obsession to hit London. Borough 22, the vegan doughnut brand named after the area where Ryan bakes the range in his home kitchen, has become a sell-out at Selfridges. And it’s a source of nourishment for models at London Fashion Week, the trendy cake option at weddings and has graced the coffee table of a popular British talk show.
All this success has stemmed from a father simply wanting his dairyintolerant children to be able to enjoy the same treats as their friends.
“When I first started baking I definitely wasn’t looking for a new career,” says Ryan. “I was quite happy at my job doing what I was doing. I just started baking as a therapeutic outlet. My wife has got a gluten and dairy intolerance and both my kids are dairy intolerant. I hated seeing the looks on their faces at birthday parties when there were no treats they could have.”
This was more than a decade ago – Ryan’s eldest daughter is now 11 – and the ‘free from’ food industry hadn’t yet begun to flourish.
“The gluten- and dairy-free stuff they did have, even from major shops, would take all the moisture out of your mouth,” recalls Ryan. So he started experimenting, first with brownies and then with doughnuts.
He still had no intention of selling them until his sister-in-law, who also suffers from food allergies, commented that she’d happily pay for the baked treats. It was his wife, the writer behind the The London Mother blog, who saw a commercial opportunity and encouraged him to start selling his delights to the public. So, he set up a Facebook page.
“I got in touch with a couple of coeliac groups and posted some pictures of the brownies,” says Ryan. “But I found out – quickly – that if you’re a coeliac, the go-to desserts are fresh fruit and brownies. Everyone is making brownies. It wasn’t going anywhere.”
This is when he shifted his focus. “I posted a picture of a doughnut – and Facebook went crazy,” he says. “I was getting notifications left, right and centre from people with food intolerances who hadn’t eaten a doughnut in 20 years. The next question was, how can I deliver a fresh product to these people?”
Ryan cringes when he recalls the way he ran his business in the early days – hand-delivering doughnuts around the city on public transport, in the heat of summer, with whipped cream running down his fingers on the underground train. At the start, he was so excited to have customers, he’d personally deliver as few as six doughnuts to any location in the city, with any weird and wonderful flavour that anyone could imagine – all on top of his full-time project management job. After a memorable weekend when he tried to organise a ‘doughnut rally’, delivering to towns across England, Ryan realised his business strategy required a rethink. “I needed to look at what other people were doing,” he says. “There are some big companies out there in the doughnut world, like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts. What are they doing and why?” He changed his minimum order to a dozen and simplified the flavours on offer (Borough 22 now sells four varieties). Next, Ryan found the one courier company in London that was willing to deliver perishable goods overnight, which allowed him to expand his delivery range to the whole of mainland England. >
I needed to LOOK at what other PEOPLE were doing. There are some big companies out THERE… What are they doing and WHY?