Eat to the Beat's Tony Laurenson on 30 years at the helm
PUBLISHED: 12:49 24 October 2016 | UPDATED: 12:49 24 October 2016
From catering college to international caterer to the stars, Eat to the Beat boss Tony Laurenson looks back on over 30 years at the helm
There’s always nervous energy around celebrity chefs and a glint in the eye as they plan their next concoction – but here we are, picking up that air of merriment mixed with creative mystery from a chap bouncing round a warehouse in Chesham.
For surrounded by what looks like a world record collection of cooking paraphernalia and crockery is Tony Laurenson, ex-chef, rock band drummer, Merchant Navy sailor and now boss of Global Infusion Group (GIG), one of the UK’s premier catering, logistics and brand companies.
It’s the Eat to the Beat side of his business which adds some special glamour as staff travel the world feeding everyone from rock, film and sports stars to royalty. Tony tells us the numerous accolades and awards on display at GIG HQ leave him “chuffed” (they include The Queens Award for Enterprise in International Trade).
Beaconsfield-born Tony recalls how it all started: “I used to work in a wine bar called Micky Finns in Hatch End, North West London. By coincidence, a friend was living in the flat above the wine bar. We were in bands together at college and by then he was third man on the sound crew for The Who.
“He told me there was a new concept of bands taking chefs on the road. It was work hard, play hard – but would be loads of fun. I liked the idea and got a job for a couple of years with a company who were all lovely people, but mainly girlfriends of roadies and artists… I was the only bloke.
“It was domestic cookers, pots and pans in cardboard boxes and really I was the only one with any proper catering training and experience. I tried to get a partnership in that company but they didn’t really want to know, so I set out on my own, not wishing to tread on anyone’s toes, and came up with the name Eat to the Beat (ETTB).”
The business was launched from his father’s garage and first jobs included providing catering support to an international tour by Iron Maiden. Very soon other top artists and bands were enticed by delicious food, the friendly and professional approach and ultra-efficient logistics services.
Since then ETTB has supported some of the biggest names in the entertainment world, including Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Barbara Streisand, Jay-Z, Frank Sinatra, Amy Winehouse, James Brown, David Bowie, Justin Bieber, Coldplay, UB40, Take That and Status Quo. It really is a Who’s Who of the industry.
Then there are the festivals such as Glastonbury and Reading, as well as tours for TV shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice. This year Tony’s team completed one of their most prestigious assignments by catering Her Majesty The Queen’s 90th birthday celebration at Windsor Castle. This mammoth task required being on site for six weeks with the 50 strong ETTB crew, under the direction of Event Manager Lyn Smith, producing 35,000 meals courtesy of a team led by head chef Blaise Vasseur.
Tony says: “I’m proud to say that we’ve catered Reading Festival for 29 years. But one year, 25 years ago, Environmental Health decided caterers couldn’t cater in marquees. We went out and found that there were trucks being used by film and television caterers, so we bought our first mobile kitchen truck – known as the horse box – and used it for that one season for all our festivals.
“Environmental Health then realised they’d got it wrong and changed the rules back again – and we were left with a mobile kitchen we didn’t need… so we launched our film and TV division to cater on locations.”
Now GIG has a fleet of mobile kitchen vehicles kitted out to meet the company’s bespoke requirements.
As well as ETTB headed by Global Operations Director (GOD) Mary Shelley-Smith, the company has a bespoke corporate, private party planning, catering and event design division, run by Global Operations Director Bonnie May. Then there’s GIG Sport, specialising in catering sporting and automotive events while e2B, set up in 1997, and headed by Global Operations Director John Ford, helps market and promote predominantly food and drink products. In keeping with the family theme, Tony’s son Matt is a senior account manager with e2B.
Says Tony: “Eat to the Beat is our roots. Yes, I built it initially, but it’s now very much ‘we’ because one person alone can’t do what we do. We have a great group of people here who have been with me for most of this journey. Bonnie, who is also my life partner, has been working with me for 27 years. She now runs Gig..fyi and Bonnie May Events, which we launched last year for the domestic regional market – private parties and functions.”
“Mary has been with me 25 years. She runs ETTB with me. Gaynor, our accountant, has been with us over 20 years. Then there’s a whole bunch of freelance crew. From a group of friends we have grown our business. We are loyal to each other, we are friends, we socialise – we work together and we play together. That’s the sort of family ethos that underpins our entire operation.”
When Tony was told food he was supplying to crews and stars backstage was often better than the food being served to VIPs, corporate guests, or paying punters at front of house, he launched his corporate hospitality division.
Around 20 years ago a then little known drinks company asked Tony to store some bars and fridges for them. Within a year new business had evolved worth over £1million for Red Bull’s experiential marketing and sampling.
GIG’s divisions have catered at locations from Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street to the Great Wall of China. They provided catering at London 2012, the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014 and the inaugural European Games in Baku in 2015. This year has taken them to Rio for the Olympics. The business has evolved worldwide with offices in the US, Qatar and Shanghai. The company’s reputation was further enhanced when it catered ro a high-profile trade event in Shanghai attended by HRH The Duke of Cambridge to promote the very best about Great Britain.
Earlier this year GIG was recognised as one of the UK’s fastest growing small and medium sized exporters in a report published in the Sunday Times. GIG was ranked 70th in the SME Export Track 100 which ranks the UK’s private, small and medium sized businesses with the fastest growing international sales. It is produced by Fast Track, a firm that researches Britain’s top-performing private companies.
Tony concludes: “GIG is really one big family. That’s our style. It’s all about being friendly and looking out for everyone. When we are looking for new people – we aren’t necessarily looking for the best chef in the business, we are looking for happy, smiley, flexible, friendly faces. We want people who don’t mind working hard and who think like we do… who care. Being with people that get on together is so important. We are looking for nice people, more importantly perhaps than for their catering ability; though that said, we do have a fabulous reputation for food too!”
• Winners of the Berkshire & Buckinghamshire Life Food & Drink Awards 2016 - The Berkshire & Buckinghamshire Life Food & Drink Awards returned in 2016 with a fantastic ceremony taking place at Royal Windsor Racecourse on Thursday 20 October. Here we announce the winners