Shaper: Ben Wright

Show aired on 16th July 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The beautiful and big sound of Nina Simone with Feeling Good. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss and you’re listening to, what I hope will be a fantastic programme, it’s where we bring the very best of people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents, we put them alongside their equivalents from the world of business and I call them Business Shaper and my Business Shaper today I am very pleased to say is the Ben Wright; he is the co-founder of the Wright Brothers, sounds like the people that fly, but they’re not, they’re the people that make wonderful food in restaurants around London and you’re going to be hearing a lot more about the oyster business which is really where Ben and his partner are focused on – lots coming up very shortly. In addition to hearing from Ben you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we have got the music and it’s a brilliant mix today from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul. We’ve got Hugh Masekela, Madeline Peyroux, Theo Croker and this from Alan Harris.

That was Cat Fish from Alan Harris. Ben Wright is my Business Shaper today and he is the co-founder of Wright Brothers, they are the people that have brought you the Oyster Importer House that’s in Borough Market where I have been, that was back in 2005, they have got the Soho Oyster House, the Wright Brothers Spitalfields branch, it’s not really a branch but it’s more of a restaurant, and opened recently, I think it was last year in September, South Kensington and indeed I think, and we will talk about this a little bit there is a little interest they might be changing Cornwall and then there is the matter of the Oyster farming business as well. It’s a lot of stuff Ben. Thank you so much for joining me.

Ben Wright
Thank you very much for having me. I love jazz, I love my soul, I love my blues and I love my oysters, so this should be fun.

Elliot Moss
This should be fun although you didn’t bring oysters which has gutted me by the way.

Ben Wright
I am sorry.

Ben Wright
Next. We will do that next time, yeah.

Elliot Moss
Next time exactly or I will just come and plonk myself in the oyster…

Ben Wright
Come to one the Wright Brothers’ restaurants

Elliot Moss
I will I will and in fact everyone that’s listening as well, you won’t mind will you. Tell me about this, what interests me is immediately you were a lawyer, not that that in itself is particularly interesting, but that you were a lawyer who then has become a restauranteur. At what point did you have this epiphany that you were no longer going to be corporate lawyer Ben and where did it come from?

Ben Wright
Well it came from a hair brained idea I developed when I was living and working in France. I lived and worked in Paris for a while as a lawyer and I was exposed to this amazing oyster culture that they have over there which I was completely seduced by – everybody is eating oysters, it seemed a very French thing to do and seemed very sort of liberating, very sensual and it was great! And then when I came back to work in London again, it was conspicuous by its absence, suddenly you know where had all the oysters gone and I started thinking about it a little bit, I started, I wasn’t the best lawyer at the best of times, but I found myself thinking more and more about oysters instead of law – and when I looked what was happening, oysters in London were very concentrated around a particular area, it was quite Mayfair, Piccadilly, they were they tended to go with champagne, they were very smart restaurants and I wondered actually whether they couldn’t be more down to earth and a bit more fun and essentially that’s what I started to think about and really the catalyst was out of my hands because I went into my legal partner at the time, who was my boss, and I was going to talk to him about handing in my notice and I fully expected him to say ‘Ben slow down, think, you’re a fantastic lawyer, you have an amazing future here, I have you down for the Senior Partner position, you know, we can’t afford to work without you’ and so I said, I went in and I sat down, I shut the door and I told him I said ‘I’ve got some very bad news, this could be a bit of a shock, I’m thinking of handing in my notice’ and he immediately said ‘what a fantastic idea, what are you going to do’. So I, at that point it was down to pride and I wasn’t going to then sound like I didn’t really know so I just said ‘I’m going to start an oyster business’ and I didn’t really know what it would be or what we would do, but I had decided at that point that I was going to leave the law and go and be an entrepreneur and start something fun.

Elliot Moss
And that was fourteen years ago and as much as it would have hurt your pride for a second, it’s a good thing that he said that – lots more coming up from my Business Shaper Ben Wright, co-founder of Wright Brothers. They serve up beautiful oysters around London town. Time for some more music this is Mr Hugh Masakela and Grazing in the Grass.

The fantastic Hugh Masakela with Grazing in the Grass. Ben Wright is my Business Shaper, we’ve been talking about how your honest boss when you were a lawyer said ‘thank you very much, there’s the door, goodbye, goodnight, good luck’. Ben before that point, had you ever thought about running your own business because people have ideas and not many people go and then create their own businesses and you already had a set career in a way and you could have probably pivoted and gone to another law firm if it hadn’t worked out, but it didn’t go like that, do you think it came from early years and influences on you?

