In 2008 and 2009 Griff Holland conceptualised and then co-founded Friska, a fresh fast-food restaurant chain that began life on a single site in central Bristol. It now boasts eight outlets, with many more planned in 2017 and 2018. But the strength of the business today only tells a small part of its story. How did Holland get here? In large part through his enthusiasm, relentless positivity and openness to meeting and learning from others. Here, in his own words, is his story.
It’s easy to romanticise the idea of owning a restaurant or cafe. That need for food and companionship and a social buzz is at the core of the human condition, so providing a place where all this good stuff happens is exciting.
But what got me started with Friska wasn’t the food as such. Put simply, I wanted to do something tangible and that I felt passionately about – that resonated with my values and made me proud.
I plumped for Bristol as a good city in which to get going. Why? Because there is a sense of connection between people and community in the city. That is partly because of its scale, and because of its spirit and history. I found a cafe job there to keep learning about the sector while I looked for possible sites – and for a business partner.
I had some bad breaks at first, but never stopped getting out there and talking to people. Ten months down the line – that’s a lot of networking, believe me – I’d found my co-founder, Ed Brown. But I had travelled a different road to some, who I know have to find a co-founder to be taken seriously by investors.
We met at an event put on by Bristol Enterprise Network. It was quite techie scene, so on paper it wasn’t the best context for meeting someone to come in on a food business, but it worked out. And that experience clarified for me how important it is to create opportunity through being in circulation, however, you can be – and being prepared to talk about your plans.
When you meet a would-be business partner it takes time to work out if you’ll gel. After three months of semi-regular meet ups, over beer or coffee, I asked Ed if he wanted to see my business plan. He liked it but he soon tweaked the offer to make it more commercial. That’s the power of partnership, too.
Ed suggested the name Friska. It wasn’t something I was precious about – the original name I had was Crunch, which wasn’t as good. Google Translate will tell you friska means fresh in Swedish and fast in Czech, and in Hungary it’s the name of a jubilant folk song! We thought it was a name that would be ‘sticky’ while creating its own meaning, suggesting freshness, happiness and speed. We both still love it today.
It clarified how important it is to create opportunity through being in circulation however you can be – and being prepared to talk about your plans.
The other aspect of getting out there is finding financial backers. With the two of us on board we had a stronger story – and got some external investment from a bank to augment our own savings and some funds from family. That was quite a feat in 2009, and on the strength of presenting well as a pair and the detailed business plan we had.
The first site was in central Bristol and it still thrives today. It was a bit different when we took it on. We started with a shoestring budget and a second-hand kitchen but it was nothing that customers would have noticed.
Was it the same proposition as Friska now? Yes and no. Its essence was the same. That idea of delicious, healthy, feel-good food, served speedily. When we started we did not appreciate the importance of coffee in the offer, I would say. And we didn’t immediately appreciate that making it easy for your average customer to get on board is crucial. We were a bit too alternative to start with – the market research said that health and niche food offers were proliferating. But there’s a difference between spotting the start of a trend and appealing to the crowd.
One thing I’ve learnt is that the restaurant business doesn’t require great innovation. At every step we’ve evolved our menu and worked at customer service, customer loyalty, recruitment, and developing slick back-end systems. But these are incremental changes. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel in restaurants. Just look at all the ‘better’ burger joints there are. There is nothing innovative about burger and fries, but if the offer is consistently good with great service that is more than enough for customers to love you and come back.
It took some years to make consistent profits. But we’ve got there and the challenge is different now. Recruitment and training remains a big play, because it is hard to find excellent kitchen-team members, even if front-of-house is easier. So we work hard at training, at recognising staff and at the team culture. We want people to be proud to work for us.
Growth is the game now, so we need more finance. We’ve developed an established, well-run proposition, with a great customer offer backed by great systems and people – and we are innovating hard with technology, too. Now we need to scale quickly, which means cash. We’d like to raise £6m to open 18 further outlets in the next few years. So we are looking out for conversations with potential partners that might want in. It’s the same mentality as when I started out – get out there and talk to people and don’t be shy.