A place of dreams

03/06/2014 - 15:57
Steve Grocutt, owner and founder of Pasty Presto, launched the business 15 years ago, with his first store opening in Mevagissey, Cornwall. The brand now has 29 shops. Maria Bracken interviewed him

What’s your background?

I used to buy and sell property and public houses in my 20’s and early 30’s. I also owned three restaurants, but only for short periods of time. When I was younger I had a boredom factor of about a year. To cut a long story short, during the middle/late 90’s it was getting more difficult to do deals and I always felt that I needed something that would bring in a regular income.

At the time my parents lived in Cornwall and I lived in London and I remember my father calling me up and telling me there was a shop available in Mevagissey and that I should sell Cornish pasties. Apart from not knowing where Mevagissey was or what a Cornish pasty was, I drove down to Cornwall and immediately saw an opportunity to do something with the product and expand on the pasty range; this was always the ethos behind the company. We opened our first store in Mevagissey as a trial and it went very well. Then we started to open across the tourist locations across Cornwall. Since then the brand has expanded to sell gourmet coffee and French pastries, among other things.

You have kicked off the year with a roll out of a brand new look and feel. How is that going?

We have completed 12 new look stores so far, and our customers love the new branding. The colour of our stores used to be burgundy, exactly the same as Costa and Pret. For this reason, we needed to lose the burgundy. Also, it isn’t a colour that you would represent with the south west, so that was our mistake.

With our new colour scheme, we really wanted to replicate the sky from the sea so the colour we have gone for is a very light blue, which is quite uplifting.

What are the unique features of the design?

Comfortable chairs, leather, eclectic wood, marbles and improvements of the ambience. When you walk into our shops these days, you will see messaging associated with Brand Cornwall and our brand. You will see landscapes of Cornwall, which ties in with the products we sell and the service we provide.

Define Brand Cornwall?

Brand Cornwall is the county’s contemporary identity, drawing on the laid back lifestyle whilst celebrating the landscape, the sea and the sky.  Every year, thousands make their annual pilgrimage down to Cornwall to escape city life and enjoy the unique lifestyle, seeing Cornwall as ‘a place of dreams’.  

What is your growth strategy?

The first piece of the jigsaw is to rebrand the current business because we are getting results out of doing that. We are just starting to work on opportunities which are based around the travel infrastructure, sports/events and high end tourism.

How many stores do you currently operate?

We have 29 stores in total. We have two in the Channel Islands, then we go all the way up to the Lake District with our stores, across to Kent then round the south coast and into the south west.

Any plans to venture in to London?

We are working on it. Putting an iconic British food into the middle of London is a great message for all of these incoming tourists that we have got post Olympics.

Discuss the items on your menu

We split our menu into three segments predominantly; Cornish pasties, French pastries and Gourmet coffee. In relation to the Cornish pasty, we have our standard ones that we keep all year around, but we do introduce seasonal specials throughout the year; likewise with the rest of the range, whether it be the French pastries or coffee. For example, at the moment we are working on our summer season, cold drink/coffee/iced drinks offer.

What is your top seller?

It will always be the traditional pasty – the world’s best.

You have introduced a new product called the Travelling Pasty. Tell me about it

The Travelling Pasty tells the story of the tin miners of the 18th and 19th centuries who emigrated from Cornwall and went all around the world. As far as we can make out that is why we have Cornish pasties in America. So when the Cornish travelled and emigrated, they took their recipes with them, but in time it has been twisted. We have developed a new product based on the travelling pasty. Five pence from every one of the products sold goes to the upkeep of the heritage tin mines in Cornwall.

Based loosely on the idea of a Mexican ‘paste’ mixed with a South American ‘empanada’ (the small pasty like snacks which originated in Portugal and then gravitated to South America) our recipe is stuffed full with the traditional Cornish beef, diced onion and the best potatoes, just like in the olden days.  We’ve also travelled the taste buds of the world and have added fresh sliced peppers, raisins and tomatoes to the recipe.

Last year the company won the World’s Best Cornish pasty award? How has this benefitted your business?

Gold dust! It has been amazing. It has given us that point of difference versus our competition.

How do you compare to your competition?

We are a Cornish bakery. If you go into the average Cornish pasty shop you will only get a Cornish pasty. If you go into some of the main coffee shops, you are served up a cup of coffee and pre-packed food. What we are offering is a Cornish bakery experience, which is centered around the Cornish pasty.

We have a wider product range, and we want to be experts in everything. For example, take the three big coffee chains, you get a good cup of coffee on the whole, but the food offering lets them down because it isn’t fresh. Likewise, if you went into some of our pasty competitors, you will probably get a good quality Cornish pasty, but the coffee may let them down. There are very few places that you can get a good cup of coffee and food at the same time.

Who are your competitors?

Our competitors are anybody in the grab & go food sector; anything from sandwiches to salads to baguettes. I wouldn’t specifically say that I would regard companies selling Cornish pasties as competitors as we tend to avoid each other in the high streets. For example, the West Cornwall Pasty Co have 60 maybe 70 shops, we have nearly 30. Only twice, we have been in the same location. It’s the same with SSP outlets, they are only at railway stations, so we don’t compete with each other.

How do your prices compare to what’s already out there?

We are above average, but not extortinate. We do one meal deal which we run all year around in the mornings. For £2.75 you can get a fresh baked pastry and any coffee to takeaway that. For the quiet times of the year, if you buy any Cornish pasty in any of our shops, you qualify for the coffee for a pound, which is quite popular.

How are current trading conditions?

Our peak is during the summer holidays – July and August. Then we have various other peaks from Christmas to Easter to half terms, so on and so forth. Trading conditions have been difficult. After the collapse of 2008 we consistently did 4% like for like sales increases for the next four years. So we weren’t really affected by the economy and the banking collapse. What has been really difficult for us has been the pasty tax.

How are you overcoming that?

Being the world’s best helps. You have got to add value through quality of service and products. You have got to look at ways of adding value because you can’t reduce your prices as 20% of your revenue is now going to the government.

What are the opportunities going forward for Pasty Presto?

To be an integral part of Brand Cornwall which I see getting bigger and bigger. To fit into Brand Cornwall the food and drink needs to be excellent, of course. That is essential.

Brand Cornwall is all about work life balance and being happy and content, and enjoying life, and that’s what you need to feel when you are in our shops, and that needs to come from our workforce.

What are the challenges?

The two biggest threats are those to your overhead and the competition; it is a very flooded marketplace as it is.

What is your ultimate goal in terms of store numbers?

I never commit to store numbers. I see a new business opportunity like meeting a friend. You can’t calculate when it is going to happen and who it is going to be or where. The reason for that is we have a very high success rate and that is because we have applied that solution to acquire new business for ourselves. So I don’t put myself under any pressure. If the opportunity presents itself, we will take it.

At lunchtime, where do you eat?

I probably go for more sushi style. In Bath we have a very good Japanese/Sushi restaurant. When I am in London I tend to go for something tapas.

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