Celebrating 20 Years


20 years have passed since my fateful question to Robin one day: “Do you like oysters?” Little did he know, this one-liner comprised the interview to help me turn to reality a crazy vision of becoming London’s leading oyster specialist – and a total change of career for both of us. Thankfully, fatefully, Robin replied “Oysters? I bloody love oysters!”. Robin came up with the name “Wright Brothers” – a name already associated with world-famous and fearless pioneers - which further cemented our belief that this was meant to be. And the rest is history, as they say.

We took off, with no experience in oysters, wholesale, or restaurants, yet over 20 years, we built a company, a brand and a team which reached a milestone this month that only 1%-3% of companies ever reach. And that statistic was before you throw a global financial crisis, two recessions and a global pandemic into the mix.

So how did we succeed without any experience? What drives our success? A lot of you have heard this story before in one form or another, but this 20th Birthday edition of our Newsletter seemed like a good opportunity to go back to basics and share what I think are the secrets of our success over 20 years.

Success Factor #1 – A Passion for Great Seafood & Good Times
First and foremost, we were driven by a simple desire to share our passion (Great Seafood) and our philosophy about enjoying great seafood (Good Times).

“Great Seafood” for me, originated with the amazing seafood I grew up with in my mother’s fishing village of Newlyn in Cornwall, and later from my friend Jerome’s incredible oysters from the Marenne Oleron. And our “Good Times” philosophy was that you don’t need to be in a fancy white tablecloth restaurant necessarily to enjoy great seafood. My favourite seafood experiences were cracking and picking crab with my Mum, family and friends, overlooking the harbour in Cornwall; eating Jerome’s oysters on his boat at low-tide amongst his oyster beds; every year, we go on a family holiday on a campsite in Cornwall and we order Wright Brothers cooked lobster which we cover in garlic butter and eat with chips from the local chippie. These are Good Times - precious family moments squashed around makeshift tables, coming together around the same Great Seafood and lobster that they serve in Scotts and Gordon Ramsay. I am not sure there is a better combination in life.

Not many people were lucky enough to grow up in a fishing village, or know a French oyster farmer, so our mission was to spread our seafood gospel far and wide and bring these Great Seafood and Good Times to everyone - whether you are a Michelin star chef, whether you are celebrating a special occasion in one of our restaurants or cooking a crab curry for your friends and family at home.

Success Factor #2 - The Wright Way
Robin and I never set out with a specific code of conduct or set of values and behaviours to lead us to success – it just kind of happened. Occasionally, we have looked back and tried to identify what those key behaviours and habits were and codify them into what we call “the Wright Way”. I have done this exercise a few times, and whilst you can change the headings, inevitably we come back to the same commitments and behaviours every time. You never know, some of these may serve you well in having a successful life and career – like they have for Robin and me.

  • Believe
Be Passionate, Be Ambitious, Believe in yourself
We believe that people love seafood.
We are genuinely passionate about Great Seafood and Good Times and there is no greater feeling when that passion and belief is reciprocated – when a great chef tells you it is the best seafood she has ever tasted; when someone comes into the restaurant and tries an oyster for the first time; when someone flies into the UK and tells the taxi to take them straight from Heathrow to Wright Brothers; when Gordon Ramsay not only buys over £1 million of great seafood from Wright Brothers for his restaurants, but he keeps coming back to Wright Brothers Battersea for good times with friends and family.
Belief is an inherent part of our ambition and our success, and it helps us get through difficult times when things don’t go to plan.

  • Challenge
Be Bold, Be Different, Be fearless, Be the Underdog, Challenge yourself, Challenge Others
In 2002, we were total newcomers in a very established industry, and we were going to shake it up. When we designed WB Borough Market, with no experience of designing restaurants, we wanted you to feel you were at my mother’s garden table cracking crab with your friends. The first open-plan kitchen in London was born. Little did we know how many people would later copy our design.
We faced constant challenges over the 20 years and now is no exception - can we build our online fishmonger and shop into a viable business in a post-pandemic world? Some people would say no, some competitors have already given up trying. We like a challenge (and we believe, after all).

