Josh Magidson is shaking up Chinese food delivery .
It may sound an unlikely career path for a Jewish boy from Hampstead Garden Suburb, but Magidson has every confidence that Zing Zing, his small chain of Asian eateries, will soon become a household name, although as the food is very definitely not kosher, it's likely to be better known in non-Jewish homes.
Gone is the humble sweet and sour chicken. In its place is sesame-glazed chicken, which he describes as a “turbo-charged” twist on the classic.
It sounds rather terrifying yet the intention is anything but, according to the 30-year-old entrepreneur. The alternative, as dished up by his growing chain of modern Asian takeouts, is leaner, cleaner and a whole lot zingier.
Impressively, Zing Zing is Magidson’s second successful venture. He founded the takeaway portal Eat Student while studying English at Nottingham University and sold it to Just Eat in 2010. He spent the following year employed by the delivery firm, where he soon identified a gap in the market.
“I got a really good view of the industry while I was there and what I saw was the holy trinity of takeout food — Indian, pizza and Chinese. The pizza industry is very modernised and had a number of large chains, but the Chinese market tended to be very fragmented and Just Eat was getting a large number of complaints from that category. So it was obvious there was a gap in the market.”
He left Just Eat in 2012 to set up Zing Zing. With the crucial partnership of executive chef Jeremy Pang (founder of the School of Wok in Covent Garden) who devised the chain’s innovative menu, Zing Zing has recently opened its third branch in Kensal Green, with the other outlets in Highbury and Kentish Town.
The most recent venture has the support of a raft of influential backers, thanks to a hugely successful Crowdcube campaign.
The plan had been to raise £350,000, enough for the new branch of the brand, which strips out the MSG in traditional Chinese food and replaces it with “top quality” ingredients. But last year’s campaign raised £1.6 million, almost five times the target.
“It was the highest ever overfund on Crowdcube,” says Magidson proudly.
Anyone who has ever met him knows he’s nothing if not ambitious. He says, with every confidence, that he is planning 30 new stores by 2020.
A fourth site has already been secured in Elephant & Castle. “We really want to become a household name in London and the surrounding suburbs,” he says.
Asked where he sees Zing Zing in the busy foodie marketplace, he replies: “Something like Byron. But if I was being more ambitious, I would say Nandos.”
A former pupil at St Paul’s, Magidson read English at Nottingham University — not what you’d expect from a successful restaurateur, but it was there that his interest in takeaway food began.
“It started with a group of friends after a night out in Nottingham. We were desperate for a pizza but couldn’t find anyone who would deliver to us. So we decided to get all the paper menus together and put them online.”
The result was eatstudent.co.uk, which he and a partner rolled out to several other campuses before selling for £500,000.
Today Zing Zing generates a turnover of £1.2 million which is forecast to rise to £2.8 million this year. It is predicted that the business will hit revenue of £22 million by 2020.
Despite his meteoric rise, Magidson has ensured he can undertake most roles in the company. He’s very much a foodie and hugely involved with menu development. He works closely with the chefs, taking customer feedback and constantly altering and perfecting dishes. “In theory I could step into the kitchen if needed. We don’t want to move too far away from the flavours that everyone loves, but we want to do it in the right way.”
A definite move away from the traditional is Zing Zing’s desserts. “Notoriously Chinese takeouts don’t have great desserts so we invented Nutella and banana spring rolls which are incredible.” When the chain invented a crème egg wanton a few years ago it was hugely successful — “they flew out the door”.
So what of the name?
Seeking something memorable and snappy, Magidson pulled out a map of China and spotted a place called Xing Xing. With a slight tweak. the business was branded. Yet a month after the first store opened he attended a family reunion in Canada and discovered a bizarre connection. His great-grandfather had been a prisoner of war at a camp in Russia.
Magidson says: “He managed to escape and sought refuge in China, amazingly at a tiny village called Xing Xing.”