‘If your customers are enjoying it, that’s when the success comes.’
Five years. Half a decade. 1,825 days. A long time – or, depending on how you look at it, no time at all. Enough time for craft beer to begin to run through the veins of a city. Time for veganism to evolve from a difficult diet plan to a popular way of life. And of course, enough time for Marko Husak and Mayur Patel to grow a one-off food and beer event into a heavily accoladed empire with venues in three cities and fans far beyond. If you don’t know by now, you should. It’s time to say happy birthday to Bundobust.
‘We opened at a time before beer, vegan food or ‘street food’ got big,’ Marko reflects, telling me how his business partnership with Mayur began with a tweet. ‘I had a small beer bar in Bradford at the time called The Sparrow, and Mayur had a family restaurant called Prashad. We thought it would make sense if we came together to offer something new.’
It certainly seems to have made sense. The first Bundo site on Mill Hill in Leeds was an almost instant hit, with foodies and beer buffs alike flocking to sit at the colourful bench seating, tuck into pots of traditional Guajarati grub and peruse the mighty list of beers.
At the heart of Bundobust is hard work, heritage and a healthy dose of passion, but what’s the secret sauce that’s seen it go from pop-up to Michelin-Guide listed in just five years?
‘The food’s unique – the kind of stuff that you’d actually find on the streets of India – and we bring a lot of new beers to Leeds,’ says Marko, telling me how travels in Europe and New York inspired him to look at British drinking culture from a new perspective.
‘We started treating beer more like wine and having more variety – which was pretty new in England five years ago,’ he says, explaining how channelling the choice and flexibility found in setups abroad has been a crucial part of the Bundo concept.
‘The vibe’s good; it’s informal. It’s good for sharing with your friends, it’s good to drop in on your own and just have a pot of food if you’re waiting for your train – that flexibility is our secret.’
Bundo’s unique brand of vegetarian cuisine is today a core selling point, with the dishes’ meat-free nature frequently going largely unnoticed among diners – not least, Guardian gargoyle, Jay Rayner, whose sparkling review of the Manchester joint spoke of ‘brilliant vegetarian cooking which makes its argument on its own terms.’ Praise indeed, and a pinnacle moment for Marko and Mayur.
What else are they proud of? The answer is refreshing. ‘We’re blessed to have full restaurants and happy customers – as cheesy as it seems,’ Marko smiles. ‘Having a good staff retention rate is great as well,’ he tells me. ‘A lot of the chefs come from India, so seeing them get UK citizenship and onto the property ladder always makes us happy.’
It’s that kind of family-driven, warm-spirited energy that seems to fuel the Bundobust engine – a big-hearted culinary trailblazer with a northern sense of humour and an ambition to take on the whole country in the coming years.
‘It can be a challenge finding the cities where we think a Bundo would fit,’ says Marko, as talk turns to their rapid expansion and what that means for the business. ‘We’re not a high street brand,’ he tells me with affirming adamance. ‘We want to stay independent, so we try and find those oddball sites. In Leeds we’re next to Layne’s and Friends of Ham, in Manchester we’re in a basement on the edge of the Northern Quarter, in Liverpool we’re on the first floor on Bold Street… We can’t afford to be on the main street with a shiny window – and it’s not right for us anyway.’
In the past five years, Marko’s job has gone from 80 hours a week behind the bar to a schedule packed with supplier meetings, figures, site visits, marketing briefings and industry networking – not to mention taking care of a new-born, who made a timely arrival earlier this year.
It’s non-stop, and only heading more furiously in that direction. ‘We want to get to 10 restaurants in five years’ time.’ Marko outlines Bundo’s bold ambition with his characteristically endearing nonchalance – behind which, of course, lies the burning passion that’s been paramount to his success.
‘And obviously, we’ve got ambitions to open our own brewery that would supply the bars and restaurants.’ He adds. Well – obviously.
‘The idea is to have a brewery on site and invite other brewers to do one-off collaborations,’ Marko explains, telling me how Leeds’ healthy roster of beer festivals has helped Bundobust make the kind of international friends it needs to cater for the City’s ever-growing craft beer appetite.
As conversation draws to a close, the certainty of Bundo’s exciting future is almost tangible. A solid, positive player on the northern – and soon to be national – scene.
‘If your heart’s into it, you love it, you know you’re offering a great product, you’re treating your staff right and your customers are enjoying it, then hopefully that’s when the success comes.’ says Marko. ‘If that makes sense.’
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure it does.
Photograph by Ben Bentley. Mayur Patel (l) and Marko Husak (r)