Josh Jarvis: The ex-con who set up a chicken wing empire

The man behind Wing Shack, the chicken shop with somewhat of a cult following in London, talks to Hannah Twiggs about the importance of staying positive in lockdown, using his own experience to help prison charities and an exciting new pop-up in Selfridges

Friday 06 August 2021 12:51
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<p>Jarvis started WingShack in 2018</p>

Jarvis started WingShack in 2018

We all know time behind bars can change people, for better or worse. In the case of Josh Jarvis, this is definitely the former – for himself, for other young convicts, and for chicken lovers everywhere.

After a six-month stint in prison, Jarvis decided to turn a challenging time inside into a positive by joining forces with two prison-based charities as a mentor on their training programmes. The first one, The Right Course, spearheaded by Fred Sirieix, transforms staff restaurants in prisons into high street-like restaurants; and Only a Pavement Away employs ex-offenders and homeless people into the hospitality sector.

And, after the success of the restaurant’s first opening in Loughton in 2018, he’s slowly been building his chicken wing empire across London: Wing Shack. You might have heard of it – it has somewhat of a cult following. London has become a hotbed of chicken wing institutions, but Jarvis felt it was lacking one that specialised in chicken wings the American way. Londoners must have agreed as there’s now a second spot in Clerkenwell, delivery kitchens in Canary Wharf, Camden and Bethnal Green, and, as of last month, a residency in Selfridges. Shoppers and chicken wing lovers rejoice!

We sat down with the entrepreneur to chat about the new partnership, how he’s handled the past turbulent 18 months and why continuing his charity work is so important.

Congratulations on Wing Shack Co being such a success. What inspired you to set it up?

I’ve always wanted a chicken wing shop. I felt that there wasn’t a restaurant in the UK that specialised in wings, the American way. I wanted to bring that vibe to UK culture, so joined forces with friends to make it happen.

What is your favourite thing on the menu?

Wing Shack specialises in wings the American way

Jarv’s Tangy Buffalo wings, of course. I created my own buffalo sauce recipe for the Wing Shack Co menu in honour of my all-time favourite wing sauce.

How have you coped with running a business during the last turbulent 18 months?

Remaining positive and upbeat has really helped to keep myself and the team in good spirits. I’ve personally used the past 18 months as a chance to spot opportunities and to constantly innovate and adapt the business. I’ve learned to be flexible and creative in my thinking. And feel the challenge of the pandemic has really fast-tracked my development in the industry. It’s also reinforced how important it is to have a strong and supportive team around me.

How did the Selfridges partnership come about?

As we grow the Wing Shack Co brand this year we’re moving it in a more lifestyle direction and looking for a venue within that environment. After operating at the Selfridges outdoor market we were approached to open in their fourth floor restaurant. I’m a strong believer in taking opportunities and trying new things and the Selfridges restaurant was a great move for us!

Tell me more about your mentoring programmes with Only a Pavement Away and The Right Course.

I’m an ambassador and advisory board member for Only a Pavement Away. I use my real life experiences of prison to inform and support the charity. The organisation connects hospitality business with charities supporting people facing homelessness, prison leavers and veterans, with the aim of finding them work. Prior to the pandemic I was due to begin work in prisons with The Right Course, mentoring prisoners, providing advice on opportunities that are available to them.

How did Eggs ’N’ Stuff start and has it been well received?

We launched Eggs ’N’ Stuff just before lockdown in January 2020, I wanted to develop a brand that offered high quality breakfast product for delivery. It’s proven really popular and we now operate out of six delivery kitchens, we have big plans for the brand later this year.

The first restaurant opened in Loughton in 2018

If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you do?

An Arsenal footballer or a DJ! On a serious note, I love what I do. I enjoy being an entrepreneur, being creative and developing start-up businesses at an independent level, every day is different and I’m always looking for the next project. Developing people and growing the teams around me is also really rewarding and being able to give back via the charities means a lot to me.

Tell me about the sauces you have available to buy on the website.

We bottle and sell sauces online, it’s our way our way of making our wings easy to recreate at home. We’re currently rebranding and will be relaunching them shortly with brand new packaging.

Who you would love to cook for?

Kanye West as I admire his creative genius and would love an insight into his world or Gary Vaynerchuk, the entrepreneur. I listen to his podcasts and it would be great to learn from him over some buffalo wings.

Tell me about future plans for Wing Shack.

The next 12 months are an exciting time for Wing Shack Co. We have openings in Brixton and Bromley planned for summer 2021, with more to follow later in the year. We’re also currently going through a rebrand, with plans to collaborate with some exciting lifestyle brands. Watch this space for Wing Shack Co Vegan too!

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