Ben Wright
I’m not sure, I think probably entrepreneurs have something within them that makes them not cut out for the conventional. I can’t think of anything specifically for me, but what I did find is as a lawyer the clients would come into the room, they come into the meeting room and they’d start talking about their business or their deal or what they were doing or trying to achieve and I did find myself thinking that sounds a lot more interesting than what I am doing, we were effectively just processing things and these people are being much more creative, much more strategic, so I can’t think of anything in particular that made me think along those lines, but I do think it takes a certain mind set to be an entrepreneur and to be excited by the unknown, the risk, the challenge.

Elliot Moss
And on that point the unknown, the risk and the challenge are those points there, as you look towards you, you are now in 2002, you open your first restaurant three years later roughly?

Ben Wright
Correct.

Elliot Moss
In those three years how did you feed yourself Ben? How did you get by? Had you borrowed money, had you had saved money, I mean what was it or you just had a very lucky that someone said ‘here, look after this while you grow it, while you create your business’.

Ben Wright
Well we started, the first thing we did for the business was wholesaling actually. We started out as wholesalers and I called a friend in France who produces absolutely fantastic oysters and I said send them over to me and I will take them round the chefs in London and that’s how the business started, that’s how we started getting money through the door, but that needed financing, I needed financing. I re-mortgaged my flat, I had a flat in London at the time and the banks and mortgage companies were very happy for you to draw down a little bit more on the mortgage and that’s really what got us started.

Elliot Moss
And in those first few years, was there ever a moment of ‘what have I done’ or was it simply just like a duck to water?

Ben Wright
No there was definitely moments of ‘what have I done’. I can remember pretty much the first day driving the wholesale delivery van through London and seeing other people driving to work in the office with their suit and tie on and thinking ‘am I in the right vehicle here?’. But actually I never really felt fear about it in that sense because I think I was just naïve. I think I was gloriously, blissfully ignorant and naïve, I never thought ‘is this going to succeed’ I never really actually worked out the numbers well enough to know how long I could survive until I would have to go back to the law. It was, I was very clear about what I wanted to do and it was, I was more focused on actually doing it.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my focussed Business Shaper, Ben Wright, co-founder of the Wright Brothers. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from my programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You’re listening to Jazz Shapers with me Elliott Moss here on Jazz FM every Saturday. I am very lucky because I get to spend some time with someone who is building a business, an entrepreneur, and if you’ve missed any of the people that have been building businesses for many years, well you can find many of them on iTunes or indeed if you’re travelling this summer then British Airways is your destination you can hear them over on Highlife over there. Ben Wright is my Business Shaper today and he is the co-founder of Wright Brothers, started in the wholesale oyster business a natural departure from the world of law obviously.

Ben Wright
Obviously.

Elliot Moss
I mean you saw that one coming and then he has opened up restaurants since. So we were talking Ben about those first few years and you said you know was I driving the wrong vehicle in the wrong direction. I imagine it was pretty early in the morning as well, deliveries in London must be 5 or 6 in the morning.

Ben Wright
Yeah we were getting up 4 or 5 o’clock…

Elliot Moss
Yeah.

Ben Wright
…in the morning

Elliot Moss
I mean, blood sugar is low, you’re wondering and you’re worrying, the natural anxiety I imagine, I feel it physiologically when it’s very early, that obviously dissipated and when you opened that restaurant, the first restaurant on the first day, what did it feel like? Was it, well you can’t give birth, but I imagine it must have been something like that.

Ben Wright
It felt amazing. I mean it is obviously slightly stressful and again we had no experience in wholesale which was the first business we started and then when we opened the restaurant we had no experience in that either. We had gained experience by supplying chefs around London and seeing how they ran, but we had never run a restaurant ourselves so obviously there is trepidation, it was added to by the fact that we invited a great friend of ours Mark Hicks at the time was a great restauranteur and at the end of the night we were all a bit merry, the sort of pre-opening evening, and he turned around to us as a friend, giving us some friendly advice saying ‘guys if you open this tomorrow, you are going to look really really foolish’. Which you know really cranked up the pressure, but again I think we just believed in what we were doing and we were doing something quite different at the time. This was the first open plan kitchen that I know of in 2002. The way we were selling really really great sea food and shellfish but in a very relaxed way, we were selling it not necessarily with champagne, but with beer, with porters, so the whole approach was different and I just fundamentally believed that people were ready for that and wanted that.

