Tony Laurenson - Eat To The Beat at 25
May 2009 - Issue 117
The catering business founded by Tony Laurenson in February 1984 continues to go from strength to strength, keeping production crews fed and watered all around the world. TPi meets the main man as he celebrates the company’s silver anniversary...
After scooping the Favourite Catering Company accolade for the seventh consecutive year at the TPi Awards 2009 in February, one might forgive Eat To The Beat for sitting back and smelling the roses. It only takes five minutes in managing director Tony Laurenson’s company, however, to realise that he and his team are as feisty as they ever were.
Twenty-five years ago, when tour catering was still very wet behind the ears, Laurenson founded Eat To The Beat — the name suggested by Hot Chocolate’s Patrick Olive — and hit the road with his first two clients, Joe Jackson and Iron Maiden.
Part of the Global Infusion Group (G.I.G., geddit?), Eat To The Beat has expanded over the years from its humble origins into a global enterprise, occupying a purpose-built facility in Watford, UK since 1989 (which has grown from 5,000ft2 to 40,000ft2), a US base in Studio City, California and, more recently, operations in Qatar, Dubai and China.
In the rock’n’roll world, Eat To The Beat (ETTB) has a client list that’s a veritable Who’s Who of the touring industry, from Amy Winehouse to ZZ Top, and scores of names in between, not to mention film, TV, high profile festivals (Download, Glastonbury, Hyde Park Calling, Lollapalooza and the Transatlantic V/Virgin Festivals) and streams of one-off events.
Within just a couple of years of trading, America loomed when Lou Reed grew tired of local catering at home. He was enjoying the ETTB touch on the road in Europe and invited the company to follow him back to the States.
“It grew from there, with us servicing American tours by native artists like Lenny Kravitz who supported the whole concept of tour catering,” said Laurenson.
“The more business we did over there, the more money we could put into marketing, and the catalyst for us launching properly in the States came in 2003 through two major jobs — a Mercedes-Benz car roadshow, keeping 44,000 punters happy, and a tour with the Eagles.
“Eat To The Beat, Inc was born immediately. Up to that point we stored a rig with our friends at LSD and moved into PSG (Production Storage Group), run by Manny Parodi near LAX.
“But we soon invested in a huge amount of flightcased catering equipment, including kitchen sinks... over 100 cases in fact, compared to about 250 in the UK.
“At the moment, it’s all being shared by Blink 182 and Madonna, and our VP of US operations, Michael Brevetz is the man in charge.”
Whilst U.S. venue catering tends to be largely dominated by the venue owners and promoters, ETTB Inc was offered the contract at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Baltimore, servicing around 50 shows a year.
Through its relationship with the Merriweather’s promoter, IMP, ETTB Inc won the catering contract for the Virgin Festival and, as a direct result, its UK parent has been signed up for this summer’s V Festival in Chelmsford.
“America has provided major growth opportunities for us. The demise of the car business has been unfortunate, but it’s allowed us to invest in people, equipment and marketing, which last year led us to do other live work with Boston, Sheryl Crow, Coldplay, Celtic Thunder and the ATP Festival in upstate New York.”
The Global Infusion Group’s corporate hospitality division — formerly Chevalier Event Design, but recently re-named Upbeat Event Design — is now 20 years old.
Why the change of name? “Firstly to make it more in line with the rest of the Group, but there’s a more amusing reason. We began doing a lot of business in China and the Middle East and that’s continuing to develop very well. But it was pointed out to us that the word ‘Chevalier’ translates as ‘horse’ in those territories, which isn’t the greatest asset for a food business!”
The other business in the G.I.G. portfolio is e2b Logistics, a venture that began 12 years ago in partnership with Red Bull, providing food and drink products’ marketing and logistics. Other top clients have since followed including Innocent, the leading smoothie brand.
Moving ever forward, it was recently decided to appoint a head of finance to help build the Group, as Laurenson explained: “We brought in Ben Tubb who’d previously worked in the same role for Absolute Taste, part of the McLaren Group, which has millions of pounds’ worth of turnover across 14 companies, including its world famous Formula One activities.
“Ben now has control of our financial, legal, HR and IT areas and is helping to initiate the strategic direction for the company worldwide. His experience in international accounting fits very well with our business.
“We love the music industry and that’s where our roots lie. However, as competition builds and things get tighter with the overheads of our warehouses and maintenance of our mobile kitchens, for example, it’s important to diversify and apply our expertise in new market areas to keep us busy all year round.”
Mary Shelley-Smith and Bonnie May, operations directors for ETTB and Upbeat Event Design, respectively, are Laurenson’s longest-serving colleagues having each remained with the Group for over 20 years. Like the rest of the staff, they’ve enjoyed the huge buzz of receiving TPi Awards every year since 2003.
Said Laurenson: “There’s no doubt that we all get a tremendous feelgood factor from winning, but we don’t take it for granted so we’re very thankful to the readers who vote. It was wonderful to win again in our 25th anniversary year although we didn’t expect it.
“There are at least one or two companies out there who could steal our thunder, which is why we’re never complacent. Seven awards would be pretty hard to beat though!”
Have the awards made a difference to the company’s general industry profile? “We’re certainly known to all the people we contact to ask if we can quote for a job and it’s very possible that these awards have boosted that recognition. Either way, we’re not complaining!”
Catering standards and facilities have improved immensely, industry-wide, over the 25 years of ETTB’s existence and, as Laurenson noted, competition has dramatically increased.
“There were very few specialist companies when we started and I think that the growth in competition has been positive in the sense that it’s raised everyone’s standards.
“If I was to make a distinction, I’d say that unlike our immediate competitors in the music business, we work from an industrial warehouse with an industrial kitchen and offices. We set our stall out a long time ago with the aim of pushing ourselves to the max.
“Clients have also become more discerning, especially now that we live in the age of the ‘Celebrity Chef’ in which cooking is regarded as sexy! I still love what I do and it’s probably more fun and more rewarding now than it ever was!”
Mark Cunningham & Louise Stickland