I was greeted by a cheeky smile and a playful pat on the back as the two boys bounded up to my corner in the harshly lit café. They both grabbed stools from neighbouring tables, confidently swinging them around to join mine in a nifty one-handed wrist flick, alerting the surrounding coffee-sippers of their presence but oblivious to the admiring glances from the nearby females, instantly distracted from the latest edition of Cosmo. The Huddersfield University students had joined me to talk about their ultimate passion in life… pasta.
As a nation, we seem to have a keen interest in both innovative entrepreneurial ideas and the very natural, basic instinct of eating which is currently reflected by the huge popularity of TV programmes such as Dragons Den and Masterchef. I decided to catch up with Jeffery Postlethwaite, 21, and Adam Thompson, 23, who have combined the two to create Twists Pasta Bar.
Jeff, originally from Cumbria, is studying Enterprise Development while Cambridge born; Adam is studying Business Management, both are in their third year. The duo met on a night out during freshers’ week, when Jeff’s identical twin brother, Matt, ran over to Adam and playfully head-butted him. It was left to Jeff to pour water on the fire and the two ended up chatting and becoming friends.
Unlike some students who don’t think twice about munching on shavings of kebab meat or gobbling greasy burgers, Jeff and Adam prefer the healthier option, and it was the realisation that there was a lack of these options that sparked their business idea. Jeff said: “There are more fried chicken places in Huddersfield than there are students, there’s not much that appeals to the more health conscious.” The pair obviously fall into this category; from where I’m sitting they are clearly no strangers to the gym.
In their first year of university, the pair set up ‘Fasta Pasta’, a fast food business offering healthy option hot and cold takeaway food. “We liked the way that Subway allows the client to customise their sandwiches, so we did the same with pasta. The customer chooses the type of pasta they want, and then picks a sauce and topping.” Finding this pasta-shaped gap in the market has resulted in them winning the Local Business Accelerator competition and receiving free advertising for three months in the Huddersfield Examiner (worth £10,000), judged by the university’s own vice-chancellor, Bob Cryan and Jeremy Garside, managing partner at law firm Chadwick Lawrence. The prize promotion certainly served its purpose and the boys sold over 1000 pots of pasta within the first week of opening.
After renaming from ‘Fasta Pasta’ to ‘Twists’, Adam applied for them to take part in BBC3’s ‘Be Your Own Boss’, a television show allowing budding entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to co-founder of Innocent Smoothies, Richard Reed, in an attempt to persuade him to invest his cash.
Jeff and Adam have always admired Richard’s entrepreneurial skills; he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Huddersfield University in 2010. Theo Paphitis is another inspiration of the boys. Adam tells me “We’ve been lucky enough to meet him on several occasions and update him on our progress; he has links to the university as he launched the Enterprise Development degree in 2008.”
Richard Reed seemed to acquire a taste for the Twists boys from the very first mouthful; out of the 1000 businesses accepted they were shortlisted to 500 and given the opportunity to pitch their idea at a London exhibition. 500 then became 40; Richard described them as ‘a little sparkly thing amongst a load of silt’, and gave them seed money (a small early investment) of £3,500 to improve on three points.
Jeff said: “We were told we needed to work on the branding, our shop unit and product quality. We used some of the money to develop our sauces.” Adam then added, “I leave that side of things to Jeff, he’s the creative one.” After researching high quality sauce recipes on the internet and adding extra ingredients, they took six different types of sauce to Michelin star chef, Steve Smith, to seek his approval. “He said one of the sauces just tasted like tinned tomatoes- that was a bit of a kick in the teeth”. Steve then helped the team to improve their recipes in order to meet Richard’s wishes of raising the standard of their product, so they came up with fresh, new sauces such as coconut, lime and coriander.
It wasn’t a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth as a taste test proved that the people of Huddersfield and Richard himself were impressed with the new recipes. “He was really pleased with how receptive we’d been to his advice. He told us it was important to have a strong team as well as a strong idea”, Jeff recalled.
So what has been the highlight of the journey so far? “Without a doubt the moment when Richard told us he was willing to invest £50,000, it was the break we needed to really get the ball rolling. The money will be used to set up shop two and three in Leeds and Sheffield.” The ambitious pasta masters hope to have a franchise operating around the UK within the next five years. “The aim is to provide a great quality product and maintain high levels of customer service all at a cost that allows us to generate large profits but also priced at a rate perceived as good value for money by the customers”, Adam said.
I finish by congratulating the pair on their achievements to date; it seems as though Jeff and Adam are well on their way to becoming as successful as Richard himself.