Elliot Moss
Did you, so did you ignore his advice and opened the next day?

Ben Wright
Yes.

Elliot Moss
And was he wrong? I mean did it go well the first night?

Ben Wright
It went, yeah, it went well. I mean there, there’s… nothing beats that moment when you open the doors and think is anyone actually going to walk in here and then someone does and then you go into a blind panic because then you think ‘well now what do we do?’. But we were also lucky to open in a great location. Borough Market is a unique place in London and a unique place in the world I think and the mix of people, the atmosphere there, it kind of felt to me like it was crying out for somewhere that did amazing oysters and seafood.

Elliot Moss
But that believe Ben, where did that come from? I imagine you and your brother-in-law, your business partner had the belief. Where do you think that emanates from?

Ben Wright
That’s a good question. I think, I travelled around a lot, I’ve worked in different countries, I love different cultures for example, the open plan kitchen design was really influenced by places like Kalpett, the tapas bars in Barcelona, which again are quite well known now, but in 2002 in London it wasn’t really such a big thing, but I felt, I believed that that worked, I believed that was a great way to enjoy food, it was more social, it was more convivial, it was more fun and I really just believed that – partly also because no one else was doing it that way in London, so there was a gap. There was a gap. And it’s also about getting the story across, it was being able to, as soon as these poor customers would walk in the door, that was our opportunity to talk to them and sit them down and share oysters with them and open them in front of them and get them engage and again at that point you feel the momentum, you feel that you are on to something. So, I don’t know where it come from, it could also be the ignorance again, who knows…

Elliot Moss
Who knows.

Ben Wright
..But it was a good thing.

Elliot Moss
It was a good thing. Lots more coming up from Ben, but right now it’s time for some more music. This is Theo Croker with Love from the Sun and you may notice it’s featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater.

That was Love from the Sun from Theo Croker featuring, as I said earlier, Dee Dee Bridgewater. Ben, so beyond the belief, I mean belief is one thing and that gets you over the start line, the start line happens, you are then having I imagine to build a team, to build a model, you’re opening more restaurants, things start to happen. In those first few years, those first five years or so beyond the first restaurant opening, was it immediately more of the same or was it continually surprising and eventful, or did you kind of, have you settled? You look pretty settled now or was it always a bit of a rollercoaster?

Ben Wright
No, absolutely 100% rollercoaster. Absolutely never settled and every day pretty much is still a surprise to me. Because everything, it’s a new challenge every day, so in the first, in the beginning you have to learn to drive a van and deliver oysters and you had to learn wholesaling and then when it’s not you in the van you have to train someone to do that for you and do it in the same way with the same passion and the same with the restaurants. And actually when we opened our second restaurant in Soho, we felt ‘oh okay we understand this restaurant thing now’ and the Borough Market place was doing really well, why not open in Soho and why not open somewhere three times bigger because we will just…

Elliot Moss
You have belief?

Ben Wright
…yeah we have belief and we just get three times more customers and Soho is fun anyway right? And we wanted to put in something that was very similar to Borough into the West End and on paper it just makes perfect sense, but in reality we started to realise over the months that it’s not that simple, what a surprise! That people in the West End like slightly different things and a slightly different service style and a slightly different décor. So that was a huge learning curve for us and to be honest it always goes on that way. And I like it that way, I am not really someone to try and put it in a model and you know break it down into identical elements and then just keep repeating. That for me is less fun. The learning and the unknown is really part of why I love my job.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Ben plus play a track from Madeline Peyroux and that’s coming up after the latest traffic and travel.

The exquisite Madeline Peyroux with The Summer Wind there. Ben Wright is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes, so we had better make good use of them. You talk about the unknown and you talk about loving it. I imagine you are never going to get bored in this business, but what strikes me is obviously you have now got quite a few moving pieces, you’ve got the restaurants and I know that this farming is important to you. When things don’t go so well and inevitably that happens in any business of any size, how do you deal with that emotionally?

Ben Wright
Good question. The support network is vital, I have to give a lot of gratitude to my wife who has to deal with it you know, when I get home.

Elliot Moss
So you take work home and you can’t help it can you?

Ben Wright
You can’t help it. I mean I was on 24 hours a day, waking up in the night, writing stuff down. Yeah there is no doubt that the intensity of, in my experience with Wright Brothers – it was so intense, it was so all consuming that I never really managed to switch off. I have got better recently, but I never really managed that and I am very grateful to my wife who a) put up with it, but also would just realise that I needed just to get it off my chest.

