Utter Waffle: four wheels to four walls

The early days of launching a small business can be chaotic. James Timmins and Julia Jefferis explain how they grew their gourmet waffle company into a professional operation.
Launched in 2019, Utter Waffle is operated by co-founders James Timmins and Julia Jefferis. The award-winning brunch and street-food restaurant serves savory and sweet waffles for events and markets across the UK and opened a permanent restaurant in 2021.
Director | Kris Rimmer
Producer | Thomas Ashton
Production | VINCE

Best-laid plans

Utter Waffle

From pitching up its first food truck outside London office blocks to building a 16-person restaurant, catering and events business, Utter Waffle has come a long way since its inception in 2019. But, for co-founders James Timmins and Julia Jefferis, success wasn't always a given. It came about through trial, error and a whole lot of guesswork.

‘If any entrepreneur tells you they know what they're doing, they're lying,’ says James. ‘I think one of the biggest misconceptions – particularly [about] small businesses – is that we have any idea what we're doing. That's probably the only thing that hasn't changed – we all still fake it till you make it. And I think it's going pretty well so far.’

Friends James and Julia spent six months traveling South America and, after seeing the popularity of savory crepes in Colombia, they were inspired to bring back something similar. ‘It was a very social, fresh, cheap and interesting food. But crepes were a bit done, so we discovered its crispier, far more attractive cousin: the waffle,’ James says.

But it wasn't an easy ride, James explains. ‘We tried selling to people in office blocks. Trying to persuade a man in a suit to buy a savory waffle for his lunch was a struggle.’

Julia recalls their first day of trading. ‘We turned out of my road and two of our massive batter dishes fell out [of] the fridge and all over our brand-new van. We sat in silence for about 20 minutes,’ she says. ‘I was crying. It was horrendous,’ says James.

Fast forward to today, Utter Waffle is a four-time British Street Food Awards winner, opening a permanent site in south London's Herne Hill in May 2021. Meanwhile, its two food trucks have held spots at world-famous venues like London's National Theatre and Kew Gardens, as well as large-scale festivals, celebrity bookings and weddings.

‘That's probably the only thing that hasn't changed – we all still fake it till you make it. And I think it's going pretty well so far.’
James Timmins

Growing the smart way

When James and Julia started out, they often relied on manual spreadsheets to keep track of the business. ‘It was a very elementary version of what we do now,’ James says. But, as the business has expanded and diversified its operations, the pair have had to work smarter and more efficiently. ‘We'd go through periods – like six months after an event – being like, “They've not paid us.” Which sounds crazy but, when you've got lots of money incoming and outgoing, you miss things,’ James says.

In search of a way to get more organized, Utter Waffle signed up to QuickBooks in early 2021, which has helped the pair keep track of their growing business. ‘Because now we've got lots of different revenue streams and profit centers, it's very easy to miss things. Also, having the restaurant came with suddenly employing 12 people. It expanded our business in every single area. Without QuickBooks, I don't know how [we'd do it],’ James says. ‘I'd look a lot older, definitely.’

One of the most helpful QuickBooks tools for Utter Waffle has been the receipt capture feature, according to Julia. ‘Any receipts that you have when you're on the go, you snap it – it uploads it straight to your software and it matches all your transactions, which is super helpful,’ she says.

Freeing up time

Features like these not only give the co-founders a clearer picture of operations day to day, but they've also given them back ‘loads of time’, Julia says. ‘We used to make our invoices ourselves, but now it's all digitalized and [QuickBooks] sends it to the client for you, sending reminders to us and the client,’ she says.

As a result, the pair have been able to concentrate on other areas of the business, James explains. ‘The software enables us to use that time that was going to be spent invoicing and looking at receipts to do a bit more – the marketing, the social media, looking after the staff, sitting down and making sure that they're OK.’

As the business has grown, so have the owners, and James says one milestone has been figuring out how to delegate as a manager. ‘I know we all think that we're the best at doing every job [...] So, for me, training and empowering people, freeing up time and spreading that workload has been by far the biggest learning.’

Utter Waffle
Utter Waffle
‘Freeing up time and spreading that workload has been by far the biggest learning.’
James Timmins

Calling time on control

But it's not always that easy. ‘What is our baby and everything we know, we have to give control to somebody else. For me, that's the hardest part – to say I won't be there and everything will be as we built it and we work for,’ Julia says. ‘But it's so exciting, at the same time, having things run and not needing to be there every day.’

Delegating and empowering their team will be essential if Utter Waffle is to keep growing in the way that James and Julia want, expanding into a micro chain around London. ‘I personally would never want to see it on every high street in the UK,’ James says. ‘But I do like the idea of having eight to 12 of them throughout London or the outskirts, so that we can still hold on to that independent feel, that unique selling point. That, to me, is a massive, massive dream.’

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