In Conversation With Harrison Pinder, Kofi&Co

Kofi&Co opens on Street Lane in Leeds on Good Friday. Gemma Bridge managed to catch up with a very busy Harrison on the run up to opening his Roundhay restaurant.  

This is your second restaurant.

Yes, we’ve got one in the centre of Wetherby in the Market Square that we opened in 2020.

So how do you see juggling the two with two different places to manage?

I was the Area Manager for another restaurant chain, so I have previous experience juggling numerous sites. So, I’ve been there. Obviously, it comes with all the challenges. But that’s the thing with hospitality: every single day there’s something going on, whether it’s the weather, holidays, staffing, suppliers – it’s just the kind of business we’re in. So, I’m very used to that. Everything’s fast-paced.

The biggest thing is making sure you’ve got a strong team on the sites, so they can manage and solve any problems that come along…..running two sites is going to be tough, and in this challenging market, but it’s definitely a risk we’re excited to take.

It’s good that you’re looking at it as a positive challenge and not just something that’s kind of scary.

Oh 100%. That’s the way we’re going to grow it. There’s going to be problems that we’re faced with almost straight away, I’m sure. And I know there’s going to be areas we’re probably going to have to build on and things we’ll change once we open. But I have a strong management team in place and we’ve been evolving the structure of the business. So we thought right, now’s the time. Previous experience tells me that when other companies have grown, they’ve not grown the infrastructure behind the business, which is then where the problems start.

My operations Manager, Ingrid, has been there from the beginning and she will be helping me across both sites. And then what’s really exciting is my brother George is now my business partner in this new site, and he’s going to be overseeing Street Lane. So, I’ll be spending most of my time in Wetherby once we get off the ground, because obviously Wetherby’s our #1. It’s the bigger of the two, right now, and I need that one to continue and standards to be maintained, because I think as you grow, there’s always that fear that could happen if you take your eye off the ball and we can’t let that happen. They have to be simultaneously perfect and support each other.

The name of your restaurants – Kofi – apparently means born on Friday?

Yes, that’s right. It also means coffee in Hindi. The actual truth behind it is it was born on Friday and I did the deal for Wetherby on a Friday and I got the keys to Wetherby on a Friday, too. However, I actually asked a lot of my friends to come up with names and they threw in loads of ideas. I just needed as many names as I could get, because coming up with the right name was actually the hardest thing..

To find a name for your restaurant that you’d like?

Yes. And obviously there’s so many out there. It was actually one of my friends who said, oh, what about Kofi? He told me the background behind it so that it wouldn’t be just a random name. There was a lot of meaning to it and I really liked that. The reason for ‘&Co’ is like bringing people together. It’s ‘and company’. And that’s what I want the restaurant to be. I want it to be somewhere that creates an atmosphere……….. We’re family run; everything about Kofi is family. My mum and dad both work with us too. So, it’s very family orientated and we try to put that into everything we do.

It’s nice to hear that there’s the family connection, but also just the kind of commitment to keeping it. I mean, do you also keep local in terms of food and produce?

In Wetherby, everything’s local. We use the bakery and I could throw a stone over the road and it’s there. Our fruit and veg supplier is next door to us. They’ve been in Wetherby for generations and are very well known. My meat supplier is Wetherby based. And then we use Yorkshire seafood for fish, so it’s pretty much all from Yorkshire and we intend to do the same at Street Lane.

Being an independent and not a big brand, it’s so important to have local support first because they’re there every day and when you need something quickly or out of hours I have a whole local supplier network I can rely on. That’s why I think a lot of the bigger brands have started to falter because the support is there for the independents, especially after COVID. So, although I took a risk opening in COVID it’s actually worked out well for Kofi&Co.

Did you always plan to open a restaurant?

I used to play football. I played football at a pretty high level for a long time growing up, so I only ever wanted to be a footballer. And then when I was fourteen, I got a job as a kitchen porter in my local park cafe. And then when I left school I think it was my Mum who said you could actually be pretty good at this restaurant lark, so she actually got me into where I used to work: Filmore & Union and I took a management position there in their Wetherby site which is where Kofi&Co is now. I think it just opened my eyes. I thoroughly enjoyed it because they were also an independent when I started working for them. I know they grew into a bigger company, but it still felt like a very close family. You know, I’ve got four members of staff that I started with ten years ago there, who work for me now. It helps that I’ve always loved food, me and my Mum used to watch Masterchef and Great British Menu together.

