Duke of Cambridge: Geetie Singh
The restaurateur and founder of the Duke of Cambridge on ethical business
Some entrepreneurs make a conscious decision to run their businesses ethically, even if it means foregoing a slice of their profits. But Geetie Singh has proved you can run a thriving business without sacrificing your core values. She opened her organic and environmentally sustainable gastropub the Duke of Cambridge in 1998, and a decade on, she’s still in the minority.
“There are plenty of people running deeply ethical businesses and thinking their values through,” says Geetie. “But not many people are doing it in the restaurant industry.” The core values of the Duke of Cambridge aren’t just about paying lip service to the concept of ethical trading in exchange a few extra column inches either. Indeed, when she first opened the pub, Geetie recalls how ‘nobody printed a word’ about the sustainable aspect of the business, choosing instead to focus on its organic credentials.
Having grown up in a ‘very politically minded’ commune where food origin and its impact on the environment was a big priority, Geetie was shocked at the lack of sustainability when she started working as a waitress at the age of 18. “I couldn’t understand how these chefs didn’t have a clue what impact their food was having – lamb flown in from New Zealand, asparagus in December, battery hens. I knew there were people out there like me who wanted to eat in a restaurant knowing they were getting good quality, safe food that had a positive effect on society.”
A decade after starting out in the industry, Geetie felt she had enough experience to open her own restaurant. Taking on partner Esther Boulton to help with the planning stage, Geetie began her £250,000 fundraising mission. “We started with banks we thought were least likely to say yes and practised on them. When we felt a bit more rehearsed, we moved on to the banks we thought we had a chance with.”
One bank agreed to lend them the money, and combined with family loans and investment from a friend, they thought they’d secured the cash they needed. However, disaster struck three weeks before the launch when the bank called to say the paperwork hadn’t actually been approved and they’d no longer be getting the cash. Some hardcore networking ensued and Geetie managed to raise the extra £100,000 the bank had originally promised from private investors.
After three premises agreements falling through, and coming close to the wire with funding, the Duke of Cambridge opened to a front page article in the Evening Standard. Geetie had budgeted for five people on day one. She ended up serving 30. The pub broke even in its fourth month and by the end of the year, was making a ‘healthy profit’. In fact, profits have increased year-on-year since the launch. But Geetie says it’s no longer about growth, it’s about maintaining what she’s built and ensuring her position in the market.
And what impact does Geetie believe her ethical values have had on the business? “Undoubtedly I take less profit because of the way I run my business, from my choice of electricity supplier to how much I pay my staff. But who knows how much my turnover has increased as a result of the loyalty of my staff and all the people who spend money with me because of the positive effect the pub has on society and the environment?”
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