This article was written for Stone and River by me, Lucy Orr-Ewing
I met up with Rik Campbell, co-founder of one of my favourite restaurants, Kricket, to discuss its winning proposition and the wider casual dining market.
Kricket is a restaurant growing its reputation and footprint, albeit slowly and thoughtfully. It is at the forefront of changing perceptions of Indian cuisine in the UK and is a far cry from the stereotype of local curry houses. While perceptions are gradually shifting, Kricket too has worked its way up from their shipping container in Brixton where they got picked up by the White Rabbit Fund as one of their first formal investments in 2016. In the first year of having a permanent foothold, they won Best Newcomer of 2017, a Bib Gourmand in 2017, and co-founder Will Bowlby won Asian Chef of The Year in 2017.
Rik spent three and a half years in corporate finance with Deloitte before teaming up with old schoolfriend and chef Will Bowlby, adding that his prior experience in finance has proven “invaluable” in that he can speak the language with Chris Miller, their investor. A food-fanatic and an ex-financier have proven the perfect match to build a restaurant brand together and as Rik says, “if we didn’t have Will, we wouldn’t exist; if you didn’t have me, we might still be in the shipping container”.
Together we discussed the greater casual dining market, Kricket’s winning proposition and what they’re doing to keep their staff so engaging.
“If we didn’t have Will, we wouldn’t exist; if you didn’t have me, we might still be in the shipping container.”Rik Campbell, Co-founder of Kricket
1. How to keep up with changing consumer demands
Kricket is a key player in the Soho hotbed of restaurants offering delicious food in a relatively informal setting for a great price, which, unsurprisingly, earned them their Bib Gourmand.
We began by discussing the perfect storm surrounding the casual dining market and the well-publicised shifting consumer demands. A week beforehand, Rik was asked to appear on Sky News to comment on the recent collapse of Jamie’s Italian. He called it “a high-profile reminder to all of what can happen if you don’t keep up”. Part of Kricket’s appeal is its commitment to locally sourced, seasonal ingredients elevated with Asian spices to create a modern, lighter twist on traditional Indian plates. Rik believes that the market has moved on and points to Jamie’s as evidence that people have come to expect greater quality and better ingredients.
Kricket has grown steadily to 3 restaurants, with talks of a fourth in the pipeline, although Rik is wary of heavy rollouts and being seen as a ‘chain’. Rik admits that the bigger they become, “the more people will use the “C” word [chain],” but despite that, Kricket always considers itself a Group and runs itself as one. As we sit in Shoreditch House, it’s a reminder that scale doesn’t have to mean an aggressive expansion and a loss of identity. Rik tells me Soho House refurbish their sites every 5 years, even when you’d argue it’s unnecessary, “you’ve got to constantly reinvest in your offering to keep it relevant”.
2. How to keep the Kricket proposition high-quality and relevant
The Cinnamon Club position themselves as the ‘original modern Indian restaurant in London’, serving ‘innovative Indian cuisine in a majestic setting’ since 2001. Dishoom then further popularised modern Indian food and expanded British minds to the cuisine in an authentic yet informal setting back in 2010, now having 7 sites.
But Rik is adamant that Dishoom is not a competitor, “they’re a different beast, a very successful one at that but we’re a different offering and experience. Would we open a Kricket next to one? No, but neither would they”.
Kricket herald design and experience as key value drivers in their proposition and see closer competition with the likes of Palomar and Barrafina, “we’re not competing on flavours or cuisine; we’re competing with the experience they offer”. However, Rik says that him and Will are focusing less on competitors, and “tend to just focus on ourselves. As long as we’re doing what we think is right, it doesn’t matter what’s going on around us”.
And they are getting it very right. At Kricket, they’ve built the brand on a good quality, great tasting product and differentiated themselves with everything from “the way the staff dress to the smell of the restaurant” for that full sensory experience that goes beyond just taste.
To keep their product relevant, they change their menus 3-4 times a year, but strictly only ever half of it: “we’ve got to keep the best sellers on there, and you’ve got to keep it consistent.” And although their Brixton site was opened as their ‘experimental’ site, it’s turned out that White City has morphed into that instead. They see it as ‘an investment into the future’, with White City House next door and 2.5k office workers nearby. “It’s our biggest frontage, and it means we can experiment with their food easily with their large kitchen”. Just last week did they launch “Wrap City” there, trialling their signature dishes in roti wraps for lunchtime takeaway.
Another aspect that adds to the experience is the air of exclusivity that the queueing system brings. Guests can put their name down when the place is full and they’ll get an alert when a table comes up, creating a sense of gratitude for a table without having queues around the corner blocking the view. As Rik says, “seasonality doesn’t really affect Kricket, it’s not a hot and heavy curry, and our ingredients are so fresh and our dishes light, queues are forming come rain or shine”.
3. How to attract and retain the best people
Something that notably stands Kricket out is their easy-going yet astute staff. They hire all their table and kitchen staff on attitude rather than experience (but it helps if you’ve been to Kricket), which are in line with Kricket’s values around passion and teamwork. Rik says they get the right people “because of the strength of the brand, as well as the opportunity to be working alongside the owners in a brand that’s growing. It’s exciting!”, and the development opportunities are great too.
“Someone once said if a great person comes along to work for you, find space for them even if there’s no role available. We’ve got so many good people, we’ll need to open a whole new restaurant just to house them!”Rik Campbell, Co-Founder of Kricket
Rik and Will make sure to rotate around the stores throughout the week, serving tables and checking in, but they also move staff around the three restaurants to maintain consistency of high quality food and service. Rik says he keeps his eye in on how everything’s run: “I get rusty otherwise; the managers are really hot on everything and have their way of doing things. I prefer not to get in the way but it’s also good to keep in touch with it all, and our staff and customers really love to see the owners”. It builds the sense of teamwork and pride that can be felt in any one of the Kricket restaurants.
There’s been a lot of speculation about whether or not their next venture is an opening in India or China. Regrettably, this isn’t true, but an international site is very much on the cards. Rik is “well-travelled and well-connected”, and knows an expansion to Paris, Amsterdam or Lisbon would be a hit, “I know for a fact there’s nothing like Kricket in any of those places”.
In the UK, they’re not looking to expand nationally but within London, they are considering a fourth site. “It’s a bit of ‘what’s good for business’, but also ‘what’s good for us’ for me and Will. We don’t want to sacrifice too much for the sake of a new opening.” Rik is conscious of taking a measured approach, conscious that “you can build your reputation in 10 years and destroy it in 10 seconds”. They’re not going to settle for a below-par site, they’re happy to wait for it and Chris is giving them the bandwidth to do so.
Whatever happens, Rik assures me he “gets bored very quickly”, so expect big things from Kricket ‘Group’ soon.