Money makers: a £215m fortune from sarnies

Julian Metcalfe, founder of Pret A Manger, made a fortune from transforming the way the country eats lunch.


Julian Metcalf: transforming the way Britain eats lunch
(Image credit: 2013 Nick Harvey)

Julian Metcalfe transformed the way the country eats lunch, says Sabah Meddings in The Sunday Times. He founded Pret A Manger in 1986 with friend Sinclair Beecham. They bought their first shop in London while Metcalfe was working in real estate, and used a £5,000 inheritance from his grandmother to buy an oven. He handed his notice in when the shop began to break even. Since then, Pret has become a "ubiquitous presence" on Britain's high streets. Metcalfe now has a £215m fortune he sold Pret in 2008 to private-equity firm Bridgepoint for £364m and gave up his seat in the board. Last year, Pret sold to Germany's JAB Holding for £1.5bn.

Metcalfe is now trying to replicate that success with Itsu, the Asian-inspired chain where he is majority shareholder. Launched in 1997, Itsu has 75 outlets in the UK and one in New York. Sales rose 10.4% to £116.6m last year and he plans to open ten new restaurants a year, including overseas. For Metcalfe, 60, the future "is rice bowls and noodles".

Three decades in the food industry has "done nothing to dim Metcalfe's enthusiasm". He never misses Itsu's twice-weekly development meetings, where he obsesses over recipes. Even the chairs took months to design. Is such fussing profitable? "Probably not," he says gloomily. But getting the details right is crucial longer term. The white orchids on the wall, for example, are real. "You can't save a few hundred pounds a year and have fake orchids. You might as well have fake chicken. I'd die if they did that." Itsu's losses narrowed from £8.9m to £6m last year.

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The booming market for second-hand clobber

"While some of us might cringe and despair looking at old photos of ourselves in a blue and yellow shellsuit jacket, there are shoppers out there who yearn for such retro clothing," says Joanna Bourke in the Evening Standard. Entrepreneur Rory Westbrook, 25, is one of the latter, and he was quick to note the potential for a successful business venture. He started selling 1980s and 1990s clothes through his online retail startup True Vintage in 2014.

The company looks for rare and discontinued items at charity shops, eBay, and international suppliers to sell on at a premium. One of Westbrook's "memorable deals" was getting £150 for an Adidas Lake Placid Olympic sweatshirt that he bought for £5. Revenues have been growing steadily and the company is on track to turn over £1.9m this year. And if the US is anything to go by, there is huge growth potential. The second-hand shopping market is predicted to grow larger than fast fashion within ten years, according to Thredup, the world's largest online thrift store, and the US market is expected to be worth $51bn in five years. Eco-conscious consumers are driving the trend 74% of 18 to 29-year-olds prefer to buy from sustainable companies.And desire to be green is making more people buy second-hand.

Westbrook founded True Vintage while he was studying at the University of Portsmouth. As the business grew he moved it to his parents' house, then to a warehouse in Mitcham. He has expansion plans for 2020, starting with a move to a new south Wimbledon base, around three times the size of the current one. Westbrook remains the majority shareholder. His plans include hiring more staff, increasing its stock, and starting to sell some new eco-friendly clothes alongside the vintage items. "We are getting so much traffic we want to offer more to customers."

The disruptor shaking up nurseries

Brett Wigdortz ticks all the "start-up founder" boxes, says Helen Rumbelow in The Times. "Trainers, a deep American accent, a name like a tech entrepreneur in a sitcom", and a cool office with nothing to sit on but a swinging chair. Wigdortz is the founder and leader of Teach First, an organisation that recruits graduates and trains them to teach inner-city children for two years. It is now the largest graduate recruiter in the UK. Wigdortz went on to co-found Teach For All, an international organisation that replicates the model in 53 countries. Now, Wigdortz has another business idea, this time for infants.

As working parents with young children will know, pre-school education in Britain is expensive. In London, 25 hours per week at a nursery or with a childminder costs an average of £758 a month. The cost "quickly feels bankrupting", especially if the parents work part time or if there's another sibling. The UK market for formal childcare was valued at £5.5bn in 2018. The population is growing and mothers are working more, so demand is booming. Despite that, supply is falling. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of individual nurseries declined by 20%, while in the five years to 2018 the number of childminders fell by 27%. According to one report, the UK has a shortage of one million childcare places.

And so Wigdortz's idea for Tiney was born, which was to form a hybrid of nursery and childminder, or a string of "tiny" nurseries that "combine the high-quality educational curriculum of an institution with the attention and setting of a domestic home". Tiney provides training and branding, and takes a 10% cut of the childminders' income. As with Teach First, Wigdortz, now in his mid-40s, is hoping the idea will "really grow" and lead to "system change" in this country.

Nicole García Mérida

Nic studied for a BA in journalism at Cardiff University, and has an MA in magazine journalism from City University. She joined MoneyWeek in 2019.