by Michael Hamilton
Brandon, do you really think that homing in on just one product is a good move, are you not a bit nervous about that? No!
This was the question that I and many other people posed at the launch of one of Ayrshire’s favourite brands. Will just selling one product, a delicious product at that, really work? And if it doesn’t, where do you go, as the restaurant is called Tempura?!
Brandon and Mark, though, were not nervous, but almost bullish in their confidence. They knew what the people of Ayrshire wanted and how to make it work. From their laid-back service, hilarious social media, and delicious and diverse products, they have burst onto the Ayrshire hospitality scene and their success has been so great that they now have multiple businesses trying to copy their concept!
They were right, and now they can smugly tell those doubters they were right, me being one of them. If you know Brandon, he loves being right, so this one will taste exceptionally sweet.
Brandon Van Rensburg and Mark Blake could not be two more different people – they do say opposites attract, though. Brandon is driven, focused and always on. Mark is relaxed, funny and one of the most personable people you will ever meet. They worked together at Buzzworks and when Brandon shared his vision with Mark regarding his unique concept, Mark jumped at the chance to be involved and they haven’t looked back since.
A small cosy restaurant in Ayr opened and since then, two takeaways in Ayr and Kilmarnock with another in Prestwick on the way. Tempura on Tour is coming to a location near you soon with a beautiful food trailer serving T’s Tasty Treats on the road. Their differences set them apart but also blend them together beautifully (just like Tempura and T’s Secret Sauce). Mark’s laid-back approach to customer service makes you feel that your best mate is serving you dinner, while Brandon’s incredible attention to detail has you eating lunch in an African wonderland that doesn’t feel cluttered or over-bearing such is his precise nature when it comes to interior design. Casual but professional, relaxed yet robust is how I would describe their business and that is down to their compromising styles.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for the dynamic duo, though. They opened Tempura the restaurant, but the excitement of the new venture was short lived. Just 12 days of delighting Ayrshire with their concept and we went into lockdown. Not the type of guys to be downhearted, they quickly turned their cosy, boutique restaurant into one of Ayr’s most successful takeaways where, to be honest, the seeds of expansion began.
The boys had to then turn their attention to rising food costs on the back of Brexit and the cost-of-living crisis faced by the nation. Sadly, similar more well-established businesses were unable to handle these challenges so how did this very new business not only survive, but thrive?
Refreshing is a bit of a buzz word now. It is, however, the only word to use when understanding the success during this tough time for hospitality. But they were refreshingly honest with their customers and loyal fans about rising bills – cooking oil, which is pivotal to the cooking process, has increased by 50% since they began. I mean, it’s so expensive they must fight off people trying to steal it, and that isn’t an exaggeration. Refreshing also in their social media. It’s funny, engaging, inventive and in Mark Blake they have a man with no inhibitions who will literally adopt any character. We all remember Daftydil, and Mark becoming a giant wrap, which I can tell you, he loved being a part of! Refreshing too in how they treat their staff. Anyone who works in hospitality knows how difficult it is to keep a good kitchen brigade. Chefs are a hot commodity in society and to retain a high calibre team for a long period of time is not easy. Brandon and Mark’s team is loyal and that is due to high levels of accountability, creative design and being treated like people, not numbers. Flexible working patterns, four-day working weeks, team days and nights out are not just attractive lines in a job advert on Indeed, they are the real life experience of the Tempura team. Refreshingly innovative, these boys will Tempura anything, a Pot Noodle and ice cream to give you just two examples.
How do you get more tables into a tiny restaurant? You can’t, so instead you create ‘Ayrshton Lane’, modernising and cleaning up a forgettable lane with modern quirky murals and some lovely fairy lights. Giving back to the town that has welcomed them with open arms is so important to them, and the kind words from customers in the venue and online mean such a lot to them. Ultimately you can have all of these incredible ideas and concepts but they don’t work if you don’t work hard and drive them into your teams and your customers.
Brandon and Mark are relentless in their efforts to ensure that this is not a short-lived success and are involved in everything. All renovations are done by the team, both of the boys work in the kitchen or out front in their restaurants or takeaways. They love to share their ideas and story with anyone that will listen and if you get Mark’s version, well, you’ll probably end up rolling about on the floor laughing at his patter. Yet the success hasn’t changed them. They are humble, passionate and driven to ensure that Prestwick and their new food trailer are even more successful than their current businesses.
It’s a pleasure to know them, chat to them and watch their continual success. It doesn’t even annoy me when Brandon reminds me how right he was, because he’s earned that and there is no coming back. I’m looking forward to Prestwick and spotting the truck on its travels. And let’s be honest, if you’re feeling rough, is there anything better than a tempura munchie box or T’s Famous Filthy Fries?!