SHARLENE & TONY – LOVE SMILE JERK
Name(s): Sharlene Williams & Tony Chance
Location (Town, Region): Croydon / South London
Age: Sharlene (27) Tony (28)
Start-Up Loan Amount: Just under £15k
Date Received 20.3.2013
When did you start your business?: February 2013 (trading)
Tell us a little about yourself
Most people we know think we’re crazy for going into business for ourselves during a recession! We had “decent” jobs in Finance & Legal so most people just don’t get it! I guess we just don’t think like most people!!
If we did, you’d see two very different people today! We’ve both lived independently since we were young. It was hard trying to be a normal teen whilst managing “grown up” responsibilities at 16-17 years old but it’s that experience that has given us the strength of character to take this leap!
We both have a real love for business and we would always watch shows like The Apprentice and complain that we could do better! Over the years, we’ve had idea after idea but we’ve continually let life get in the way – it became all about paying bills and getting by.
Luckily the gutsy, go-getters inside of us burst back into life and willed us to go for it!
Right now, we really do work solid – we get the occasional nap time! LOL! When we do take a break, I (Tony) love film so I’m either working on a script, shooting or watching movies! Film and Food are my passions!
(Sharlene) Nothing so Hollywood for me! I hope to work with young people and help them to think and achieve bigger so I’m connecting with a few organisations about that! Other than that, if I’m not working, I’m eating! I love all types of food so I get out there and try as much of it as I can!
Tell us about your business or business idea
Love Smile Jerk – casual dining the Caribbean way! The idea was born because we and pretty much everyone we knew seemed to end up eating out in exactly the same place all the time! We won’t say where but what it did suggest was that everyone likes chicken! There was a lack of choice in terms of eating out, on a budget, in your local high street and we were getting bored!
Well, nowhere knows how to spice things up better than the Caribbean! So since October of last year, we’ve been working on a plan for a whole new class of casual dining – bringing the delicious Jamaican Jerk flavour and our Caribbean inspired Love Smile Juices to the masses – in a style not dissimilar from the kinds of places we were all already eating at!
But we couldn’t leave it there! During our research trip to Jamaica in January, we noticed something. Everyone there was having the time of their lives! People were REALLY HAPPY! So we carved out a whole new sector in the industry – we call it EXPERIENCE DINING! We don’t want to ruin the surprise but the level of experience at Love Smile Jerk will be in a league of its own – you might not ever have to go on holiday again 😉
Before we can open our first restaurant, we decided to pilot the business at a street food level so that’s what we’re up to right now. We’ve already been hard at work, we’ve done taster days and have secured pitches at some fantastic events over the summer. Our official launch is on 27 March when we will be trading for the first time from our Love Smile Shack – in our home town – on Surrey Street Market in Croydon!
Love Smile actually started out as something we planned to do on a part time basis to subsidise our incomes! But you can never keep a visionary thinking small for long! Lol! Caribbean food is fantastic but its not really available to the mass market so we felt really passionate about making this happen. We scaled up, formalised a plan that would enable us to have as wide a reach as possible and made our application to Rockstar for a Start Up Loan! We focused on creativity and ways to add unrivalled value to people – it was exciting and we saw such massive potential. After that, turning it into a reality was the only option!
We know people sometimes hate to hear this, but Love Smile Jerk is genuinely for everyone! A like of great food and a good time are the only requirements for entry! This is what is great about this business – it’s not about age, ethnicity or income. So many food establishments are restrictive in those ways; especially Caribbean ones so we’re really glad that Love Smile Jerk will have genuine mass market appeal.
The aim of the pilot scheme is to prove the concept and enable us to secure funding to open our first restaurant next year. That will be a dream come true in itself! Ultimately however, we want a Love Smile Jerk in every high street in the UK! We want to build a brand that people associate with great value and feeling happy!
It would also be good to pop up in Ibiza and Miami in the holiday season – no harm mixing business with a little pleasure!
What was the biggest set up challenge?
The biggest challenge has been walking away from the security of a fixed monthly income. We still have bills to pay so that was a big step. Other than that we’ve been lucky because we have a great balance between us so we’ve been able to overcome any obstacles without major impact. A positive mental attitude hasn’t hurt with that either!
In hindsight, what was the biggest mistake?
Biggest mistake – it doesn’t relate to Love Smile directly but we would say not getting to this point sooner! Sometimes getting to where you want just requires that you take action! We haven’t always done that. The effects of taking action like leaving your day job are probably a lot less harsh when you’re a bit younger so we definitely could have benefited by acting on our goals sooner.
