Bunhill: Burger's a dog in the manger

SOME entrepreneurs never stop selling. They can't switch off. They have to harangue you with the merits of their products. Roy Bishko of Tie Rack is the ultimate example of the breed, forever peddling the virtues of his ties. The evangelical fervour can be a bit wearing, but it is undeniably persuasive.

Julian Metcalfe, who I met last week at one of his growing string of sandwich bars, Pret A Manger, is another Bishkovite. He insists on my admiring everything - the bagettes, imported from Lille; the chicken, from corn-fed birds; the eggs, free-range only; the Danish pastries, Egon Ronay approved, and so on.

He is fanatical about quality and dismissive of the 'bullshit food' served by McDonald's and Burger King. The tragedy, he says, is that 'the ingredients cost of a delicious meal and a disgusting one are about the same.' Yet the British, if they want food fast, have little choice but the burger chains.

Metcalfe, 33, and his business partner Sinclair Beecham, 34, set up their first Pret A Manger in 1986 in Victoria, London, at a cost of pounds 17,000. They now have 18 in central London and are opening new cafes at the rate of one or two a month. Several copycats, seeing their popularity, have tried to emulate the distinctive metallic decor.

Office workers flock in at lunchtime, attracted by the quick service and the good grub. The prices aren't cheap, compared with those at traditional sandwich bars, but a meal works out no more expensive than a trip to McDonald's. Turnover reached pounds 8m and pre- tax profits pounds 500,000 last year, and the group is on target to double that in the current year.

Metcalfe, an Old Harrovian and former chartered surveyor, cut his entrepreneurial teeth with two off-licences and a supermarket in his 20s. He believes there is massive scope to expand Pret. He thinks there is room in the UK for 200 Prets and next month opens his first cafe outside London - his largest so far and licensed to boot - in the Queensmere shopping centre in Slough. Others will open at the Tower of London, the Lloyd's insurance market and Selfridges. But Metcalfe has turned down an invitation to open an outlet at the Folkestone terminal of the Channel tunnel.

Pret is now starting to franchise the format, so expansion could easily accelerate. The workforce is incredibly young. The operations manager, who oversees the day-to-day operations, is 21.

The sandwich business has wonderful attractions. You get cash from your customers a full month before you have to pay your suppliers. And if you get it right, the cash floods in. The Oxford Street store takes up to pounds 30,000 a week.

Metcalfe has no great philosophy about what makes entrepreneurial success, beyond hard work, attention to detail and sheer doggedness. 'It's like a racehorse. At the end of the day it's the last fraction of 1 per cent that sorts out the winners and losers.'

BUNHILL'S Law of Excessive Salaries goes like this: anyone who earns more than me is on one. It's a pretty universal law. Even Lord Weinstock, the managing director of GEC, subscribes to it, judging by his heroic performance on Radio 4's Today programme last week to comment on boardroom greed. People earning several hundred thousand pounds a year were merely 'adequately paid', opined Arnie, who by a strange coincidence is paid pounds 600,000 a year. However, he then tut-tutted: 'When salaries start approaching seven figures or higher, it's a bit more doubtful whether it's entirely proper.' QED.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine