Food by Toby and Zipcar for Business: Why having an agile business pays off
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Having spent ‘far too many years’ in restaurants and contract catering, Food by Toby founder, Toby Asker-Browne upped sticks and started his own business. He was looking for a commercial kitchen, and after a few months – and a lucky reply to a Facebook post – he was offered a shared kitchen space. Fast forward a few years, and the business is thriving.
At the heart of the operation is a husband and wife duo. Toby (‘the creative one’) covers the recipe development and the cooking itself, assisted by baker Doltheria and pastry chef Liviu. Ruth, Toby’s wife, is Director of Tablet Catering & Events Consultancy – a role that’s informed by her involvement with Food by Toby. Together, the businesses complement each other well. Toby says that this business model can also really help on the financial side: ‘It’s good if your business can do more than one thing. Having an extra revenue stream can see you through if parts of your business aren’t doing so well.’ It’s this willingness to evolve and change that seems to lie at the core of their success.
Current plan: Exclusive Use – Pre-booked delivery slots Monday – Friday 0900 – 1300 with Fuel, Insurance and maintenance all included.
Vehicle: VW e-Golf
Cars taken off the road: Food By Toby have used Zipcar since the beginning of their journey! Using a Zipcar means that they can do deliveries during hours where most people tend not to drive, leaving a vehicle available for residents to use in the evenings and weekends.
Toby makes no secret of his priorities: quality is king. That means getting the best ingredients and not compromising on taste, even if it means spending more. It’s likely this reason that his food is featured in high-end venues on The King’s Road in Chelsea. But, never a business to be pigeonholed, they have a diverse range of clients: children’s soft play centres and cafes, breweries, a wine importer – and the list goes on. If you’re willing to pay, Toby and the team will even cook for you in your home.
Toby explains how a key skill of the trade is the ability to adapt and learn. ‘I’m pushed out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. We customise products for our clients, and we develop menu items specifically for particular types of environment – so we can make lots of different products in lots of different ways.’
But for Toby, it’s exactly this changeability that makes the job so rewarding: ‘No two days are the same: every day is completely different. Somebody can phone me up and ask me for something I’ve never made before.’ It’s not surprising, given people are becoming more aware of their intolerances and how quickly food fashions are changing. The Food by Toby team have branched out to vegan bakes – a favourite being a coffee and cinnamon cake with peanut butter icing. (Its allegedly so good even vegans can’t believe it’s dairy free!)
‘I would definitely compare running your own business to having your own child – the main difference being that you can leave the child with the grandparents when you want a day off – you can’t do that with a small business!’
Food preparation has expanded, and so what was initially a 3-day operation has grown into a 6-day week. Coping with this demand is never going to be easy on the delivery side, but using Zipcar means they can keep their business lean and agile. No company is in the business of disappointing people, so it’s reassuring for them to know that when demand is high, they can rise to meet it.
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