19 Jan 2009

Heston Blumenthal and Little Chef

Wow, Just saw the first episode of Big Chef takes on Little Chef and I must say it is the most embarassing portrait I have seen drawn of any CEO.

Ian Pegler, the CEO of Little Chef (which is a chain of roadside restaurants in the UK) besides having inanely blank face expressions almost seems like a kid used to throwing tantrums being thrown inside an adult playground where people actually negotiate.

According to the Telegraph, Little Chef collapsed into administration with a £3m annual loss in 2007 and the company is now managed by two investment funds: R Capital and Flight & Partners. Ian, it seems, was the CEO of Dixon's and Marks & Spencer earlier.

Anyway, so Ian invited Heston Blumenthal, the dude who runs the 'Second Best restaurant in the world' to re-engineer their menu with £350K. Naturally, it seems he spoke to the investors and they okayed it. Now this is fine, but he actually chose to make it a TV show, because in his opinion it makes for good PR.
The idea to invite in Blumenthal and Channel 4's cameras had been discussed with Little Chef's private equity owner RCapital before Pegler's appointment, but he quickly backed the plan. "I'm a great believer in PR-ing the business. It is cheaper than advertising."
No Ian, it doesn't make for good PR when you call in a celebrity chef and know you're being watched by millions of viewers on TV and then slam the phone down because the consultant you hired is asking you for gross profit figures because he needs to know how much you have to play around with!

In fact, the whole show, well at least the first episode, looked like a disaster for Little Chef. Its as if a cheap chinese watch manufacturer had invited Rolex to design its next range of watches hoping it would turn its fortunes around. Its ridiculous. Like we studied in the MBA, the processes followed for low quantity-high variety products, like the food at the Fat Duck (£250 per head) and for high quantity but low variety products (Little Chef!) are pretty different. The first mistake Ian, as CEO of Little Chef, made was to invite one of the world's best chefs to design a menu that costs under £10 and is made by untrained cooks in a kitchen that has no pots (yes! no pots or pans!).

Add to that the cultural aspects that need to be so carefully managed - with Little Chef employees having worked there for 25-30 years and getting an external consultant who is not being given any assitance and who the employees (so far) see as being arrogant and unrealistic. Well, he probably is! Because Little Chef (again, so far), has not done much to educate him on company ways or their goals - or even their current financial status for that matter!

Ian Pegler seems to have a simplistic view that getting a celebrity chef, having the menu redesigned, would give impetus to a company that would otherwise fail. Well, I doubt that his simplistic view of corporate strategy will get the company anywhere. In fact, I'm surprised that the invested companies actually agreed to that. Private Equity, I thought, liked to keep things quiet and in this case, it has the CEO of the company slamming the phone down on national TV!

Anyway, can't wait to see the second episode. Its going to be a challenging individual journey for Heston, but for Little Chef its going to be nothing short of a corporate disaster (regardless of how the TV show turns out, it will obviously end in euphoria because thats what god TV is all about).
Okay, just checked, tomorrow night at 9 PM on Channel 4. And you can probably catch today's show on 4OnDemand.

Oh and by the way, if you're heading off to Little Chef's website to see what they're about, don't bother, its obviously dealing with far more 'eaters' than it usually does!

Update: I love Flight and Partners privacy statement over here on their website. They're obviously firm believers!


  1. Sooooo with you on Pegler!!!His behaviour was horrendous!

  2. LoL...I know! Completely embarrassing too!