37, Owner of the Pembrokeshire Beachfood Company
Jonathan Williams was staring at his computer at his nine-to-five job in sustainable architecture when he heard the call of hiraeth. “It’s a Welsh word meaning homesickness and a longing to be back home,” he says.
“After years studying, travelling and beach bumming, I found my desk job in Swindon hard-going; I wasn’t inspired. Being indoors on a particularly hot summer’s day in 2010 was the moment I decided to think up a business based on things I love – family, Pembrokeshire and the beach.”
Williams loved beach taverna culture (thanks to his Greek grandfather) and decided to experiment part-time selling edible seaweed. “I’d grown up foraging for seaweed, cockling and surveying shores for friends of the family, who are marine biologists. Along the Pembrokeshire coast in the 19th century, there was a traditional industry in laverbread [an edible seaweed made into a paste], which almost died out in the 1980s, but sushi had come along and helped demystify seaweed again.”
In May 2011, with a diary packed with festival bookings, he left the desk job and set up the Cafe Môr beach shack selling his signature Seashore Wraps: salmon, laverbread and Welsh cheddar; bacon, laverbread and cockles; and crab and sweet chilli, as well as Welsh sushi and rolls filled with lobster and mackerel. “By the end of the summer, I had won British Street Food Awards and the opportunity to cater for the athletes in the London Olympic Village. It was a dream first year.”
A few friends considered Williams mad to give up the security of a job for an income dependent on a seasonal business. “Better to try and fail, I thought. I’m not a massive worrier but, on paper, it was an awful decision,” he admits.
“I gave up a good salary, a 35-hour week and paid holiday for much less income and long working hours. I used to love being a beach bum, but I’ve gone to the other extreme, working all hours every summer!”
To establish a more consistent income, Williams developed a range of delicatessen products. After travelling to Japan, he imported seaweed washers and dryers to create condiments popular in Christmas hampers: Welshman’s Caviar, Mermaid Confetti, Seaweed Pesto, Welsh Sea Black Butter, Sea Herbs and Ship’s Biscuits.
“I work on product development with my mum in her kitchen. I’m guilty of launching too much stuff. For 2017, we’re working on a seaweed veggie burger and a Welsh-style bouillabaisse. Last year we introduced Kelchup, a kelp ketchup, lovely in bacon rolls, and customers also wanted it with lobster and mackerel.
“I never dreamt the business would go from a one-man show to a staff of three or four in winter and up to 20 during the festival season. It’s constantly challenging. I’ve had to learn to say no. But now I never have that Sunday-night dread of going to work on Monday morning. I’m doing something I love.”
Shann Jones (pictured with her husband Rich and son Benji)
50, Founder of Chuckling Goat
How did a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and nighttime radio host from California – a regular “pay cheque girl” – end up in her late 40s selling probiotic goats’ milk products from a tiny plot of land in rural southwest Wales?
Chuckling Goat, a business that started on the farmhouse table, with one cute black-and-white goat called Buddug, has experienced a 1,113 per cent growth in sales in the past 12 months, inspired two bestselling books, grown to 70 goats, ten employees and an international market of 38 countries.
“The success has been like being kicked in the head by someone in really nice shoes,” says Shann Jones. “Four years ago we were flat broke. The challenge now is holding on to the tiger’s tail. It’s spinning so fast. We can’t hire and train enough people.”
Jones and her husband Rich, a Welsh harp maker, woodworker and farmer, fell into entrepreneurship. Their business is a true family affair at every level, both in personnel (daughter and son-in-law are part of the team) and inspiration.
Theirs is the ultimate “cloud-with-a-silverlining story”, that began all because their son, Benji, was suffering from severe eczema, and Rich, thanks to his Welsh heritage, suggested goats’ milk as a traditional healer of skin conditions.
Benji, who’d been trapped in a cycle of bronchial infections treated by courses of antibiotics, drank the milk and his condition improved. Jones then heard about kefir (a probiotic drink made by adding a live culture of good bacteria to milk), which promotes gut health.
She learnt that eczema, acne, dermatitis, rosacea and psoriasis are auto-immune skin conditions. “Doctors are big on killing off the bad bugs with antibiotics, but they don’t restore the good ones,” she says. “This realisation spurred me on to find a way to give people the benefits of kefir in skincare.”
A more dramatic family medical issue ensued. After a surgery, Rich contracted MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant superbug. “The doctors could do nothing and I was watching my husband die. Well, that was not happening on my watch.
I started doing my own research. I realised you can’t ‘fight’ an MRSA infection but you can provide good bacteria to balance out the bad.”
Three times a day for three days, Jones applied kefir to his skin. “On the fourth day, he rallied. On the seventh day, he was out of bed and wanting to get back on his tractor.”
Jones took a class to learn how best to incorporate her kefir into natural healing soaps and skin creams. As well as supplying fresh goats’ milk kefir to drink, she’s created a skincare range that includes Break Out Kefir Lotion; cleansers to soothe and calm; and products for sensitive skins and babies.
“With Rich sick and Benji’s eczema, it’s not a path I’d have chosen to walk but… We’ve found we’re a great team. I’m the kite and he’s the control!”
Will Pritchard (pictured with his wife Alex and daughter Florence)
43, Wagyu beef farmer
With the crisis over falling milk prices, Will Pritchard, a third-generation dairy farmer, was looking to diversify to secure the family farm. A night out in 2011 with his friend Rob, an agri-food consultant, resulted in him introducing a couple of Wagyu bulls onto his Pembrokeshire land.
“There’s lots of luscious grass in Wales and I’d been thinking of ways to use it beyond dairy. I considered grass-fed beef, but Wagyu seemed pie in the sky,” he says. “I took one bite of Wagyu steak and that was the point it all started.”
What’s so special about Wagyu that makes it the most expensive steak in the world? In Japan, the cattle pull carts, and it’s the marbling of fat (the storage of energy for muscle) that gives the meat succulence.
Containing a higher percentage of mono-unsaturated fats and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids than any other beef, it scores top in health benefits. “At room temperature, the fat melts into the meat. It’s an extraordinary taste sensation,” says Pritchard.
“Wagyu is considered such a delicacy in Japan that you hear stories about cows being locked in garden sheds, massaged to increase their appetite and fed beer. Ours simply get plenty of exercise in open green pastures.” To increase his herd, Pritchard looked to Australia.
“We identified the best bull and had the opportunity to buy its semen.” It was a huge decision. In Australia, the semen of prize-winning bulls is controlled; it cost a record-breaking £1,500 per vial and a further £150,000 investment for the breeding programme.
The fertilisation process was undertaken in Australia and the embryos shipped to Wales; Pritchard’s dairy cows acted as surrogates.Then the wait began to see if the investment would pay off.
Natural Wagyu now produce about a hundred cattle annually and sell to high-class delicatessens. “I’m pretty optimistic we’re on an upward trajectory,” says Pritchard.
Kate Humble: Back to the Land is on Tuesday 8.00pm BBC2