The Bread Meats Bread Group is going from strength to strength – and has just opened its latest restaurant in Edinburgh. It’s third in Edinburgh. Susan Young caught up with Paul Hislop and Luli Avdyli, to find out more. Above L-R Luan, YLLI, Lirie, Beki, Tiki, Lulja, Luli.
Family-owned business Bread Meets Bread (BMB) was founded in 2012 when Lulzim Avdyli better know as Luli, and his brother Luan and brother-in-law Ylli Dushi opened their first burger restaurant on St Vincent Street in Glasgow. Today the group extends to seven BMB units, and one Mediterranean restaurant, Babs. Luli and I had arranged to catch up in Glasgow just prior to Christmas but in the interim he had to isolate to be with his pregnant wife, who duly gave birth to a baby daughter.
So instead, I caught up with his brother-in-law, Paul Hislop, who is an old friend of the DRAM. Paul, who started out in The Garage, and moved on to Boho, Sugarcube and then St Jude’s, joined the business 18 months ago and is married to Luli’s younger sister Lulja. But Luli and I also managed to catch up over the phone.
Says Paul, “Before I joined the business I could see how well it worked particularly because everyone involved comes from a hospitality background.”
Luli told me, “I had known Paul for ten years before he joined. We had often chatted, now he is very much part of BMB. We are all passionate about the business and we all work hard.”
Luli and Luan worked across the board for G1, while Ylli worked in London in various restaurants. Paul met his wife when she worked in Boho and she in fact started working for her brother before Paul did. Lirie and Beki, Lulja’s sisters. also work in the business.
Says Paul, “It’s definitely a benefit being a family business. We wouldn’t ever ask a member of our team to do something we haven’t done – and we have all worked just about every role from kitchen porter to chef!”
Luli adds, “We take a personal interest in all our staff we know their names and we are colleagues with them all. They are all part of the BMB family.”
When BMB opened in 2012 it had 15 staff, today there are 150, and the restaurant was a breathe of fresh air. It was small, but from the get go, it went down the fresh route – from its beef to its bread and it used local suppliers to ensure the quality of food on offer. Its beef comes from Rodgers the Butchers and its bread still comes daily from Artisan Bakers.
Paul explains, “Everything is fresh but that has been challenging as we have expanded.” Luli says, “We only use our freezers for ice-cream. Paul is right it is challenging. However over the years we have honed our business skills and we don’t have too much wastage. Our chefs come in early and do all the prep and our staff know we use all fresh food. We don’t shout perhaps as much as we should about the freshness instead we let our guests do the talking.”
Certainly BMB’s reputation for a fine burger has led to international acclaim – Bar Seven which reviews the worlds best burgers rated BMB burgers within the Top 30 in the World and the Top 20 in Europe.
The success of the business is down to hard work and a great product but the family also show business acumen, none more so than during the pandemic which saw them move from their original premises to premises still on St Vincent Street.
Says Luli, “It was emotional leaving our original premises and it felt sentimental – that’s when we took the picture. It was our first unit and it was our baby. Everything we have now started from there. We have grown organically and slowly. We wouldn’t have done anything any different. Even during the pandemic when it was difficult we were positive there was light at the end of the tunnel. In fact if it hadn’t been for the pandemic I am sure we would not have been able to get the premises we did because we would have been competing with much bigger chains. After we opening there we were surrounded by other bigger chains, it was like being surrounded by sharks, but it was their presence that helped us grow as more people came to the street and that made us busier. We were the first restaurant here and look at the restaurants that are here now.”
He continued, “I have to pinch myself to believe that here we are right across from All Bar One, in one of the best locations in Glasgow city centre. Prior to the pandemic landlords wanted big names and covenants, and they didn’t want to listen to us, we weren’t big enough or a name.
“But landlords are wiser now. They want businesses that are a bit quirky and offer something different especially in shopping centres. Recently we nearly closed a deal at St James Court in Edinburgh but we chose North Bridge instead.
“When we told people we were opening at Glasgow Fort a lot of people were surprised that we were going into a shopping centre. But it has been a game changer for us. It has been really good.”
BMB have also opened a large unit at Fort Kinnaird Shopping Centre near Portobello in April. Luli admits, “I had never heard of it before it was suggested to us. So we went to see it and right away we were sold. It is massive.”
It seems a brave move taking BMB into a shopping centre from a city centre. But Paul tells me it was a move which really paid off. In fact it was the success of the Glasgow Fort which led them to open at Fort Kinnaird. Says Paul, “They definitely have a different mix of clientele, and the timing is different. For instance, diners all come at the same time for lunch and dinner and there are more families and kids. It’s a slighty different operation. We opened at Fort Kinnaird the day the restrictions were lifted with a brand new team. We definitely put ourselves to the test but it is doing very well for us. The main difference between the shopping centre restaurants and our city centre restaurants is that we don’t do the same alcohol sales there – it is a slightly different experience.”
The group then turned their attention to North Bridge with the new BMB in the former Prezzo restaurant which is immediately across from The Scotsman Hotel. Paul explains, “The opportunity presented itself. It is so close to the Royal Mile, has great views on to The Balmoral, and even with restrictions, the footfall and the tourism opportunity that presented itself meant we couldn’t turn it down.”
The latest BMB was transformed by designers, Arka, and shopfitters, Proconcept. Says Paul, “Arka is a partnership between Artan Sherifi and Karen Hamilton and his brother, Amer, who owns Pro Concept. They like Luli and the family are also Kosovan and are good friends.
