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Monday, 25 March 2019
CONNECT Catering began life in 1989 above the Facy department store in Market Place, Henley.
Thirty years later, the contract catering firm now employs 450 people across 74 sites in the South-East and has taken the top spot in the Sunday Times’s 100 best companies to work for, beating almost 800 competitors.
The family-run business was founded by John Herring, who still serves as chairman, and was taken over by his daughters Louise Laver and Kate Bendall in 2014.
Mr Herring owned the old Sydney House Hotel in Northfield End and the Imperial Hotel in Station Road for 13 years in the late Sixties and the Seventies but wanted more time to see his family.
Mrs Laver, the joint managing director, recalls: “I’m one of four girls and he was never seeing us because of the long hours.”
Her father took a job lecturing in catering at Westminster College and then started another contract catering firm with a business partner before they split and he decided to go it alone.
At the time the family lived in Fair Mile and Mr Herring was a member of the Henley Round Table and the 41 Club. His daughter says: “He really enjoyed the service industry and he trained as a chef. That’s what he loves to do — he loves food and he loves service.”
As the company grew, it moved around the town. It relocated from Market Place to Fair Mile and then to Reading Road, opposite Christ Church, and then to just off Bell Street, before moving in 1999 to Wallingford, where it’s still based.
Mrs Laver, who was born at Townlands Hospital and educated at Rupert House School, Gillotts School and King James’s College, joined the business in the early Nineties after university.
She said: “We were very Henley-centred really and it was a lovely place to grow up and John knew a lot of people in the town and felt that was the best place to be.
“Kate trained as a Cordon Bleu chef and was working at the sites and I started in the office and have moved around all the departments so we both got a really good understanding of the company.
“We joined because we could help. What I’m really proud of, and Kate is as well, is bringing the staff with us and them feeling part of the team.” Connect Catering has been in the top 20 of the Sunday Times’s list for the last seven years.
Mrs Laver says the award is important to her and her sister as the scores are the result of a staff survey.
An anonymous questionnaire is sent to every employee of every company that enters and the first hurdle is to get at least 40 per cent of your staff to answer the 15-minute computer-based questionnaire within one month.
Mrs Laver says: “Because we enter it year on year we get the feedback and then we work on improving.
“Because we’re a service company if we have got happy staff, our customers have got happy staff.
“We have to work hard keeping the teams motivated and feeling part of Connect Catering.”
Mrs Bendall added: “To be recognised by the Sunday Times as the best company is incredible and just shows all our staff are with us on this exciting journey to be the best we can be.
“We are always searching for innovative ways to improve and this is brilliant feedback, confirming that everything we have put in place is working and being appreciated by our valued team.”
16 March 2019
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