ldner #216 | ben spier

Our LDNER this week has gone from opening a salad bar in a phone box in Bloomsbury with the help of the Red Kiosk Company to opening up a proper bricks-and-mortar shop dishing out healthy brekafasts and lunches. Meet Ben Spier…

Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?

I live near Queens Road Peckham and love the friendliness of everyone, there’s a real neighbourly spirit but of course with a great atmosphere. It’s got a great mix of places to eat, play and meet and it feels as though small businesses still have a chance there. It’s also within striking distance of town. I love the Rye – a big expanse of green to escape to is key to maintaining sanity! Really hope they renovate the old lido there…

What inspired you to set up a salad bar in a phone box?

I’d helped my brother sell salads from markets in the insulated trailer we built with a mate but we were looking for our own spot as we we wanted to anchor. We were struggling to find anywhere with affordable rent when one evening I was walking past a phonebox and spotted a poster explaining they could be let. Hmm if we could put a fridge inside and shelves up the inside of the door it could work. We scanned and emailed to that same handy mate some very poorly drawn sketches of the wooden pod we thought we’d need to build inside. We built it and squeezed the fridge in and it worked! To be honest, we’re about the hearty, healthy salads and skewers of meat and fish – we want to give people a really good lunch. The fact that we made fun use out of a disused phonebox is a bonus and certainly helped to spread the word!

You’re about to open a bricks and mortar shop, tell us about the journey from the phone box to now.

We were looking for somewhere with a strong footfall of course and near to plenty of offices – our food is perfect for those looking for healthy breakfasts and lunches but that will keep them going all day not lead to them raiding the work vending machine. St James Park Station and Battersea Studios were both perfect in that respect. We worked out the figures, researched the areas, the competition, applied for both and set to work. The process hasn’t been easy at all – we’re confident in our food but it’s of course very scary with the step up in daily costs and not just the higher rent and exorbitant business rates that small businesses in London face. The added logistics, paperwork and taking on staff are a new dimension but we’re really enjoying the challenge. We just need word to spread!

What makes the phone boxes such a great springboard for start-up businesses?

They’re perfect business incubators! They’re relatively low rent for the exposure to footfall that you get and they’re normally set away from other shops so you have your audience to yourself! They also provide a great niche marketing tool with their iconic status – whatever you do with them you get people talking…

Describe your perfect day in London.

My perfect day would be getting up and getting out early with my wife and baby daughter – fresh coffee, hearty breakfast, getting one of the open canoes from under the bridge at Richmond, rowing down to one of the pubs further down for a cider, heading to Richmond Park for a long walk and picnic with mates joining in, home, read to/sing to/muck about to entertain the little’un, bath her, put her down, babysitter and out for dins with my wife. In fact we should do that soon – canoe with the baby might have to be thought about though!