40 years dedicated to baking potatoes
As anyone who has ever run a business will tell you... it is not easy! So to run a business for 40 years, is something we are incredibly proud of. Whilst Ted’s is primarily a catering establishment, to us, it its far more than that, hopefully you'll join us through this trip down memory lane as we give you the full history of where Ted's came from and how we have managed to keep reinventing ourselves throughout the good times and bad. It has been a rollercoaster of a journey, but one which we, as a family, have loved every minute of.
through the years
Ted's very first counter . Here is an image from 1980 with Mary and Ted in victorian dress. Our earliest picture from this 40 year journey.
As many of our regular customers will already know, Ted’s is a family run business, that was established 40 years ago in 1980 by Ted and Mary Hawthorne. Whilst most people will know Ted as a familiar face around Sutton over the last 4 decades, not as many will know Mary quite as well. However, to all of us at Ted's, she is the guiding light that has helped us through the many ups and downs we have faced. Together, as an inseparable partnership, they lay the foundations and built up the business which then enabled two of their son's, Justin and Nick, to enter the family business and continue to carry the torch. Justin & Nick first started helping out as teenagers and now, as a team of 4, Ted, Mary, Justin & Nick continue to run Ted’s as a family unit. Despite Ted being in his late 70's, he’s still as active as ever in the day to day running of the shop. Whilst Justin and Nick now take up the main responsibility of running the shop on a day-to-day basis, Ted and Mary do a lot behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.
Where did it all start?
So how did Ted’s begin?
Ted and Mary were both born in Erdington, Birmingham. Ted was a butcher by trade and Mary a dispensing chemist. As a couple, they moved to Staffordshire and had 4 sons. They always wanted to own there own business and this led them to their first business, a chip shop in Lichfield called The Golden Griddle. Ted and Mary ran the chip shop for many years until, one day they decided the long and unsociable hours didn’t suit having 4 young children at home. They wanted a change. With no idea what they were going to do next, they sold the shop and started looking for the next challenge. As fate would have it, an old family friend knew they were looking for something to do next and invited them to come and see a project he was working on. This project turned out to be Pickwicks and a Baked Potato Oven. Ted and Mary were impressed with the quality of the ovens and, there and then, they decided to buy one. Once purchased, they then had to decide what to do with it. This was in 1980 and the Gracechurch shopping centre had only been open for a few years. Both Ted and Mary had visited the centre and instantly warmed to the feel of the centre and area. Mary, decided to call the then shopping centre manager, Mr Donald Edmond. However, the initial call wasn't successful as Donald said no to the idea. Mary, not taking no for an answer, described her vision for what is now known as Ted's and they persuaded him that their proposition was perfect for the centre and would enhance the shopping experience. The magnificent oven could be a real talking point. Finally, Mr Edmond agreed to meet Ted and Mary in person. After discussion, they had done it. Mr Edmond agreed to give them a chance and he signed off on a trial period over December 1980. The rest, as they say, is history. Ted's has remained in Sutton, ever since.
After the initial rejection, a life long friendship developed between Ted, Mary and Mr Edmond and his wife. This friendship continued right up until 2019 when, sadly, Mr Edmond passed away and Ted's were asked to cater for the wake. Given how the initial conversation went, all of those years ago, you can't help but think how very different life would have been, had Mary not pursued her idea and if Mr Edmond had not been prepared to listen. Mr Edmond is very sorely missed by everyone at Ted's.
So now, Ted and Mary had an oven and a pitch, but zero experience selling jacket potatoes! The early years were certainly a case of trial and error. Fortunately, Ted and Mary already had catering experience from running the chip shop and were very fast learners. The day before the first day's trading, Ted set to making a counter to serve from, using old wooden bread trays. Mary made a curtain to wrap around the table and they also decided to dress in a Victorian theme (right). Ted in a bowler hat and Mary in a cloth hat. With just cheese as a filling, they set off off into the unknown, in a little mini van, towing the Pickwick oven. They fell lucky to a point that they started trading in December 1980.
The Early years
As it was the run up to Christmas, trade was steady. What they didn’t know then though was that tough times were just round the corner. January and February brought much quieter times and when summer approached things were getting very tough, it was around this time a chance meeting and chat with a customer led to what was to become the outside catering and event catering business that we still run today. Ted's were asked to provide spuds for a Victorian night at Sutton town hall, they actually lost money on this event but with a little tweak to the idea, the outside catering business was born. This, over the last 40 years, has been a lifeline to the business to allow for quieter times in the shopping centre.
With a more settled income now coming in and the outside catering helping, we slowly began to establish ourselves in Sutton, in autumn of 1981 Ted realised that the counter he had made wasn’t big enough and with a few more fillings now added, he needed more room.