He continues, “Arka is very good at presenting mood boards and taking influences from other countries and projects. It wasn’t a huge transformation, in that nothing was changed structurally, instead we stripped the restaurant back to the bone and redecorated, put in new upholstery and did the bar up and we also took out the big pizza oven and reconfigured the kitchen.
“As the business has expanded each unit has evolved slighty. We have some set branding –but also don’t want our restaurants to look like a chain. Each unit has its own individual style. They look different, but all of them have the same consistency when it comes to the food we offer. For instance, they each offer our Wolf Burger – it is exactly the same dish, but in a slightly different setting. We have evolved the original BMB style which was quite rustic and barn-like. It was right at that time. Now we have created a more premium looking restaurant which offers fast casual dining in a nice environment which is more in line with what you would see in a steak restaurant.”
The new BMB features on trend pastel colours, some neon features, and quite a few Instagrammable features. There is also the added attraction of a large feature window that looks out over North Bridge
The large BNB signage, which now appears in every venue, makes a statement, while the bar also features a contemporary bar called Cocktails and Dreams, in fact every BMB has this tagline around the pass area. The bar also features of the moment funky hummingbird wallpaper behind the bar.
The bar is very prominent in this unit. Says Paul, “Alcohol sales have been very encouraging at North Bridge. My background is more wet-led sales, so I have put together a cocktail list, and we have more beer and wine on offer too. Previously, we weren’t able to offer such a wide range, partly because we didn’t have the capacity. Now, in our larger units, we can allow people to sit a bit longer, and once they have finished dining, they can enjoy an Espresso Martini. We have also started buying from Alexander wines. There was nothing wrong with the wines we had, but we found that people’s habits were changing, and we wanted to offer a more premium wine for people to enjoy with their food. We have also entered a partnership with Pernod Ricard, we did that last year. Now the majority of our cocktails use their brands and people are happy to pay a premium for a good drink. It shows how far we have come – the original venue didn’t even offer coffee, now we very much offer everything.
“Over the last 18 months people have still been able to dine out, even if they have not been able to go to theatres or concerts. That’s why we opened up our variety of drinks – we have tried to diversify and make the experience more enjoyable and lengthen the experience and that has worked well.”
The group is also going down the sustainability route. They try not to use paper and send information online. Keep their orders to a minimum and use compostable items when they can. They also have a good vegan offering. Says Paul, “Our vegan sales in general are really good and in Edinburgh they are even better. We were able to put in a big kitchen at Fort Kinnaird which allowed us to put in dedicated machinery, something we couldn’t do in our original venues, and this allows us to offer a wider variety of vegan foods.”
What has also worked well is the fact that now that the group have three venues in Edinburgh they have promoted Greg Munro, who has been with the group seven years, to Area Manager. Says Paul, “Having someone like Greg, who has been with us for a long time, oversee the day-to-day operation of the Edinburgh venues, has been a huge help.”
However, all the management team are very much involved. Paul explains, “We all meet on a Monday – reflection day. We reflect on how the units have performed, and we all have our own roles – but it is very much a team effort. Luli and Luan generally oversee everything and I tend to take care of front of house, while Ylli looks after the kitchen and food part of the operation – he works with the chefs developing new items for the menus.”
Luli adds, “Myself and Luan are involved in the day to day operation but we try not to micro-manage. There is not one day that one of us is not in our units – every single day one of us is there.”
Paul continues, “After our Monday meeting we will go back to the GM’s to discuss numbers and the day-to-day operations, and at the end of the week we will will meet for a coffee and discuss what has changed. We are all very much hands on. We are all pulling in the same direction not just as owners and operators but our staff too have stood by us. We do need to be thankful for the staff that have helped us through the past two years.”
I asked him how they had managed to keep the business on track during the pandemic. He tells me, “During the strictest point of lockdown we changed our operation to focus on takeaway – every unit stayed open completely and didn’t close even for one day. We did click and collect, and did an exclusive deal with Uber Eats. We even employed our own drivers to facilitate delivering to a larger area which included Glasgow’s Southside. We saw good demand there. Since coming out of the worst of restrictions we have stopped the delivery, but we still offer click and collect and Uber Eats. But what it did show was that there is demand for our offering on the Southside. Says Luli, “In Glasgow, at the moment, we are missing the South of the city – we have the North, West and East covered but we need to be in the Southside. I live there now and we need to complete that circle.”
It’s not just the potential in Glasgow that BMB have in their sights. There are plans to go further afield too. Luli explains, “There are still cities in Scotland –like Livingstone and St Andrews that we would like to be. And perhaps we would go gradually down South. We are also interested in Silverburn but the rents there are expensive. We know where we need to be with our numbers and we don’t get carried away. Some people say they like to learn from their mistakes I would prefer to learn from other people’s mistakes. Good ideas also need to make good business sense.”
Talking of good ideas BMB has something new up their sleeve. Luli wouldn’t be drawn to far, but he did tell me that it was a new concept and that the lease had been signed and it would open in May or June.
Paul and Luli both agree that the real strength of BMB lies in its family ties and their passion for the business. Says Paul, “We do like to focus on the positives and concentrate on what we can do and what we can control. We know we can make things work if we pull together. I think we have done well to be able to stay open and grow and that is down to being versatile and the hard work we all put in.”
While Luli concludes, “Our plan is definitely to keep on growing and developing. A lot of people have only just been able to survive but we have been lucky. There were deals to be done and opportunities and we took them.”
Bread Meats Bread is certainly a great positive story and they have proved that family. hard work, passion and a great product are a recipe for success. n