A taste for success drives Tony's firm
IF you were one of the thousands milling around outside Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert earlier this summer the chances are you may have savoured one of Tony Byrne's products.
For sandwiches from Tony's Gloucester-based catering firm, Lauren's, went to London to help satisfy the hunger of concert goers.
His little Bristol Road business punches far above its weight in the catering world and, as it approaches its 20th anniversary, he has some ambitious plans for expansion.
With the high street bakery shop business nationally dominated by companies like Greggs, it is perhaps refreshing to find there is still room for a homegrown independent like Lauren's that is doing very nicely, thank you.
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As a youngster, Dublin-born managing director Tony moved to Gloucester from Ireland with his family to be near relatives while his father was serving in the Royal Navy.
As a young man Tony served his apprenticeship at a city bakery and then started his own bakery in Gloucester's Tredworth area but it fell victim to the recession in the early 1990s. Undaunted, he used statutory redundancy money to open a sandwich shop in Bristol Road where his business is still based and has never looked back.
"We served the factories in the Bristol Road area and then had enquiries about deliveries and purchased a little old van," said Tony, 46. "My sister's father-in-law was our first driver and that's how it started."
Lauren's now has a fleet of four temperature-controlled vans and 70 per cent of its business is supplying sandwiches to garage forecourts and shops in a 50-mile radius of Gloucester, including Bristol, Worcester and Swindon.
"We started as one of the first sandwich shops in Gloucester working 14 hours days, seven days a week," said Tony. "A lot of the customers who come to us now are the children and grandchildren of our original customers which is nice."
Tony's family has been involved in helping the business succeed from the start – he even named it after his eldest daughter Lauren, who now works for the SuperGroup fashion clothing company, while his other daughter Aisling helps out.
Corporate catering clients have included the BBC, Virgin Active, Honda, all the major banks and Channel Four as well as supplying major caterers such as those involved in the diamond jubilee celebrations and Wembley rock concerts.
And despite a lot of belt tightening, it seems the British love affair with the sandwich is as strong as ever.
"All our sandwiches are freshly prepared each day and we have used the same suppliers for 20 years. We are not cheap because we want to use quality ingredients at a reasonable price," said Tony.
As we speak in his first floor office overlooking Gloucester's busy Bristol Road, Tony's phone is frequently ringing as he speaks to existing and potential customers.
He estimates that his company produces around a million sandwiches rolls and other snacks a year and now he is expanding the business.
He has just taken over an 18,000 square foot unit at the Glenmore Centre at Waterwells, Quedgeley which includes a large production area, store room and retail area at the front. His 14-strong workforce is set to grow. But Tony intends to keep his original Bristol Road premises.
"My business is built on my staff, some have been with me since day one," said Tony. "With the commitment they have given me as a team, they are the Manchester City of the Premiership.
And his most popular sandwich filling?
"Ham salad is still one of our biggest sellers," he said. "And chicken. People still want to eat something substantial."