Seven – minute read

Each month, we profile some of our favourite independent bars, cafés, restaurants and retailers for our Meet the Independents series. Here, we meet Carley Jones, owner of Kettlebell Kitchen in Manchester…

Kettlebell Kitchen is the brainchild of Crossfit enthusiast and entrepreneur Carley Jones. Originally from Newcastle, 32-year-old Carley has lived in Manchester for the past 13 years and it is here she began growing her healthy fast-food empire, which now comprises two city-centre restaurants and three concessions units.

Healthy food for all

Kettlebell’s flagship store in the up-and-coming Ancoats district of Manchester is where we meet with Carley. A sleek, bright, glass-fronted unit, the interior is very much geared towards fitness fans; accessorised with kettlebells (naturally) and other sporty touches like gymnastic rings and free weights.

Carley is pretty much the embodiment of her ideal customer. “Obviously, the main crowd is gym goers who are into their health and fitness and want to look after themselves,” she says. But the fitness-averse shouldn’t be put off. Kettlebell Kitchen welcomes everyone with open arms, even those of us who aren’t 100% sure what a kettlebell actually is. “You’d be surprised – we get a lot of pensioners in the morning who come in for a brew,” she says, reassuringly. “There’s a lady who comes in nearly every day for a soup, and we don’t even have soup on the menu – but we make it for her. At lunch when it goes crazy, we’ve quite often got a queue at the door and it’s a lot of people in suits.”

Young mothers and families are also fans of Kettlebell’s relaxed atmosphere, quick service and nutritious menu. “I think people are realising what’s going into their food, they’re getting quite savvy about it. TV programmes like The Truth About Fat Free are educating people. Even the normal kind of ‘Joe Public’ is starting to realise, do you know what? I’d rather actually have a nutrient-dense meal than go and fill my body with toxic crap.” This growing public awareness that we are what we eat has presented another business opportunity for Kettlebell Kitchen in the form of concessions units; essentially Kettlebell-branded office canteens serving a pared-back version of the usual healthy menu. “Businesses are realising they don’t want to serve their staff rubbish food. It has direct impact on how someone’s feeling and can therefore have an impact on your profit line,” she says. Carley has opened concessions in three Manchester-based businesses now, including online fashion retailers Missguided and PrettyLittleThing.

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The proof is in the protein fries

Happily for us, Kettlebell Kitchen proves that healthy doesn’t have to mean kale smoothies and celery sticks. Instead, the menu is simple but delicious, with a good mix of ‘eat clean’ and ‘cheat clean’ options to choose from (and perfectly acceptable volumes of kale.) Protein, carbohydrates and fat quantities are listed for every meal, making it easy for anyone monitoring their daily intake to tot up their totals. We tried the burrito bowl (the homemade beetroot sauce is amazing) and the peanut protein fries (which sound weird, but were delicious).

Both options provided a filling, protein-rich, additive-free meal for under £8 each, yet a common misconception about Kettlebell (which really irritates Carley) is that the food is expensive. “Margins are really low, it requires staff-heavy prep – everything is fresh and chemical-free,” she argues. And if you compare the nutritional content with somewhere like McDonalds, which has a similar price point, but a very different approach to ingredient selection, you can really see why Carley is so adamant her menu offers value for money.

From call centre to kitchen

Although the food continues to evolve and improve, the core menu was essentially dreamt up by Carley herself, based on what she and her community of Crossfit pals felt was missing from the fast food market. The ordering and serving process is such a well-oiled machine – and the branding so well-articulated – that many are surprised to discover Carley’s background is not in hospitality at all. In fact, she began her working life in call centres. Even back then, her aptitude for business was evident, and by the age of 20 she’d earned enough from bonuses to put a deposit down on her first property. Soon after, she accepted a new job in debt management, rented out her house in Newcastle and moved to Manchester. On her very first day, she was tasked with recruiting an entire a team of 52 people from scratch, but unperturbed, she rolled up her sleeves and on got on with it. Her talent didn’t go unnoticed and she was soon headhunted for a job in South Africa, but came home after six months because she missed home. By the time she’d turned 27, Carley had opened her own call centre which she ran successfully with a business partner for a few years, before selling her share and launching Kettlebell Kitchen.

Hospitality management might have been an entirely new challenge for Carley, but being at the helm of a growing enterprise was not – and is something she relishes. “The best part about owning my own business is that I’m in control of creation,” she explains. “I’ve always been so creative and it’s nice to be able to apply that. I guess it’s just being in control; nobody’s telling me what to do.” Getting to grips with the finances of such a rapidly growing business is what Carley has found most challenging, but bringing in the right people has helped to alleviate this. “We’ve just got on board with Sedulo accountants and they’ve really helped me,” she says. “In a new business that’s growing fast, you can lose track of your financials because it’s not a priority – you’re trying to run and grow it. So, bringing in proper processes and systems to track everything has made a real difference. It’s the bit I hate, but it’s the most essential part of your business really.”

“Businesses are realising they don’t want to serve their staff rubbish food.“

Pick up the phone

One thing Carley is in no short supply of is drive and ambition. She’s set her sights on Kettlebell Kitchen being as big as Nando’s one day and wants to open the very first healthy fast food drive-through. But where does this seemingly infinite enthusiasm come from, and has she always been this way? “I was a really rebellious teenager, I was in trouble with the police and all sorts,” she reveals. “I’d gone from doing so well at school, to this teenage lull where I just went off the rails.” A pivotal moment was when her dad, a successful businessman in building and construction, sat her down and told her he wasn’t proud of her. “It just destroyed me. I just wanted him to be proud,” she says. Carley’s confidence and tenacity are also something she attributes to her dad’s pep talks when growing up. “I used to be scared to do stuff, like ringing up for a doctor’s appointment or the dentist – or even ringing my friend because their mam might answer,” she laughs. “I remember my dad saying, ‘For god’s sake Carley, if you want to get anywhere in life you’ve got to pick up the bloody phone.’ So, whenever I would feel scared calling someone in the early days, I would just think of that and pick up the phone and get on with it.”

 

By hell or high water

If you’re reading this and have an idea you’re eager to convert from pipedream to profitable business, Carley has the following advice: “Be tenacious, try to be confident, and be passionate about what you want to do.” Also, get the basics right, and the rest will follow. “Sit down with a spreadsheet – there’s a template on Excel, the marketing template – and use it to plan out how your business can make an income. There’s no point in just thinking something’s going to be successful.” And finally, don’t be afraid to dream big and figure out exactly how you’re going to get there later. “I found this unit without knowing how I was going to pay for it,” she says. “I knew that would motivate me. I would get there, somehow, by hell or high water.”

If you’re an independent business owner and would like to know how we can help you take your interior design and branding to the next level, get in touch.