And then I got really into coffee, doing latte art at my previous job. If you’ve got a good product, which for me is coffee, excellent service and food, then everything else is going to fall into place. So, that’s kind of where it stemmed from. And I just love it. You know, hospitality is hard. When I was 18/19 to 22, I was doing almost 70 hours a week. And from that I knew one day I wanted my own restaurant. And I just knew I was going to do it.

Then in COVID I got made redundant. We were furloughed first. I wanted them to stay open to do takeaway but they closed. And then we all got a letter to say we’d all lost our jobs, I had bought my own apartment so I was in turmoil. It just wasn’t an option not to work, so I took a job in a health club in Harrogate helping them to open a café.

Then I heard that the Wetherby site was vacant, and chatting to my mum one night I said why don’t I just ring the landlord and say I want it. She was all for it, so I got hold of him one Friday evening, he was out walking his dog at the time and I just said look, I want to take it. I know the site and I know I can do this and within a few weeks we’d had a meeting with him and his agent and his wife. He asked around about me. People obviously knew of me because I’d been working in Wetherby for quite a while and anyway he liked us and what we wanted to create. I actually fought off some big names for the site but he wanted an independent, someone he could trust and would create a sense of community back in the place. He’s very family orientated, too and has been a great, supportive landlord.

Are you planning to open up more sites after you’ve opened Leeds, or are you going to stick with the two for now?

No, no. We’re gonna keep going. We’ll build slowly though, get it right and sustain the quality and service before we move onto the next one … but I’m always looking for the next opportunity!

Do you have any ideas where?

I’ve got a few, so I use Filmore as an example – What I really liked about what they did is they stuck to their roots in Yorkshire. George and I were born in Roundhay. We went to school here, that’s why this one’s so special for us. It feels like we’re going back home. We’d like to keep things local. So, we’re looking at possibly going into Ilkley. I managed the Filmore site there for a while, and made a lot of friends, so we’ve viewed some potential sites there over the last eighteen months.

But we want to get it right. You know, this second one could really be hard. What I’ve tried to do is put in the infrastructure and started to create a brand so that if we do want to expand and go big, we can; but equally if we want to just keep it tight we can, We’ll always keep our core values, which is all about wholesome fresh food, quality and service. You know that’s the biggest thing with a family orientated team. So even if we do grow out, we make sure everything else grows with it.

I agree getting that strategy and infrastructure in place gives you the opportunity to go if you’re ready to. Have you assessed the demand in the different new places you might be going to and have you done that in Leeds?

Yes, I’ve done a lot of market research, I’ve spent hours just walking up and down Street Lane with my little boy. And sitting in my car watching the footfall. Obviously, as I said, because I’ve grown up there I think we’ve got a pretty good sense of the market and the opportunity. The biggest risk for any site is not knowing how busy it’s going to be. You can never judge that. What I will say is I believe in our brand. I believe in what we do and I genuinely believe there’s not many places that provide the quality and service that we can in and around Roundhay. Our coffee is the best around!

You can go to restaurants and it’s breakfast till 11 or 12. You’ve got eggs so just cook them; why does the time of day matter? If you want a fried chicken sandwich at 8am or a full breakfast at 3pm at Kofi&Co. you can have whats on the menu all day, every day. And I train my team to make sure that they know that we offer anything at anytime. If a customer wants to adapt a dish they can. I believe there’s not many high quality places around Leeds where you can get that at the moment.

Where do you get the inspiration for the food from? Is it stuff you like or is it stuff you’ve heard of?

Of course, I lead the process when it comes to the menu but it’s collaborative, I have a team of great, creative chefs to support me but I also include other team members and I’ve always said no idea is a bad idea! As you can imagine, I like to eat out a lot and I get inspiration from other restaurants. My one stipulation is that if I don’t like to eat it it’s not going on the menu (there’s not a lot I don’t like by the way!). I do relent sometimes as I get told off by some of my management team, but that’s certainly how it started.

I ask my team to help me a lot….. Using your team is one of the biggest tools that you can have. So that I’ll often say right guys, we’re going to launch a new menu. What do you want to see on it? I involve them because everyone eats out, everyone has different experiences, everyone’s got ideas. A lot of people are foodies as well. You know, we try to change the menu two or three times a year. So that’s a lot of new dishes to try and think of in a short space of time. Of course, we have our core signature dishes that never leave the menu but then we like to play with the specials, and that’s pretty much up to the kitchen team they are inventing new specials every week. That’s what Kofi&Co. customers have come to expect and Roundhay will be the same. The good thing about being an independent is we can change anything we want. We have to be agile. So, if a dish isn’t working it comes off.

