Joe Carnell’s food intolerances inspired him to set up healthy eating outlet Ugot. Catherine Scott meets him
Joe Carnell was just 19 when he got the idea for his award-winning healthy eating business.
“I’d suffered with food intolerances for years and really struggled to find anywhere to get a snack that didn’t make me ill,” explains Joe.
“The only place I could go was Pret A Manager or vegan cafes where all my friends felt like they were being preached at. I wanted somewhere we could all go and eat healthy food, listen to good music and have a good time. I just didn’t understand why eating healthily couldn’t be cool.”
And that is exactly what this determined and ambitious young man has set out to create with his healthy eating brand Ügot which has two “grab and go” outlets in York and Newcastle stations and this week sees the opening of his first high street eatery on Station Square, Harrogate.
A second high street venue in Newcastle will follow in January, York in February with plans for a flagship venue in Leeds later in the year. This is a young man with big plans.
But what makes Joe Carnell different, and is probably one of the reasons he was recently named the youngest ever Duke of York New Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2015 Lloyds Bank National Business Awards, is that he is not driven by profit.
Here is a young man with a social conscience and he is determined to make a difference – not just in what we eat but how business is run.
Joe’s co-founder is music mogul Jamal Edwards and the twosome use the Ügot venues to invite and present a regular line -up of unsigned musicians and artists, offering them a platform to showcase their talents.
“It is so difficult for musicians to make it in the music industry and we want to give people access to music producers and we want to do the same with artists.”
He also wants to have links with local charities.
“There some remarkable charities our there doing some amazing work but they just don’t have the voice. Ügot will be able to give them that voice.”
One such charity is Beaulah 62, a Harrogate-based community arts project.
“I would love to see some of the artists we use going into the project to help the people there and who knows, maybe we will end up with their art on our walls.”
Joe hails from Harrogate, which is why he was passionate about opening his first High Street eatery in the town. He went to boarding school in the Midlands and was expected to go to university like the majority of his peers.
But Joe had other ideas.
“I went travelling after school and I’d got some university offers, but I already knew that I wanted to run my own business. I’d had the idea for Ügot and wanted to spend some time researching what was out there and why certain places gained almost cult status, I wanted to know what they were doing that was right.
“But my parents actually thought I was going to come back from travelling and go to university. In the end I sent them an email saying I had turned down my university places and I was going open a healthy eating venue.”
Some parents might have gone ballistic, especially after spending a small fortune on their son’s education, but Joe’s parents have been very supportive.
“Dad was great. He’s in property and restaurants himself. He said he was much happier for me to spend three years in real business doing something I believed in.
“For me it wasn’t something I wanted to do because it was a fad, It grew out of my own personal frustration of just not being able to get anything healthy to eat.”
Joe spent time trying to work out exactly why the likes of Hard Rock Cafe and Nando’s were so successful.
“It wasn’t really just about the food, it was about the vibe. The one thing they had in common was the music. They had succeeded in creating a subculture and that is what I want to do with Ügot.
“By creating this type of atmosphere you then introduce people to healthy eating, almost subliminally. I want the food, which is all produced in Yorkshire, in Wetherby, to speak for itself. I want people to say: ‘That was a great wrap’ that just happens to be gluten free. It is about lifestyle.
“I don’t understand that just because I can’t eat gluten I can’t have something tasty to eat with my friends. I test all of our products to make sure they are right. If I wouldn’t eat them then they don’t go on the menu.”
Joe is particularly proud of Ügot’s cold-pressed juices. The juices are made using a large cold hydraulic press so that no heat is given out in the process which will lose nutrients.
“We are one of the few places outside London selling cold pressed juices,” he enthuses.
Joe is keen that his eateries are attractive to everyone regardless of their age.
“If they are young at heart then Ügot is for them,” he says.
Above all Joe wants to create a brand people can trust. His generation have had enough lies, he says.
“I didn’t set out to create a brand just to make money,” says Joe who adds that so far he hasn’t taken a penny out of the business,
“It is about integrity and about helping people. That is what the entire brand is built around. We want to change the perception not just about what we eat, but how we live.”
■ You can follow ÜGOT at www.ugotuk.com; ww.facebook.com/UGotUk; twitter @UGOTUK