With any luck, every time you see a bright yellow paper bag or our particular shade of terra cotta, it reminds you - even if only slightly - of Clay’s. That didn’t happen by chance, and this is the story of how that all came about.
When we first opened our restaurant two years ago, one comment we got many times was that people didn’t realise that we were an independent restaurant. Instead, they thought we were part of a chain or a new branch of a bigger restaurant, invariably from London. The only reason for that was the branding we had in place, and we thought it was time to share the story behind it. Because it’s a story about us, too.
We spent the best part of two years, before opening day, doing our research. We visited food exhibitions and shows, trying to find the perfect suppliers for what we had in mind. All sorts of suppliers - for our wine list, for our crockery and cutlery, and also for a company that did restaurant branding and design.
The problem we ran into, as so often back then, was that we were nobody. All the companies we spoke to had portfolios crammed with experience working with some of the biggest restaurants in the country. None of them “got” what we wanted, or wanted to spend time on small fry like us. Who could blame them?
It was a disenchanting experience, and then we met three gentlemen called Luc, Ruud and James from https://www.WeWantMore.studio. , a company based in Antwerp. It was called Pinkeye, back then. At that point, our focus was on opening a takeaway place and occasionally cater larger events.
WeWantMore had a little stall with walls bursting with pictures of the branding they had done in Belgium. There were plenty of small independent restaurants, from Japanese to seafood places to burger joints. But also, there were lots of the little independent fashion stores I so admire whenever I get to walk round a European city.
Every single picture we saw was unique and so interesting, and it did what good branding does: it made us so excited. Could our restaurant look anything like that? But what happened next is what changed everything. Luc, Ruud and James listened to us.
We talked for more than an hour, while they asked us questions, so patiently, trying to understand what we were planning to do. They’d never had any Indian food before, and they had no idea about our cuisine. But they were curious. We showed them pictures of our beloved clay pots - we were already playing around with them at home - and we told them how we wanted to try something different, and introduce people to truly regional Indian cuisine.
They didn’t have to deal with us, but they saw something in our concept and we hit it off. We went home and after mails back and forward they came up with a very decent, reasonable quote for us. They knew we never actually had any budget for branding, but they told us they wanted to help. They said they were impressed with how we were putting everything into making our dream come true.
They were the first people to believe in us, but without them there would not have been a Clay’s for anybody else to believe in.
We met them one more time in London and then - can you believe this - we drove all the way to Antwerp with some food and the clay pots and books about Hyderabadi cuisine so they could experience it. In a way, they were our first delivery. James had left the company by then and another gentleman, Tom, did everything for us.
They are the ones who named us. They found the name: Clay’s with a tag line of Hyderabadi Kitchen. And then they gave us the initial look and feel of our brand and logo. All of that was emotional, but it’s more than that: when we first saw what they had done, we knew we had to be a proper restaurant to do justice to their work.
We knew how ubiquitous Indian takeaways and curry houses are, but we knew that their branding and our food would create the restaurant we were looking for. They changed the way we saw ourselves, because of what they saw in us. They gave us a beautiful brand and a beautiful restaurant design (and if you’ve eaten in our restaurant and you don’t think it reflects the image I’m describing here, that’s entirely down to our budget constraints and not their wonderful vision).
Running a restaurant has definitely changed me, and I know these days I’m always saying sentimental things about people. But our journey so far has been filled with kind and inspiring people, and it all began with Luc, Ruud and Tom from WeWantMore. They gave us a dream beginning, and an identity we could be proud of. We wouldn’t be here without them, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.