When Burnley-born Alex Markham’s business ground to a halt in lockdown, he had to dig deep to summon the resilience and optimism to follow his nose in a new direction.
Now, with his new venture, sndwch, which started at the kitchen table of his Manchester flat, Markham is supplying more than 30,000 artisan sandwiches every month to some of the North West’s best known venues. And he is also stepping into the spotlight with his own standalone venue in MediaCity.
Markham spoke to Northern Soul about the long and winding road to sndwch.
“After studying physics at university, naturally, my first job was as cabin crew for British Airways! I wanted to travel and was lucky enough to fly all around the Middle East to some amazing places. Returning home, I started a flooring business, which I built up successfully over 10 years. But when our biggest client went under leaving bills unpaid, we couldn’t carry on. I think that was one of the worst days of my life, telling staff who had been with me from the beginning that I was no longer able to employ them. It was very hard.
“I’d always had an interest in broadcast engineering and my next business was in live events production. We got some big gigs in film and TV, the biggest being Live at the London Palladium where I filmed with people like Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Hulk Hogan.”
But when showbiz lost its sparkle, it was Markham’s love of food that led him in a new direction.
“I realised the job wasn’t making me happy. My mum taught me to cook from a young age and it’s something I’ve always loved. I was on holiday in Portugal and saw a video on Facebook of a fresh noodle soup being made. I thought it was a great idea, so I started making soup from my kitchen table. I took orders online and delivered it all around Manchester on my bike. This grew into my brand SOOP which got stocked in some big retailers, including Selfridges. My proudest moment was winning a Great Taste award from the Guild of Fine Food.”
But when the pandemic hit and the nation went into lockdown, this part of Markham’s story ground to a halt. As chance would have it, General Store group, one of his soup stockists, lost its sandwich supplier, and owner Mital Morar asked Markham to step in and supply sandwiches. And so sndwch was born.
“It was a good example of just saying yes and figuring it out later,” he explains. “I always return to a quote attributed to Winston Churchill – ‘success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’ – you have to be resilient and follow the opportunities that come your way.”
“We started supplying premium coffee shops like 92 Degrees Coffee and ManCoCo, and venues like Victoria Warehouse. Now we make over 30,000 sandwiches every month.”
Since launch in September 2020, sndwch has grown considerably and is on track to reach a turnover of £1 million this financial year. Now, branching out on his own for the first time, Markham has opened a sandwich and coffee shop on the ground floor of Arrive’s Tomorrow building in MediaCity. It joins his existing concession within MediaCity General Store.
So, what can we expect from the new place?
“Fresh local produce is what we are all about, and we deliver it affordably. Manchester and Northern food producers are some of the best in the country, we’re so lucky to have such a wealth of amazing produce on our doorstep.
“Customers love that our bread is locally baked and that our fillings are from local suppliers, and there’s a great sense of collaboration in Northern businesses coming together to support each other. We handmake all our sandwiches freshly each day. I tell my brilliant team, ‘make the sandwich you would want to eat’. It’s labour intensive, but you can certainly taste the difference.
“We know the names of all our regulars and try to get to know everyone who comes in to see us. We have comfy chairs and my chilled electronica mixtape on the go. It’s a lovely relaxing setting to work or meet friends.”
The new site also offers a selection of vegan options, and serves sndwch’s bestselling ‘NOT a Chicken Tikka & Onion Bhaji sndwch’. A hot drinks menu features blends from 92 Degrees Coffee.
What’s next for Markham, sndwch and his growing team?
“New challenges will come our way, the cost of everything is going up on an almost daily basis. But throughout my career, and I think it’s a really important trait in business, I’ve had the ability to adapt and change to the conditions, and that’s what we’ve done. My advice to anyone in business is fail quickly, learn fast, and never be afraid to start a new chapter. We have ambitious plans for growth and some new collaborations to reveal soon. Something big is coming next year to further stamp our arrival in Manchester – watch this space.”
Main image used with permission from Jonathan Pow
For more information on Alex Markham and his business, click here.