Slaters became one of the largest catering companies in the world.
John Crowle (1841 – 1906) was the son of William Crowle, a butcher and farmer of 25 acres at Charlestown, Cornwall. Crowle worked at his father’s butchers shop in St Austell before emigrating to London in the 1860s.
An enthusiastic and energetic man, Crowle was a master butcher employing thirteen men at a shop on Kensington High Street by 1881. He acquired a restaurant business from a Mr Slater (established 1828) and opened further outlets across the West End of London.
Slaters became a limited company from 1889. Outlets were located around central London, with a flagship restaurant in Piccadilly. The target audience was the middle classes.
Crowle was a staunch Wesleyan Methodist and temperance advocate, and as a result outlets did not have licenses to serve alcohol. This may have worked in Crowle’s favour, as diners did not linger over drinks, a lunchtime table could be filled up to six times.
There were eleven Slaters outlets by 1900, mostly located in the City of London, but also in West London and the West End. The restaurants had elegant interiors with white tablecloths and napkins.
The loss-making ice cream business was sold to Carlo Gatti & Stevenson Ltd in 1901.
John Crowle died in 1906. His estate was valued at £448,696, half of which he gifted to the temperance movement in his will (he had lost his only son to typhoid fever during the Boer War). It was one of the largest bequests to date in Britain.
The company struggled in the period following the death of its founder. After a massive decline in profits, the managing director, William Kirkland, was dismissed in 1911.
At least some of the Slaters restaurants had alcohol licenses by 1912.
Slaters operated thirteen à la carte restaurants and nearly 40 grocery outlets, all located within London and its suburbs, by 1913. The company had capital of £355,000.
Slaters operated 60 outlets, and had an annual turnover of over £600,000 by 1916. This included the largest fishmonger business in Britain, and the largest poulterers business in London, which together had 26 branches and a turnover of nearly £200,000 a year. Fish was supplied to many leading hotels and restaurants throughout London.
The First World War saw the customer base eroded, and many of the restaurants became loss-making.
Slaters was one of the largest catering companies in the world by 1926. A freehold property on Oxford Street was acquired for £100,000 in 1928.
The authorised capital of Slaters was increased to £1 million in order to acquire Bodega, a restaurant company, in 1928. The merged company was known as Slaters & Bodega. The acquisition brought with it 30 outlets, and two hotels, one in Yarmouth and one in Eastbourne. The catering businesses were complementary, and it was anticipated that there would be efficiency savings across management and overheads.
The Slaters on Kensington High Street became a favourite restaurant of the Irish novelist James Joyce (1882 – 1941) in 1931.
Slaters & Bodega operated three provincial hotels, 29 Slater Restaurants and Beta Cafes, 37 shops, 25 Bodega wine bars and four Cope’s wine lodges by 1932.
The Second World War had a severe impact upon Slaters & Bodega. 92 out of 119 company outlets had been damaged or destroyed by enemy action by May 1941. War time conditions also seriously impacted upon sales.
Slaters & Bodega became the subject of takeover speculation, and was acquired by Charles Forte (1908 – 2007), an Italian entrepreneur with interests in catering and property, for £1.55 million in 1954. Financial backing from Ind Coope, a large brewer and owner of public houses, helped Forte to almost double the size of his catering empire.
Forte immediately divested the Slaters fish and vegetable shops, however Slaters & Bodega continued as a subsidiary of the Forte empire until at least 1964.