“Why I quit accountancy to launch a restaurant”

Rik Campbell felt stifled in his career as an accountant, so he left and co-founded a restaurant – in a Brixton shipping container

“Big professional services firms say they like to encourage a culture of entrepreneurialism. But, I found the reality to be very different,” says Rik Campbell. “I didn’t feel able to be myself. I got bored. Maybe they just didn’t trust me to do some of the bigger stuff.”

Rik’s comments highlight a paradox in the professional services industry. Bosses tell their new employees to be entrepreneurial, to think like innovators and to be creative. But when a young accountant or lawyer does behave like a free-wheeling entrepreneur, the true test is ‘what happens next’? Are they encouraged or is their path blocked? For some, they are given the power, the freedom and the support to try new things, make mistakes and push boundaries. Unfortunately, others continue to be pushed through the sausage factory of exams and are broken on the altar of corporate process. Why? Because some large organisations are hard-wired to protect what they’ve got, to avoid fast-paced change where possible and to negate risk – and that sometimes means clipping the wings of their most driven, most entrepreneurially minded youngsters.

This dilemma provides a challenge. How do large firms hang on to sparky, entrepreneurial youngsters who just want to get on with it? How do they stop their most talented rookies – keen to take risks, experiment and drive exciting new projects – from flying off into the sunset?

In the case of Rik Campbell, accountancy’s loss was London food world’s gain. Around 18 months after leaving his job, Rik co-launched Kricket – a pioneering British-Indian restaurant. Today, alongside business partner Will Bowlby, he has expanded to three London outlets – in Soho, Brixton and at Television Centre, Wood Lane.

One question remains… Could his employers have done anything differently to retain Rik’s drive and talent and use this to their advantage? Or would he have left to do his own thing – no matter what?

“I came to London in 2010 after studying at Newcastle University,” says Rik, who set up a successful events business as a student in the North East. “I nearly stayed in Newcastle to expand my events business – it was turning over £100,000 – but eventually I decided that the time was right to start a new chapter in London. I applied to a professional services business, and I think a big reason why I was offered the job was my past events business experience.”

Although his employers wanted to harness Rik’s entrepreneurial drive, the young accountant never felt at home. “It was tough,” he says. “I didn’t realise how hard it would be. I took around 15 exams, failed a few, and most of my peers were Oxbridge graduates so I felt a bit stupid in comparison. Also, I’d caught the entrepreneurial bug at university and the corporate finance department, where I was working, felt so far removed from that. I enjoyed my time at the firm, but I just didn’t feel that I was in the right place. As a 21-year-old at a big firm, you’re a small fish in a big pond. You have to fit in, and the culture doesn’t accept too much entrepreneurialism or difference.”

After leaving in December 2013, Rik’s first idea was to open a cocktail bar, so he spent six months researching the hospitality industry and gaining a better understanding of the property market. Then, in summer 2014, Rik’s friend Will returned from India where he’d been working as a chef. The pair hooked up, compared notes and decided to launch a new business. Kricket was born.

In mid-2015 the pair opened their first Kricket in a Brixton shipping container. “We didn’t want to take on the risk of a 15-year lease on a London property,” says Rik, “but we did want a place of our own. Walking around South London one day, we stumbled across Pop Brixton, a community of independent retailers and food start-ups trading from shipping containers. We applied to take a space and were accepted. And that’s how two 26-year-old white blokes came to launch an Indian restaurant in the middle of Brixton!”

Rik and Will’s new venue went from strength to strength, despite the challenge of operating a 20-cover eatery and kitchen in a 280sq-ft space. Customers flocked to taste their new take on Indian food. “We use British ingredients, but all the spices are authentic,” explains Rick, “so it’s a modern, lighter interpretation of Indian food. You won’t find prawns on our menu because prawns aren’t native to the UK. But you will find langoustines. We’re not a curry house, although we do have a couple of curries on the menu. We have our own unique identity within the Indian restaurant market.”

In May 2016 the duo secured investment from a backer who loved what they were doing at Pop Brixton. And soon after Rik and Will spotted what would become their first bricks-and-mortar restaurant on Denman Street, London W1. “When we started out, we had this idea that we would retain 100% of the business,” says Rik. “But if we hadn’t taken on any third-party investment, we’d still be in the shipping container making no money.”

Kricket Soho opened in December 2016. Soon after that, they closed the shipping container and found a permanent Brixton venue – with a late-night bar – which launched in May 2018. And the third Kricket – at Television Centre, Wood Lane – opened in September.

Rik’s accountancy experience stood him in great stead for becoming a businessman in the hospitality industry. “I learned so much,” he says. But the biggest learning of his career so far relates to people; not numbers: “You need a good team – of course you do – but you also need consistency of staff, especially in hospitality. And if you want to thrive, you need people you can trust and who believe in your ethos. If you want their loyalty, you’ve got to treat them well. Taking the team out to dinner might cost a few quid but it’s worth it. So are staff awards and as many other benefits as you can afford.”

Rik’s second big learning point is the importance of customer experience. “From the moment someone walks through the door to the moment they leave, the experience has to be spot on,” he says. “The customer experience includes everything from the smell, the atmosphere and the temperature of the restaurant, all the way to how the open kitchen looks. It’s the warmth of the host, the behaviour of the staff, the design of the building, the choice of font on the menu and the taste of the food. Everything has to be just right because ultimately the happiness of the customer feeds into everything else – not only financially but into the spiritual health of the business, too. Great feedback makes the whole team happy. That positivity is what keeps you going when you’re working the long hours that the hospitality industry demands.”

Having taken Kricket from concept to three buzzing London restaurants in three-and-a-half years, Rik and Will plan to consolidate and take their time over their next move. “As far as Kricket London is concerned, three venues are probably enough for now,” Rik says. “But we’ve got plenty of ideas and I’ve always loved business in all its guises; not just restaurants, so watch this space!”

It’s impossible to say whether any corporate institution could have held onto Rik by doing things differently. But it is clear that if large firms really do want to attract and retain the services of the most entrepreneurial people – as they claim they do – they must constantly find new and ingenious ways to inspire these individuals, by making them feel at home, encouraging them to break through boundaries and giving them the space to fly.


Photography courtesy of Hugh Johnson