What would be your advice to anyone starting out?
Look back to your inner child – the person inside that is driven by what he/she LOVES! The truth is, you’ll earn more money, be more successful and be a happier person if you do what you love to do and not what you think you should do or what someone else tells you to. So chase your dream, believe in yourself wholeheartedly and take some action EVERY DAY that takes you one step closer to fulfilling that dream.
What are your hopes for the future (where will you be in 5 years)?
5 years! Millionaires for sure! *crosses fingers* We’ve got the business bug now so that’s a certainty! Love Smile Jerk will be an established brand, we will have several sites throughout Greater London and the business will be systemised to facilitate further growth. By then, you will have all watched Tony’s first feature length movie and Sharlene will probably be inaugurated as the youngest Dragon to have ever graced the Den!!!!
Tell us how the funding provided by Start Up Loans will help you
Thanks to Start Up Loans we have been able to get our business off to a flying start. The funding has helped us keep up the momentum and avoid the lack of motivation other undercapitalised start ups often face.
What will you do with the money?
We’ve used it to buy all the equipment we need to bring our product to the market in the most efficient way possible. We’ve also used the funds to secure pitches at some fantastic events over summer and have been able to secure a pitch to carry out regular trade in Croydon.
Tell us how the mentoring from Rockstar Youth will support you?
It’s going to be phenomenal! It’s not what you know, it’s where you know it from! Real life business advice and support from someone who has been through it and has a proven track record is the type of business education all the books in the world cannot give. The mentoring will enable us to take our business to a whole new level and it’s likely it will also accelerate the growth of our business so we’re really excited about it!
How did you hear about Rockstar Youth? What support have you had till now? How has the process been? What mentoring have you received? How has your relationship with your mentor developed?
We went to the Business Show last year and heard Jonathan speaking there! We got some great tips in the short talk and so we must have been first in line to apply! We actually put our application in before the age limit had officially increased to 30 – we were eager to say the least!
What’s great about Rockstar is the value their team gives. Take the incubator for example, it was about them sharing their knowledge and expertise so that we could be better business people – it was so much more than just the loan. We learned so much and our marketing plan in particular was transformed by the knowledge Jonathan and Dan shared with us that day.
What’s been really great is that we’ve been able to connect with so many like minded young people. We’ve met some really inspiring people with great businesses and we look forward to encouraging and supporting one another as we go forward on our journeys.
Please write a few words about the impact Rockstar Youth has had on your business and you
We call it the Quantum Leap Effect – Rockstar Youth have given us the tools to create targeted business strategies that have already massively accelerated the development of our business.
About our progress:
We have now secured a regular pitch at the market in Croydon where we hope to open our first site. Croydon is also the town in which we both grew up so we’re really passionate about bringing new business there!
We’re also in talks with colleges in the area about popping up on site or perhaps supplying their canteens with Love Smile products. The present proposal is that we would invite their students to speak to us about our experience in business so far and about the Start Up Loans process so it would be a win win situation for us all. We have a meeting with Croydon College next week to discuss how to implement the plan.
One of our most important developments is that we have connected with the redevelopment team of the Old Town sector of Croydon. The area was given a fund for redevelopment and was branded a Portas Pilot Area so its work is getting a lot of press coverage etc. They have asked us to form a working team to work on development from the prospective of young people in the area. We feel this is a great move for us as much as the work relating to steering traffic into the area is work we planned to do under our own marketing scheme anyway. This way we have access to more funding and greater support to help facilitate our plans. In this process, we have also connected with local press who will run a story about our business and about our work with the redevelopment team which will help raise our profile.
As part of this work, we have made contacts who have offered us an opportunity to meet with the team bringing Westfield to Croydon. We hope that this will be a great opportunity to ensure that our business is in the running to be included in the plans to bring the super mall to the area.
Essentially, we have been doing a lot of networking that has put us in a strong position to get PR in Croydon.
We have also collaborated with a local trader who makes a range of sauces. We plan to use these with Love Smile sandwiches and wraps. This collaboration will lead to cross marketing and hopefully increased exposure.
We have also connected with several local offices in the area, including the local council who will be promoting our launch day on their intranets.
Lastly, we have secured pitches at two local festivals and also Lovebox Festival. We are also one step away from securing a pitch at the Canary Wharf lunch market and we are awaiting confirmation from several other events and festivals throughout London.
We have had to delay the launch until we received our funds which have landed today so we are officially off!