So, once again, Ted set to in the garage building counter Mk2. This was again a wooden design with folding sides to allow for safe transport in the mini van. After this was used in Sutton a few times, Ted was approached by a couple of friendly people who offered to enhance his counter. Firstly Ted received an offer to sign write the counter, to help advertise the outside catering business. Secondly, Ted received an offer to make a purpose built stainless steel top for the counter. Remarkably, both offers were free of charge... As a result of their generosity, I’m sure they didn’t go hungry for a while! I think this shows the community spirit that still exists in Sutton, to this day.
For the next 4 years, this worked very well indeed and trade was good. It was during this time, that the next stage of the evolution of Ted's, began. With trade getting better, Ted became friends with a local man called Kevin. Kevin is wheelchair bound and spent many a day talking to Ted in the shop. To this day, Kevin is still seen frequenting the shop talking to Justin and Nick. During the early days, Kevin helped by taking payments for Ted when the shop got busy at lunchtimes. Ted realised that he needed help and at this point, Ted's employed their first member of staff; a family friend, called Shirley. Shirley went on to work for 25 years with us in Sutton and still, to this day, keeps in touch with the family. Whilst Shirley was the first employee, she certainly wasn't the last. Shirley was followed by another lady called Marlene. As we reminisce, over the years we have employed so many staff and we can honestly say, hand on heart, we have had some of the best employees any business wish for, and we still remain in contact with most of them, to this day.
Times are changing
Having a family, who were growing up at this time, meant that everyone was required to chip in and help the family business. This included the boys! Whilst Mary would individually grate all of the cheese, the children would help package each portion in a polystyrene container, before boxing them up to be taken into work each day. The children would also help package up coleslaw, chilli and relish as well.
Other tasks for the boys included taking in the delivery at home from Payne’s potatoes (Shenstone), and then set to cutting sheets of foil using the edge of the worktop and individually wrapping each spud. You can imagine just how little the 4 boys, aged 6,8,10 and 12, wanted to be stuck inside doing these jobs. However, they did it out of their love for the family and the fact that they knew nothing else other than working hard having witnessed their mum and dad working so hard during their formative years. Its only now, when you look back, that you realise just how much sacrifice it takes to set up and run a business. All of the hours behind the scenes that nobody sees, to make things run smoothly.
The next big change came in 1985 when the second wooden counter became redundant. As trade had outgrown it, Ted wanted to expand the next counter to incorporate hot fillings. Ted saw this as the natural progress of the shop. For the first time, Ted did not make the next incarnation of serving counter. In fact, Ted actually turned to the man who made the ovens and asked him if he could make us something more modern and stud. This counter was the first one that wouldn’t be transported back and forth between the centre and the home each night. The shopping centre allowed Ted to store it there. This turned out to be a great investment and with the new hot fillings and cold refrigeration, trade just kept on improving.
This counter remained a key ingredient to our success for the best part of the next 10 years.
The roof & Les!
The next phase of the story takes us through a tough period. After spending 15 years in the same place; outside WHSmiths, we had firmly established ourselves. Everybody knew where to find Ted's! However, in 1995, a change in management took place within Gracechurch and the centre had a huge refurbishment. We were told we couldn’t remain in our pitch. This was a massive blow to Ted's. Whilst our existing location was undercover, the then manager told us that he could not guarantee either Ted's a undercover pitch or even a permanent place to set up home. This really knocked the stuffing out of us. However, with no other option, Ted's did what we always did best; we adapted.
Ted's was given a temporary metal structure with tarpaulin roof built. This needed to be erected each morning, depending on where we were told we could set up. Whilst clearly not ideal, Ted's just got on with things. This inevitably hit trade hard. Our customers didn’t know where we would be each day, but as they have always done, they stuck by us and kept us going through this period.
We were then told a permanent pitch had been found and while we had hoped we could return to our spiritual home outside WHSmiths, this wasn’t to be. We were relocated to an outside part of the centre close, to where Woolworths was. Whilst relieved to have a new location, which was permanent, this then threw up another bigger problem. Our counter and temporary roof wouldn’t be suitable for long term use! So back to the drawing board we went and we hit on a contact, a man called Les who lived in Rotherham. To this day, we can’t remember his last name as he was always known as Les to us. Les was nothing short of a engineering genius and over the space of a few months, together with us, he designed a custom built, bespoke, catering unit (below)... with a roof!
This counter and location became our home for the next 14 years and was the longest serving counter we had. It had two serving sides and two sets of hot filling Bain Marie’s. With a few tweaks and additions made over the years once, the counter served us very well indeed.
