It’s not unusual to see fledgling caterers, fresh off the summer festival scene, inspired by the bao, burrito and burgers that saw them through the season.
What we’re less used to seeing however, are those on the other side of the counter, so to speak, those with many years of experience in the events and festival industries, with a working knowledge of how hard this job is, saying “yeah, I’ll have a bit of that, actually.” Enter Reis.
Brought up working in his parents’ Turkish restaurant and with a successful career in working in marketing for live music events, the first lockdown of 2020, whilst “looking to latch onto something that wasn’t covid”, he was inspired to combine his two passions, and thus NUGS was born.
We sat down with Reis a mere two years after he fried his first NUGS in his parent’s garden and were astonished at the progress he’d made not only in a short time, but during what has famously been the hardest period in the industry’s history.
Thanks for chatting with us today, Reis. Let’s start at the very beginning – why nuggets?
Honestly, I just saw a gap in the market, everyone loves nuggets, but they’re not always seen as a complete meal, and I knew I could change that.
So, you’re armed with a concept, what happens next?
I was living with my parents at the time and started experimenting with different recipes and coatings, my poor mum was so sick of the sight and smell of fried chicken, so I eventually found a commercial kitchen at The Rising Sun pub in Essex, food had never been their thing, so it was a bit of serendipity. They also gave me the kitchen for free for the first three months – win win.
And as things start to open up, you move from the commercial kitchen and get your own fixed site in Hornchurch, is that right? Did you always want to do fixed site, rather than events?
No, not at all – I’d actually booked 7 events for 2020 but obviously the pandemic had other plans. What I liked about the fixed site side of things was that it allowed me to build a team of people and the community in Hornchurch has really got behind the business. We have regular customers and a real family friendly; community feel business. We do events also though, so far these have been quite small-scale but we’re ramping it up for 2022 and trading at Formula 1, Brew London, and Reading Festival.
That’s really interesting – it seems you’re getting the best of both worlds. Apart from your team in the restaurant in Hornchurch, who else is in Team Nugs?
Outside of the permanent site, I’m a one-man band, but I couldn’t do any of this without the team there. Good staff is like gold dust, when you find decent people, you want to hold on to them.
How do you hold onto them? Obviously, it’s been a difficult time for the industry and there’s a staff shortage crisis.
For me, looking after your staff means understanding who they are and what they want from their role. The managers in the restaurant are in their 30s, they have families, and they want stability and to know well ahead of time what days they’re working. As an employer you need to understand that this isn’t their business – for them, home comes first. I make sure they have a good amount of time off over the six weeks holidays and appreciate that some days, they just can’t get childcare. We also do profit sharing – why would staff be incentivised for it to be as busy as possible when they’re not the ones reaping the rewards? Staff get free food obviously, but so do their families, if they want to order on the weekend, they don’t pay. Basically, treat your staff like they’re human beings!
That’s really refreshing to hear; staff are a huge factor in a business’ success and longevity. What are your plans for the future of the business?
We’ve just opened a second location in East London and it’s doing well, we’ve got about 1400 people coming down every weekend at the moment. The aim is to get a third location, hopefully in Essex, by the end of the year. Eventually, I want us to be the Honest Burger of chicken nuggets, 50+ restaurants throughout the UK – we’ll see.
In your opinion, what are the main reasons for NUGS’ success? To be on the cusp of opening three sites in two years is a huge achievement.
We’ve got a good product; we use high-quality meat, British meat and every single nugget is good – consistency is the key to success. Customers get excellent service every single time, we’re always friendly, always pro-active, and always go above and beyond. I work hard on every aspect of the business – my foot is never off the pedal.