The Athenian was founded in 2015, serving Greek street food from restaurants in Elephant and Castle and Shoreditch in London as well as 4 street locations. They have 35 employees, over 80% of whom are from other EU countries. They import a lot of their produce from Greece.
How will the UK leaving the European Union affect your business?
“I see there is a high turn around of staff in our industry. A lot of Europeans see it as a stepping stone to go somewhere else.
“Timing is really not great. It’s becoming more and more expensive to run a business. Minimum wage going up. Business rates going up in April. Later this year it will be compulsory for employers to automatically enrol their eligible workers into a pension scheme. Rents going up. There are all these extra costs. We have been really hit by the exchange rates recently because we import a lot of our produce.
“We were thinking of expanding to Bristol. Would be good to offset our risk. But we’re assessing whether we can afford to. We’re at a point where we’re not too small, we’re not too big so we need to sacrifice to invest in our infrastructure and build the core of the business.
“We were going to go to Holloway Road but we pulled out after negotiations. Now we’re looking to expand into mainland Europe. Now it is in our medium term strategy to look to expand into mainland Europe. Looking at options to go to Amsterdam, Holland or Sweden. Debating opening something in Madrid.
“We were going to invest more in the UK but things have changed. The psychology has changed a lot. It’s a major hypocrisy for Theresa May to say we are global while also shutting the door to Europe. You can’t cherrypick how global you are. Why should we invest in a country that’s hostile to our talent and money?
“Brexit was a bit of a catalyst for a lot of our peers. London was already too expensive. It’s hard to see a future here. People like us are saying why don’t we just go to Barcelona or Madrid or the Netherlands? People forget that Europe speaks English now.
“We find it hard to compare trends in our consumers’ behaviour since the referendum. We would have more data in the next 12-18 months. With any big shift I’d expect it to take at least 2 years to see any consumer change. I saw that with Greece; hopefully it doesn’t get that bad.
“One of the almost immediate impacts was that one of our suppliers was not able to absorb the price shock with the pound falling. We cannot replace with local produce due to the nature of the food. Things like olive oil and herbs just have to be imported to get our business right.
“I’m cautious about the future. People think Britain will be fine. If people are too complacent, it will backfire. Any economy can be affected. No economy is immune to anything.
“Small changes matter to us because our food is on the lower side when it comes to pricing, you can argue that we could be recession proof. But we found our product is really price elastic. Imports going up raised prices by 10%. We thought it would be fine but people were complaining.
“We have seen a decline in business. We can’t put it down 100% to Brexit, we need more time and data to see.
“Overall people who come from other countries work very hard. We were not born here and we started a business. I generally feel a level of hostility from the government. They are being so tough; it doesn’t feel great.
“We want Britain to remain progressive and open. It’s really important to us that we remain open. It’s important for Britain, for Europe and the rest of the world.”