Stroll down the streets of New York City on a cold, Autumn afternoon; soak in the steam bouncing off the pavements from the subway and the whiff of hotdogs being sold from a street corner setup to hungry workers in a hurry.
Amongst the chaos and the confusion, if you peer into the window of a diner or happen upon a meeting between mates, you may well spot big bowls of belly-warming mac ‘n’ cheese being passed around a table. A cherished kids food item, it’s a dish that is best served with a side of nostalgia, comfort and in some cases, a complete makeover.
For Graham of the Mac Factory, supermarket aisles full of highly processed and tasteless mac ‘n’ cheese concepts were ruining the dishes reputation over the pond in the UK. Established in January 2014, the Mac Factory was created with one simple aim in mind; to produce a premium mac ‘n’ cheese concept with lots of interesting flavours. A ‘high-end experience for people from all walks of life.’
We caught up with Graham to find out more about what he’s learnt after nearly a decade of business ownership.
Finish this sentence – starting my own business was…
Absolutely life changing!
Having worked as a chef for many years, it was a real challenge to take on all the extra responsibilities that come with running a business. It’s one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but also the most rewarding.
What do I absolutely HAVE to try on your menu?
We have loads of favourites that customers have come to love over the years. In fact, 80% of our menu items are the same dishes we started off with on day one, but I’d say the one to try at the moment is our Rub a Dub Mac – Jerk Chicken Mac with pickled chilli and mango salsa. We’re getting really good feedback on it and it’s not something you can easily find anywhere else. It’s turning out to be a real crowd pleaser!
How have you found the last few years and what are you most thankful for?
The last few years have been tough and we have really had to look closely at our margins and find ways to lower our running costs which have been a huge factor in our business decisions in regards to growth, but we also see the market slowly returning which gives us that light at the end of the tunnel and we do hope to grow going forward if the right opportunities arise. I’d have to say I’m most thankful that we did not have to shut down business like sadly many other company’s so just glad to still be here.
Who are your food heroes?
I’d have to say Tomas Keller and Marco Pierre White, growing up as a chef they were my heroes, and I still have all their cookbooks.
What attributes does a person need to have to work on the Mac Factory team?
In our team, we just look for a can do attitude, all our workers start with usually no experience in the industry, but luckily they tend to stay on for many years so if they are keen to learn, we can mould them into Mac n cheese pros
If The Mac Factory had an animal mascot, what would it be and why?
We would have a cow, gonna need that milk at some point!
Best business advice you’ve ever received?
Never follow the Status quo, in everything we do, we try to come up with original ideas. A USP is very important in setting your self apart from competitors and new companies entering the market, I developed our Parmesan and thyme crumble back in 2013 for our Mac n cheese and although we have seen others try to replicate it, not many have gotten close to how we do it so luckily we still have that as a USP. Also don’t cut corners, it’s always obvious to your customers and may be the difference between them choosing a competitor.
Where would your ideal trading spot be – beach or ski resort?
Ski resort for sure, just imagine a steaming bowl of Mac n cheese when you come off the slopes, gotta be a winner right?
Favourite independent food / drink establishment?
My wife and I really enjoy Gopals corner and Le bab these days, but there are so many, As we live in London we are spoilt for choice with the London food scene and the food on offer at festivals we trade at are on a different level compared to the choices available 10 years ago, we are so spoilt for choice as a nation here in the UK
Tell us an interesting fact about mac ‘n’ cheese?
in 1802, Thomas Jefferson served up Mac n cheese as one of the courses at a state Dinner, so Mac n cheese was actually being served by one of Americas founding fathers, although some say the recipes where brought over from France!
Your branding is on point – how did you come up with the concept?
Thank you very much , really Glad you like it.
I wanted our Mac n cheese to be associated with America so our customers would get the feel that it is not your average Mac n cheese. I love New York and the Lady Liberty seemed like a great idea, holding the freedom of Mac n cheese in her Palms. As I’m from South Africa, it kind of meant something personally to me, representing foreigners coming to new shores.
Our branding has been changing over the years but our current branding was done by the amazing Matt and Poonam from Kiss Branding in Leeds.
We were their first official client when they started Kiss agency after working at other leading agencies and watching them grow their business into what it is today, I feel really lucky that they helped us as they are really doing amazing things now, and we just love what they created for us. The words iconic were being thrown around when we were in meetings. and I certainly feel like they created an iconic look for us, expanding on our Lady Liberty concept.
What made you branch out into ready meals?
We developed it during the Pandemic, we let out our first Batch of online orders which went really well and then we were offered the opportunity to open our Meat head Mexican concept in Camden Market which took our attention completely away. Now that the business is settled, I figured it was time to start up the ready meals again. We started it really small and currently looking for premises to produce on a bit of a bigger scale, but it’s basically feels like a start up so we will have a lot to learn about the industry if we hope for it to be successful, hopefully we will pull it off!
What’s the secret behind your success?
I hate to think in terms of being successful, as my idea of success at the moment is just still being here today , but if anything, I’d say I really try to listen to our customers, I scour social media for feedback and if I see something negative, it will be all hands on board to see if there is anything we can do better or if we are slipping in any way.
I also do have to give a special shout out to you guys at NCASS who we have been working with for around 9 years, we hold a 5 star scores on doors now which was not always the case but we have learned a lot about practices and changing laws etc and are now in a really good place Health and safety wise so really happy to still be working with you and so glad to finally be featured in the NCASS magazine, thank you