You can scoff

Posh fast food entrepreneur Pat Reeves has found his appetite for life by swapping law for business. Jennifer Currie reports

“I always knew I’d never make a very good barrister because I didn’t have a passion for it,” claims Pat Reeves,
co-founder of London’s first self-proclaimed posh fast food chain, Deliverance. “What I’ve realised about being a barrister is that it really does mean something when people say it’s a vocation. It’s definitely a calling.

“There are also some ultra-talented people in this business, and if you want to compete you have to be very, very able and you must also have a passion for it.”

After studying philosophy at the University of East Anglia, Reeves completed the Common Professional Examination at City University in London during the early 1990s.

“Becoming a barrister is quite appealing, because there’s a certain glamour about it. Also, I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do and this seemed like a good way of treading water while staying in the educational system and getting a great qualification,” he says.

After a pupillage at common law set 2 King’s Bench Walk, Reeves endured six months of practice before deciding that the law was definitely not for him.

“I saw everything, from work on the Maxwell prosecution through to all the knockabout stuff in the Magistrate’s Court,” says Reeves. “I had an exceptionally good pupil master who taught me a lot, but I realised I didn’t enjoy it, so I gave up and went off and did a ski season.”

Upon his return to the UK, Reeves joined an investment bank, where he worked on rail privatisation for two years. “I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. It was unbelievably hard work. God knows why I became an investment banker,” he laughs.

Over a pint in a Battersea pub, Reeves listened to his friend Rohan Blacker’s plans to expand his small soup company. Blacker, also a former lawyer (“a rubbish one, by his own admission,” adds Reeves) had grand plans to establish a posh takeaway food outlet.

“On top of that was another ambitious plan to offer a wide range of cuisines – Thai, Chinese, Indian, salad and sushi etc,” he continues. “My initial reaction was that it was a very bad and foolish idea. But after I thought about it for a while and asked around a bit, I realised that it was actually a great idea.

“So we very quickly found a site and started off on a shoestring budget. Almost immediately there was a huge demand and, within a week, we knew that the business was going to work.”

‘I have major admiration for anyone working as a lawyer. Rather them than me’
Pat Reeves, Deliverance

Although business was booming, it soon became clear that the company was quickly losing money because it had priced itself in relation to the rates of local Chinese and Indian takeaways.

“What we now realise is that the reason they’re so cheap is because [many of them] are family-run businesses and avoid certain taxes,” says Reeves.

So after increasing its prices, the next challenge for the business was to improve its operation process.
“Taking the order, cooking the food, packaging it up and dispatching it to the right address, all within a short space of time, is fantastically hard to learn, and we hadn’t really anticipated just how hard. During our first year we were stuck in this really tiny place, and it caused some unhappiness among the workforce,” admits Reeves.
In among all the stress of making a new business work, Reeves found that he still had to exercise his legal skills.

In a bid to expand the premises and revenue, Reeves arranged to take over the units adjacent to the one that the business already occupied, and so applied for a licence to assign the existing lease to Deliverance.

“But the landlords refused, which was a bit of a blow to us. And there was no reason for them to refuse. They saw us as a young business and didn’t think we offered them a very good covenant. So we went to Ernst & Young and a big firm of lawyers. We made sure that we won,” he adds firmly.
Reeves is also fighting a legal battle on another front, after Deliverance was badly advised during the construction of its new site in West London.

“It cost a quarter of a million quid to fix,” he recalls. “We’ve actually instructed my pupil master on this case.

It’s nice in a way to go back to him.”

While most of his time is taken up with legal issues at the moment, Reeves is also responsible for most of the administrative matters.

“I’m a terrible cook – something I’m constantly reminded of,” he says. “Rohan is much foodier than me and so he’s in charge of the kitchen staff and that side of things.”

Oddly enough, the slowdown in corporate finance has had an impact on Deliverance’s takings from law and accountancy firms. “We used to have lots of really high-quality blue-chip customers, but that kind of work is drying up now that M&A work has been decimated,” says Reeves.

As a result, the company is targeting new areas of custom and is planning to open more kitchens across the capital and, further into the future, possibly across the country.
Reeves may have been working around the clock since the company’s launch in 1997, but he claims he has never looked back.

“There’ve been some dark moments,” he admits, “but we always knew we were going to get there in the end.”
Although Reeves is still required to use his legal knowledge, he is more than happy to do the evidence-gathering and groundwork and then pass it all on to practising legal professionals.

“I have major admiration for anyone [working] as a lawyer. Rather them than me,” he says firmly.
Yet Reeves does not think his decision to leave the law was a particularly brave one – rather, it was simply a step that has led to his true vocation.

“I definitely have a calling to run businesses,” he says happily. “It gives you such a wide variety of challenges. And I’ve always thought I’d end up doing this kind of thing.”

As a final word of advice, he adds: “If you’re not particularly fulfilled in what you’re doing, then [moving] is not so much of a wrench.”