As anyone who works outside for a living will testify, the seasons can be very unforgiving. We spent many a morning clearing snow, setting up in the wind and rain and waiting for the water in the Bain Marie's to unfreeze! All of this before we had served even one person! But these turned out to be some of the happiest years we have had in Sutton. By this point, Justin and Nick were now full time and beginning to see how great it was to be part of the shopping centre community. Friendships were forged, not only with regular customers but also staff from the other shops and the shopping centre. Many of whom we still class as good friends, to this day.
The Cabin years
Whilst the unit above was our home for 14 years, nothing lasts forever. In 2009, we moved again. Ted's were approached by the new management team and asked if we thought the unit was looking a little tired. Whilst the previous restructuring within the centre was a body blow, this time, it was different. Ted's were valued by the shopping centre management and were helped throughout to develop what went onto become the cabin. Even now, special thanks are given to the centre manager, Mr Bowler and his assistant manager, Pete Jones, who helped us throughout. We created what we felt was a truly eye catching catering unit and something that became a real talking point in the town. Finally, we felt we had our forever home in Sutton. Something we had worked 29 years for. No more moving or upheaval, our time of being moved from place to place, was over. The Cabin was somewhere where Ted's could really kick on with.
We had now added ice cream to our ever expanding servings and menu and we still had regular outside events and parties that we did. We really felt settled, finally.
And so to the next chapter and yet another difficult period in our life in Sutton, having the cabin gave us confidence that our roving days were behind us and we would never have to move again. However, in early 2013, we were approached by yet another centre manager who had taken over. We've been here before...
The present day
Ted's were told that the cabin had to go and we were to be moved. Everyone associated were absolutely devastated. It took a while to sink in that once again, everything we had built up and developed, was to be thrown up in the air. Once again, we had a decision to make and it would be the biggest one yet.
During early meetings with the centre, Ted's were given some possible locations. After a family meeting was called, it was decided that none of them were suitable for Ted's needs. After so many years and challenges, this possibly posed the biggest threat to Ted's being able to carry on. However, after many discussions and sleepless nights, the idea of taking on a shop rose to the surface. This was an idea which had been discussed in the past, but never got near to pursuing. The costs and logistics were all too complicated. However, this time was different... It came down to a simple choice, risk everything by going into a shop or close for good. After thinking through all the consequences, there was only one way to go, all involved with Ted's took a deep breath and took on the shop.
Over the following 12 months, it soon dawned on us what a huge task this really was. There were times that it felt we were banging our heads against a brick wall. It probably helped not knowing the challenges ahead before making the decision. Eventually, with the help of our contractors, Guild, the shop became a reality and in the summer of 2014 we opened to the public.
Something which was always a dream, had come true... although maybe not through the circumstance we imagined! All of us at Ted's are proud of the job we did in creating our shop. It looks fantastic and it gives us the space to cater for more needs and provide the fantastic service we pride ourselves on. Unfortunately though, the opening of the shop coincided with the slowdown in the retail industry (particularly in town retail space). Coupled with the rise of online shopping and out of town shopping destinations that can offer free parking, we once again find ourselves faced an uncertain future.
Coronavirus and the future...
Bringing the story up to the present day. At the turn of the year (2020), we felt we had started to get things settled down and we were enjoying the shop. Despite Sutton seemingly having a shop close each week, our trade was steady. Then a global pandemic has struck!
The COVID-19 global pandemic hit the world like a tsunami. Since we opened in December 1980 we have never been closed for as long as we have in 2020. These are challenging and uncertain times for everyone. Especially for those in retail and catering... both key markets which dramatically affect our business. Just like millions in this country and billions around the world, we have no idea what the future will hold. But one thing is certain, when its safe to do so, we will reopen and we will face whatever challenges which lie ahead with the same dedication, courage and determination which has helped keep us going as long as we have. It is not by luck that Ted's is 40 years old. We will do everything in our power to keep Ted's alive. Hopefully this story will have many more chapters yet to write, but right now, we need our customers more than we have ever needed them before.
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Finally our story wouldn’t even be possible without two very important groups of people. Firstly, all of the staff who have worked for us over the years. From the ones who spent decades working for us to the temps who have only worked for a short amount of time, I’d like to think we have created a nice happy working environment for all our staff and they have all left with happy memories of working for us. Special mention to Alex, Tommy, Caitlin, Rachel and Charlotte who are with us through this current crisis.
And last but not least, all our customers that we have served over the years, we can’t thank you all enough for all your loyalty and kind words and friendships. Many of you have become friends and we genuinely look forward to seeing each and every single one of you, again.
Best Wishes, Ted, Mary, Justin, Nick and the Team