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Dutch courage has Aberdeen entrepreneurs frying high

05/07/2023
Mike Robertson and Dave Griffiths (Aberdam)

TWO YOUNG North-east businessmen have big expansion plans for their popular fast-food takeaway brand. 

Mike Robertson and Dave Griffiths, both aged 32, want to see around 100 ABERDAM Dutch Fries outlets up and running across the UK in the next five years. 

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Such an achievement would represent major growth for a venture which was only born during the CV19 pandemic and recently celebrated its second birthday. 

ABERDAM currently has two sites in Aberdeen and Glasgow plus a mobile unit operating in Aberdeenshire. There is a team of nearly 30 staff. 

The two entrepreneurs see the Shire as presenting a big opportunity – and they are currently looking at three new opportunities in the area. 

The plan is to open the first of these outlets this year, with the other two to follow soon after. 

Different types of food from around the world are increasingly popular with Britons, but Mike said ABERDAM had spotted a big gap in the market. 

He explained: “No one was doing Dutch food across here.

“Dave and I have a fascination with Amsterdam – there are a lot of cool snacks there from the street-food scene that no one was selling in the UK.

“And we also decided to give our offering a Scottish twist, by marrying Dutch street food with the best of products from our local world-class larder.”

ABERDAM specialises in triple-cooked Dutch style fries, sauces, and fried snacks, as well as its Aberdeen-Angus smash burgers and loaded fries.

The operation started out as a fries stall manned by Mike and Dave at an outdoor street food event in the city in April 2021 that they co-organised, and its business potential immediately became obvious.

He explained: “The first week we did the stall, the queue of customers was round the block – and I said to Dave: ‘We are onto something here.’

“We quickly realised that our food offering appeals to everyone – it is not a niche, so the potential market is huge.

“After four months with the stall, we realised things were going so well we needed a permanent-home – so we found premises in Aberdeen’s Shiprow.”

The businessmen then added an outlet in Glasgow last October and the mobile unit in February this year, but this is still early days for the venture.

The enterprise’s major potential has already been recognised at a North-east and national level.

ABERDAM picked up two top industry awards in recent weeks.

It received the Start-up Business of the Year award at the 2023 Northern Star Business Awards.

The Aberdeen venture feels a great responsibility to support and promote fellow local businesses as much as possible.

In just one year, it used more than 50 local suppliers for its staple menu items, packaging, signage, merchandise and more.

Suppliers include G McWilliams for meat, Vegan Bay Baker for buns, Fat Batch for desserts, Angus and Oink for seasonings, Amity Fish Co for fish and Fierce Beer.

ABERDAM was also honoured at the UK grand final of the Federation of Small Businesses Celebrating Small Business Awards in Birmingham.

The Aberdeen operation came first in the Start-up Business of the Year category.

The two Scottish winners – the other being Yellow Hare from Tiree – triumphed over more than 4,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs from across the UK who entered this year’s awards.

ABERDAM’s Dave Griffiths said of the honour: “It’s unbelievable to have been recognised.

“Looking around at all of the other entrants who managed to get their successful businesses off the ground despite all of the challenges of the last few years was really inspirational.

“Knowing that we’ve been recognised for our hard work is a real boost as we prepare to expand.”

In its first 12 months of trading to April 2022, ABERDAM achieved sales of £440,000, which jumped to just over £1million in the year to April 2023 and is expected to reach the £2million mark in the current year.

What is most remarkable about this surge in growth is that the venture has managed to thrive with no backing from outside investors.

Mike said: “We put £5,000 on our credit cards to get started and that was it.”

The two businessmen see massive potential for expansion in the next five years.

Mike added: “We could have 100 ABERDAM outlets by 2028.

“The opportunity is huge, as we can’t see many direct competitors.

“The company’s estate down the line would be a mix of sites owned by us, plus other locations franchised out.

“For example, we could see four or five outlets in the Birmingham area alone.”

Mike conceded that, to achieve such a rapid rate of growth, ABERDAM would need outside finance.

The entrepreneur felt this was inevitable, though Dave and he would still be in control.

Asked about the secret of ABERDAM’s success, Mike said resilience was a big factor.

But the businessman also commented that success for the venture did come at a personal price.

He added: “Commitment is constantly needed, seven days a week, from Dave and I.

“I have three children aged 12 or under and a fantastic, supporting partner – unfortunately they don’t get enough of my time, due to my work. But that’s the price you pay for success – sacrifice.”

Asked about moves to boost the fortunes of Aberdeen city centre, Mike welcomed the recently-launched Our Union Street organisation led by Bob Keiller.

But he said: “There is a big problem in the city centre with the high levels of rent and business rates.

“We previously looked at a site in Union Street, but it had a rent double that of the premises we occupy in Shiprow, not to mention the rates we would have had to pay.”

However, future potential success for ABERDAM would not all be about the founders making money.

Mike, who hails from Torry, has a dream of being able to invest back into his home community if – as hoped – the venture becomes a big player in the fast-food takeaway sector.

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