  • Improve
Be Better, Be Best, Listen, Learn, Be Humble, Be Hungry, Be Restless
Everything we have done and built – we have learnt to do. Once you think you have learnt it all or know it all, is probably the time to move on. We have built a business to today, but am I capable of building it for another 20 years? I am not sure, but I am very excited about trying and I regularly ask myself: what do I need to learn?
Don’t stop improving and innovating, or someone else will come along and do it instead of you. I still read books like “How to build a great business” (I never managed to finish a single one!), I still go on business courses. Often, I come out none the wiser but as the business grows, you have to constantly grow with it and explore where and how you can do better as a company, and as a person.
Don’t give Up! Better to be a happy, successful cockroach than a dead unicorn 😊
Find the best processes, the best systems, the best behaviours, then repeat them until they become habits.
It’s hard! These 20 years have been great, but they have not always been easy. We have nearly lost the business twice – and I mean, hanging on a thread. But each time we weathered the storm. And ironically, each time we have come out stronger. The pandemic hit us all hard, but in spite of losing a couple of restaurant sites, we are in fact bigger, more profitable and more efficient than we have ever been. Every challenge is an opportunity if you run at it long enough and hard enough.
Plans never – EVER - go to plan! It took us many attempts over several years to conquer the move from a shellfish wholesaler into a fresh fish wholesaler. We were turned away by Sheekey’s for a long time – we were told they were happy with their current supplier. We had to close our beautiful oyster farm after 10 extraordinary and successful years, due to impossible regulation and a toxic algal bloom. We learn from these failures and numerous others. Each time, we go back to our basic beliefs, our values, we see the opportunity in the challenge ahead, and we carry on, the Wright Way. Global crises, war, recession, gas prices, inflation - these are all temporary. Brand, Passion, Belief, Culture – Wright Brothers – are permanent.

Success Factor #3 - Brotherhood and Sisterhood: A Passion for People
Having started the business literally on our own, the most remarkable journey is not what we have built physically – vans, restaurants, depots, freezers, offices - it is the team of diverse people with diverse skillsets, that we call the Brother and Sisterhood.
There are countless wonderful people who have worked at WB, and they have all been instrumental in getting us to where we are today. Whether it is big stuff like creating new depots and building oyster farms, or the crucial daily front-line tasks of delivering excellence, every delivery, every shift or service, every box, every newsletter, every statement, every cleaning and closing process. I hope you all take time occasionally to look around you and feel “I am part of this; I made this happen”.
The most important lesson of these 20 years, if I had to pick one, is to have the best people. I was incredibly lucky when Robin accepted the challenge 20 years ago, that I was going into a partnership with someone as capable, determined, kind, patient, supportive, reliable, honest – not to mention an absolutely first-class entrepreneur and operator. In short, someone who shared and typified our common values, who lived and breathed them, and stood alongside me, shoulder to shoulder, steadfast, through the good days and the bad. I have many shortcomings, and Robin patiently puts up with all of them and thankfully has an abundance of ability and skills to plug the gaps I leave behind. None of what we have today would have been possible without Robin, and I am eternally grateful.

The next 20 Years

20 years on, it still feels like we are just getting started.
There still seems so much to do, so much opportunity, so much to improve – I am looking forward to the next 20 years as much, if not more than the last 20. Repeat!
But my biggest sense of excitement at this 20-year waypoint is seeing a new generation of leaders, managers and employees coming through the business - people with more experience and better skillsets than we ever had.
Robin and I are no longer on the frontline as we used to be. It is exciting to give others the opportunity to take Wright Brothers to these new heights and destinations, to make us famous not just around London and Brixham but throughout the UK, and maybe even abroad one day. We will forever have that underdog mentality, but we can be a global underdog one day. The challenge is on.
We will soon embark on exercises with the teams – it is time for you to create your own values, your own “Wright Way”, to set your own goals and ambitions for Wright Brother’s future.

And finally….

Anyway, after a few thousand more words than I intended to write for this newsletter, I leave you with the words of someone else, who sums it all up so much better than I ever could. I wondered if it was appropriate to share this letter with everyone, because it felt so deeply personal in some ways, then I realised that he had in fact addressed it to all of you anyway. It is to you, to all of us.

It is from Khaled el Ghawi, our Egyptian factory cleaner at Billingsgate Market, who had to leave Wright Brothers unexpectedly only days after the photo of us together was taken – just a few weeks ago.

If there was a fire and I could take one memento of our achievement over 20 years from the burning building, I think it would be this letter – raw, unedited, from the heart. I have read it so many times.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Khaled El Ghawi
Dear Wright Brothers,
Unfortunately, I am forced to leave my job on 01.10.22 due to family problems. I am deeply sorry because since when I arrived in this country, The Wright Brothers was my first company I was start work with. I did not speak English and you welcomed me as if it were a of your family and I have never felt different from others. You had given me a moral boost that I am personally surprised but unfortunately, I am forced to go away for a period to solve my family problems. This thing hurts me very much because I find myself in difficulty situation to choose between leaving the job, from people who treated me as a family, who always helped me solving my problems, but unfortunately there is no other alternative because the family is always first even at the cost of leaving. Thanks to your level of brotherhood I thank you all and the office staff and all my colleagues who always tried to cheer me up when I felt in trouble. I want also to thank you the employer Mr. Ben also his wife who is a wonderful woman. Wright brothers you are truly all my family that. I hope in the future I will be to be able to move here again. I have here unforgettable memories one. I hope that I can still be part of the company tree. I wish you a good future to all of you especially the company that fed me and all my family.
Thanks to everyone.
El Ghawi Khaled