That sounds really good. I think that’s also the way to go in terms of reducing food waste and just keeping it manageable for you in terms of growing.

Yes, I started with seven members of staff, we’ve now got twenty-five in one site, but the site itself is still the same size. It’s just one oven in that kitchen! Our Friday, Saturday, Sundays are just so busy…….but no matter how busy we are we have to focus on making the experience for customers the best it can be. Life’s tough right now so when someone choses to spend their hard-earned cash with us we owe it to them to give them top quality food and a great experience.

Your brother is an artist and he’s an artist in residence at the Wetherby site.

Yeah, he is. Well, actually, he’s now my business partner at Street Lane so he’s got artwork on show and a studio at both sites!

What kind of art does he do?

He’s a very modern contemporary artist, taking much of his inspiration from his love of music and popular culture. He graduated with a degree in Fine Art from Loughborough University.

His work is all around both sites. Our menus and take out cups feature his work. He’ll work on a large canvas and then he’ll take shots of each part of the canvas and they will form the background to our menu. All the colours are aligned to the season. If it’s a winter menu, it’ll be darker, moody colours. Then there’s the Summer boom; vibrant shades. We have a great designer, Simon, who knows and understands what we’re trying to achieve and we’ll say right, you’ve got all the elements – go do your thing!

I guess anyone can open a restaurant, but what makes you different? What’s your USP? What makes you stand out? That’s a big one. We think this collaboration of food and art just makes sense. Both are a very creative process and they complement each other and who doesn’t want to enjoy a great cup of coffee or meal surrounded by original art? It’s also been very successful for George. He’s sold numerous works and commissions since he’s been exhibiting work at Kofi&Co. He has plans for Street Lane. We only operate the restaurant across the ground floor and there’s a beautiful space on the second floor of the building, so his longer term plan is to create a gallery space and alongside his work and invite local young artists to exhibit there, too. Watch this space!

Is the restaurant open just in the daytime?

Yes. When I used to work, I found nights quite draining and tiring. And you know, if you’re not busy, you just sit there waiting for someone to come in, so I just thought, you know what, let’s do days and absolutely do it well, and do it the best we can.

It gives you scope in terms of if you do an exhibition. You could have a gallery opening and you’ve got an event space for people to come to.

Well, we’ve done events in Wetherby. We did an American evening. So we may do something similar in Street Lane if there’s demand. Maybe a themed supper club or we’ve looked into collaborations with other local chefs. There are things we will look at, but we will do our research first because it’s a big step.

Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it would affect you if you didn’t open on an evening because there’s plenty of other food options in Leeds.

Yeah, where we are, you’ve got San Carlo opposite, you’ve got bigger eateries which are late night eating. So, I’m not sure we want to compete with them. Because I know we’re the best at what we do and that’s going to be our focus.

We won’t try to be something we’re not. We’re not trying to try to chase something that we don’t need. We hope to do brunch and do it really well. You know, our coffee is the best. We’ve had a special blend made just for us, and it’s a blend of four beans. A lot of people these days only use two or three beans. But we’ve gone for four. And it’s seriously, very, very good coffee. It won’t be sold anywhere within a specified radius of a Kofi&Co. site. We’ve put a lot of effort into our coffee blend and you only have to look at our coffee sales in Wetherby to know it’s been worth it.

So I’m gonna have to come and visit. It sounds like my kind of food.

Yeah, you got that. Everyone should have Kofi&Co in their life ☺

So what would you tell people if they ask why they should come and try your food?

I think if you want a dining experience that you’ll remember for wholesome, tasty, big flavoured food, then there’s no other place like us. You can get the best coffee, made by a team of talented baristas. And you can get the best brunch to complement it. We do great tasting food and we do it very well and you’re going to get the service to match. We aim to deliver 5 star service to every single customer, at every single interaction and that’s something that we’ll continue to do everywhere we go.

Harrison and George will open on Good Friday.

The Leeds Living team send all good wishes to Harrison, George and the Kofi&Co. family.

All photographs provided by Kofi&Co.

Do you have a story to tell?
We want to hear your stories and help you share them.