Leeds restaurants: Slap & Pickle owners share their secret to success as smash burger sales rocket in pandemic
It's been a challenging year for independent businesses, but the couple behind a Leeds smash burger eatery have found astounding success.
James Tabor and Zoe Perrett turned Slap & Pickle into a delivery business overnight when the pandemic hit.
In just over a year, they've gone from employing two members of staff to 32, adding five new venues to their original Assembly Underground residency.
"When the pandemic hit, it was terrifying," James, 46, told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
"But I realised we needed to react."
With hospitality closed and supermarket delivery slots selling out like gold dust, there was a demand for takeaways like never before.
"It went absolutely bonkers," James added.
"The pandemic has done the opposite to us than it did for most people. Growth was available to us - so we grew."
Moving from London in 2017, James and Zoe launched Slap & Pickle as a temporary site in Trinity Kitchen, originally selling hot dogs.
James had worked in the food and events sector for 10 years, but after a family tragedy and problems with addiction, he thought he would never go back into the business.
He met Zoe, then a magazine editor, during his recovery and the couple took the plunge to launch Slap & Pickle and move to Leeds in the early stages of their relationship.
"I was so nervous," James said.
"I’d been bankrupt and out of business for a year, I was terrified to even put a sausage in a bun.
"But we did it, we got up here and lived in a tiny studio flat in the Headrow. Within the first few days, we realised it was amazing. We loved it."
Burgers were always going to be the focus of the business, James said, and they opened their first permanent site in Assembly Underground in 2018.
Slap & Pickle's smash burgers are created around the finest beef from local suppliers Swaledale Foods, with options for vegetarians and vegans.
James said: "In its purest form, what we serve is a really good cheeseburger. We let the meat sing."
With three kitchens in Leeds, one in Sheffield and new sites set to open in Manchester and Hebden Bridge, Slap & Pickle is thriving as it welcomes back customers to its outdoor venues.
James and Zoe have launched a 'Buns on Seats' promotion to get people back to the beer garden at The Fleece in Horsforth and Beer Hawk in the city centre, handing out cards with deliveries for a free spin on a 'wheel of fortune'.
Customers have the chance to win free goodies when they visit either site and spin the wheel.
"Delivery is here to stay, but hospitality is what we love - we're a people-facing business," James said.
The couple have also used their success to give back to the community and they have been instrumental in setting up the Hawksworth Food Project, recently supplying an Easter egg to every child on the estate.
"It seems like common sense to me, if you’re doing alright - help others," James added.
“One of life’s secret lessons is that if you don’t feel happy with yourself, giving back helps you show compassion to yourself as well."
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