Burnley born entrepreneur who put Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen in the spotlight turns sandwich making into an art form and is on track to turn over £1M
The man behind Manchester's new sandwich spot is Burnley born Alex Markham. He makes 30,000 sandwiches a month and is on track to turnover £1M this year.
Hailed as the city's fastest growing lockdown start up, sndwch launched in 2020 and supplies sandwiches to the entire General Store group, which has outlets in Ancoats, Castlefield, Deansgate, Moss Side and Stretford Food Hall. Alex has also just opened his first standalone sandwich and coffee shop based on the ground floor of Arrive’s Tomorrow building in MediaCity.
Very much a hands on businessman who isn't afraid to roll his sleeves up, the business was born almost by accident when Alex saw an opportunity and seized it, and he believes that is the key to success.
"If you have an idea for a business just go for it would be my advice, " said Alex. "So many people let opportunities pass them by, listen out for them and grab them when you can."
Brought up in Worsthorne, where his parents Peter and Yvonne still live, Alex remembers getting up at the crack of the dawn to make the daily journey to St Wilfrid's School in Blackburn and not arriving home until after 5pm. Alex believes that's where he got his work ethic from that has stood him in such good stead.
He later went to Clitheroe Royal Grammar School to study A’ levels and after that university in London where he gained a degree in physics in readiness to pursue a career as a broadcast engineer.
But then Alex decided he wanted to do some travelling so he worked as cabin crew for British Airways covering the Middle East where he go the opportunity to visit places like Damascus, Syria, Beirut, Lebanon. He said: "I loved the job and got to see so many amazing places."
Re locating to London Alex saw his first business opportunity when he met his landlord's father in law who imported rubber flooring from Serbia. They joined forces and the business went from strength to strength. Alex moved back up North and then, in 2012, a customer went bust and that was the end of the business.
Alex recalls: "It was horrendous. After nine years we had to lay people off who had been with us from the start."
Alex decided to return to his original ambition and set up a company providing lighting and sound for theatres and live events. But he soon discovered he faced competition from other companies with more experience who could also provide their services much cheaper. But he did get the chance to work on events like 'An evening with' at the London Palladium so filmed with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Hulk Hogan
You could say his next 'lightbulb' moment came when Alex was relaxing by a pool on holiday in Portugal. He saw a post on social media about fresh noodle soup and, as food is one of his passions, he decided to have go at making his own.
"I tested it out on my sister, Rachel, she said it was delicious and the business was born, " said Alex who has no formal training but was taught to cook at a young age by his mum.
He started making soup in the kitchen of his Manchester flat and delivered orders all round the city on his bike. Soop was so successful it went on to be one of only 110 businesses out of 120,000 awarded three gold stars in the prestigious Great Taste Awards.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, Alex also spotted a gap in the market for takeaway Sunday Roasts and at one point delivered 300 meals in four hours, such was the demand
Alex was supplying his product to the Ancoats branch of the General Store group and also Selfridges. All was going well then came the pandemic and orders stopped coming in overnight.
At the same time the General Store lost its sandwich supplier so they asked Alex if he could make some. Of course, he agreed and then found himself up at 2am making 450 sandwiches for the day! But slowly and steadily the business blossomed and Alex began supplying 92 Degrees Coffee and then food outlets in Leeds and Liverpool.
Sndwch now has two sites in MediaCity, including the ‘butty shop’ concession within MediaCity General Store. Alex is one of a team of 11 who he says work together like one big family.
"I will never be that boss who is away on his yacht somewhere, " Alex said. "My vision for the future is to keep growing and I know that to do that you have to be prepared to put the work in and overcome the challenges and problems along the way.”
Another key to success for Alex is supplying what the customer wants and he is rightfully proud of his newly launched "Ultimate Christmas sndwch.'
Handmade and generously packed to perfection, this handmade festive butty is a celebration of Northern produce - right down to its final flourish of pigs in blankets crisps. There is even a vegan version.
And Alex prides himself on sourcing local produce. The turkey comes from Colley Fold Turkey Farm in Wakefield, a small family-run business that has been rearing tasty turkeys for over five decades. For extra flavour, the turkey is then smoked at Platt Fields Market Garden, a community market garden in Fallowfield.
The smoked bacon and sausage meat stuffing come from Grandad’s Sausages in Radcliffe, Bury. Sndwch’s cranberry sauce is a secret homemade blend with cranberries, orange and Christmas spices, which is topped with a layer of spinach. And for the final flourish, the sandwich has the option of being topped with Fiddler’s Lancashire Crisps, with a choice of pigs in blankets or turkey and stuffing flavour.
The six layers are generously stacked into artisan demi baguettes, which are freshly baked in-house.
“It’s a real collaboration, which celebrates and supports the brilliant suppliers on our doorstep”, said Alex. “Every year I feel totally uninspired by the drab, mass produced Christmas sandwich offerings.
"As you can tell we take sandwiches seriously!"