Rainbo was established back in 2012, in the “first wave of London’s street food revolution” and was frequented by current proprietor and resident dumpling connoisseur, James several times; both on solo dumpling missions across the capital, and with his Dumpling Society’s ‘Supper Club’ in tow.
In fact, such was James’ passion for Rainbo’s food that he once devoured 50 of their dumplings over a single weekend: “…if someone had told me then that I’d be back at the same festival three years later as the owner, I’d never have believed them.”
Whilst working at his day job in the City of London, James learned that the owners of Rainbo had decided to up sticks and sell the business in order to devote their time and resources to their growing family. And so, discontented with his current job in finance, James jumped at the chance to takeover the business: “I think you should do what you love, and I don’t love pensions, I love dumplings.” Hear hear.
We caught up with James, fresh off his honeymoon (having catered for his own wedding) to discuss Rainbo’s rapid growth since its appropriation and why taking risks is the way forward.
Hi James, huge congratulations on your recent nuptials! Thank you for chatting with us today. Can you tell us firstly, what inspired your acquisition of Rainbo?
I’ve always been passionate about food and in the years prior to purchasing the business, I was a large consumer of street food, often frequenting Rainbo. I love dumplings so some of my friends and I established a little Dumpling Society and we’d meet up once a month for ‘Supper Club’ and sample different dumplings from around London.
I knew I wasn’t happy in my job but I never had concrete plans about leaving until I heard that the owners of Rainbo were planning on selling the business. In that instant, I decided that I was going to takeover the business and do what I love for a living.
How did you find the transition from your job in the City to working in the Rainbo food truck?
The first year was pretty much spent learning the ropes; I was fortunate in that I spent three months working alongside the founders,working at lunchtime markets learning everything there was to know about the day-to-day logistics of running a food business.
Taking on a business is obviously a huge leap of faith. Was it scary to leave behind what I imagine was a pretty lucrative job for a self-employed role?
Yes it was scary, I’ve pretty much halved my salary and doubled my hours but I can honestly say that I haven’t regretted it once. I also think that my previous role has helped me a great deal; I’m comfortable taking risks that I’m not sure most other people wou
ld be. It sounds cliche but you really do have to speculate to accumulate and I’ve done a lot of that in order to grow the business to where it is today.
We’ll discuss the business’ rapid growth in just a moment. Did you have a business plan when you first took on Rainbo and how does that compare to your current business model?
I’ve always had a five year plan but the plan that I created initially would be absolutely unrecognisable to where the business is today. I haven’t sat down and started on new plans as such, rather the original plan has just constantly morphed in line with how the business has grown and evolved organically.
When you first acquired the business, Rainbo only had one unit which was the food truck. However, after just one year you’d acquired a permanent site in Camden and then in your second year you opened up the Liverpool St. site. Now, in your third year you’re opening another site in Canary Wharf. That’s pretty astounding. What do you think you’ve done differently to the previous owners in order to fuel that growth?
So, as I mentioned previously, we’ve constantly adapted. In the first instance my plan was to have these Japanese pubs (‘izakaya’) in and around London but I soon decided that this wasn’t the route I wanted to take. Rainbo had a strong brand to begin with but as we’ve changed, so has the brand.
We did change the logo and the website and recently, an agency has taken control of our social media. There might be people who perceive this to be a frivolous expense but carefully curating your social media is really important and I could no longer devote the hours to it. They’re doing a great job and our social media is consistently professional and on brand because of it.
Rainbo have been NCASS members since the business’ inception. What have you found to be the most valuable aspects of membership?
NCASS membership has been a God send. The Due Diligence stuff is so useful and the training portal is great. When I took over the business, it was really the intangible benefits that helped me; I was constantly calling in and asking questions.
What’s next for Rainbo? You’ve got the Canary Wharf site opening in November; is the plan to open more restaurants, and if so will it be at the expense of the food truck?
From the moment I started work on Rainbo, the plan has been to get in to fixed site; hopefully on a national scale. The food truck is here to stay whether that happens or not, to us that’s Rainbo, it’s the heritage of the company and allows us to work at festivals and events which we love.