Elliot Moss
Does this suit you though this Ben? Because some people don’t deal with anxiety when in fact they become anxious regardless, they just have a low tolerance. Have you got a pretty high tolerance and does it… it obviously makes you very happy being an entrepreneur, but it also sounds like the stress it has an impact.

Ben Wright
It does have an impact. I mean I had a major personal health issue through stress about five years ago and that was a really useful wake up call for me because I didn’t understand what stress was. I just thought this was something that people talked about, but really you just need to get on with it. And when it affected my personal health quite badly, my wife at one point had to call an ambulance to the house and even then I was having a go at my wife saying ‘don’t be ridiculous, you know it’s fine’. So it was wakeup call and I think I needed it because it had become all-consuming and I think however well prepared your business is, however well funded it is, however good your team is, however much of that infrastructure you have around you, you will always hit the wall. I think it’s a bit like running a marathon, it doesn’t matter how fit you are, you are going to hit the wall. And actually being able to recognise that and sometimes have someone or my own health just to say ‘Ben, just slow down, take a step back’.

Elliot Moss
And since that time, how have you managed to ensure that is not all-consuming, it is not unhealthy even though one always hears about people who are obsessive and it’s kind of a badge of honour almost in the entrepreneurial community. What’s been the shift in your own behaviour to stop that happening again?

Ben Wright
Well I think that you’ve got to let go. I think you’ve got to understand that you need other people around you to support you and also people who have more experience than you and can do it better than you, that’s a great moment where you can let them take forward a lot of the challenges and frankly do a much better job.

Elliot Moss
Listen, thank you for being so honest. I think some of the insights you have given will be really helpful for those people thinking about doing it and who are in the midst of it as well because everyone is on a journey I think when it comes to setting up on your own and running your own business. Brilliant to talk to you Ben. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Ben Wright
My song choice is Ray Charles, Mess Around. I have chosen it for three reasons. One is Ray Charles, is a legend. The second one is that scene in the film with John Candy when he is miming along to the song in the car which is absolutely genius and you can look that up on line.

Elliot Moss
Is that Planes, Trains and Automobiles?

Ben Wright
Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Yes that’s right, it’s absolutely brilliant. And the third one is enjoy the moment, you know, it goes back a bit to me trying to break through the wall every day and sometimes getting so obsessed and sometimes a bit, bit overcome by it all and when you listen to this song, it kind of lightens you up, enjoy the moment, enjoy the journey, have a bit of fun so thanks for playing it.

Elliot Moss
For all those reasons, here it is.

That was Mess Around from Ray Charles, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Ben Wright and one my favourites too. Real clarity about what the business idea was, bring those oysters to London and eventually the UK because it’s going to work and it has. He’s had a fantastic belief and has retained that belief in the initial idea and his honesty, his honesty was really striking today. It doesn’t always go well, but boy has he bounced back when it happened. Do join me again, same time, same place that’s next Saturday, 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Meantime stay with us because coming up next its Nigel Williams.

A former Corporate Finance M&A Lawyer at Allen & Overy, in 2002, Ben – along with his brother-in-law – founded Wright Brothers, a British seafood business with a core reputation as oyster experts and pioneers.

Wright Brothers has a wholesale team, sourcing the best seafood from the British Isles and around the globe, and delivering to the best chefs and restaurants in the UK. There are four seafood restaurants in London, all under the Wright Brothers name.

Ben and his brother-in-law are now working on plans to grow nationally and have ambitions to open a Wright Brothers abroad.

Ben is married with two daughters and likes to eat, drink and travel.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Wright Brothers on Twitter @WrightBrosLDN.

“I love jazz, I love my soul, I love my blues and I love oysters.”

“I wasn’t the best lawyer at the best of times, but I found myself thinking more and more about oysters instead of law…”

“I think entrepreneurs have something within them that makes them not cut out for the conventional.”

“I think I was gloriously, blissfully ignorant and naïve, I never thought is this going to work?’ I never really worked out the numbers…”

“Nothing beats that moment when you open the doors and think ‘is anyone actually going to walk in here? …and then someone does.”

“The learning and the unknown is really part of why I love my job.”

“My experience with Wright Brothers – it was so intense, it was all so consuming that I never really managed to switch off.”

“I think it’s a bit like running a marathon, it doesn’t matter how fit you are, you are going to hit a wall.”