Welcome to our brand new series of articles on those retailers who choose to concentrate only on one very specific product or expertise. In a world where so many are jacks of all trades – we meet the masters of one.
Location: New Smith Square, City of London
Specialism: Initially known for its signature ‘egg pots’ but now operating with an expanded menu.
If you google the name ‘Yolk’ a raft of media coverage will come up, most using egg-based puns such as “egg-centred pop up cracks open new venue” or “egg-tastic Yolk hatches second pop up” – you get the picture.
The fact that Nick Philpot’s first permanent location in the City of London serves more than its famed breakfast poached egg pots can deliver a lesson to all retailers in how it is possible to expand away from being confined and boxed into an original idea by either consumers or the media. It seems to be managing the traditionally tough second albumen problem quite well. (Ed: It’s obviously catching)
Philpot (31) a former management consultant with Deloitte, says his friends got totally fed up of him endlessly talking about his big food idea so he eventually approached his local coffee shop in Finsbury Park, North London, and persuaded the manager to allow him to cook food in the premises on the weekends. Not bad for someone with no formal chef training.
Based on the success of that venture, Yolk later moved into a shipping container near Liverpool Street where it traded five days a week until that 15-month lease also ended. Egg pots featuring poached eggs were always a quirky eye-catching item on the menu and Philpot says he likes the word ‘yolk’ because it describes the unctuous, comforting centre of something delicious but if you put the two together you soon have a fixed image of an egg-only concept which could be difficult to get away from.
Having been a busy City worker, Nick Philpot knew both that a lot of eating is done at the desk but also that the take out choice can be largely confined to a very standardised array of sandwiches. Likewise he had insight that breakfast is now something that more and more people take to their desk in the morning as opposed to eating in their kitchen before they leave for work.
The actual specialism of the business in the founder’s mind is now more about redefining the quality of takeout convenience food which is partly done by running a very tight menu. Take lunch as an example – the new unit offers only three sandwiches, three salad boxes and three hot pots. And that along with the drinks and a few sides is largely it. It’s only open from 7-4 and has six staff front of house and six out back cooking.
Breakfast is similarly focused on a few dishes done “obsessively well”. Yolk is not interested in serving dinner dishes, or ‘eat on the commute home’ food or opening at the weekends or being the new healthy kid on the block because it has decided that it’s USP will be giving office workers a breakfast or lunch they actually look forward to.
But with this very small menu and even smaller site come associated pros and cons. The shopping container did 100 breakfasts, 150 lunches and 300 coffees. Philpot reckons that shop will need to do twice or three times that to make the unit work financially and he knows that £8-£9 is the upper limit for lunch – even in the City.
Added to that his customers want good provenance on the ingredients so expensive Clarence Court eggs for the egg pots and farmers with checkable welfare standards for the cassoulet sausages. And crucially there are only really two peaks of service that are available to Yolk. If there is anything less than completely slick service on either the breakfast or lunchtime rushes then they’ve missed out big time.
On the plus side learning to cook and serve three dishes extremely well rather than 10 dishes averagely well obviously lowers the margin for unhappy consumers considerably and the rent on the small store is commensurately lower. Finally, as Nick Philpot happily notes “Everyone needs to eat” and more people than ever before it seems would rather pay someone else to make their breakfast and lunch for them than stand around cooking poached eggs and making sandwiches in the morning. It is very specialised but it’s also a gamble that appears to be paying off.