Small beginnings. Big possibilities.
This isn’t a company history. It’s a story about people. One man’s idea. Families, friends and individuals working together. Many minds creating quality products for all to enjoy.
It all started in 1964, when our founder, Theodoros Kleanthous, immigrated to the UK from Cyprus. He may have left his homeland but he brought the island’s passion for food with him, eventually setting up his own Cypriot restaurant in Euston.
However there was a problem. Charcoal is the most important element in Greek cooking and Theodoros simply couldn’t find the right kind locally. So to cook up an authentic taste of home, he imported 10 tonnes of quality charcoal from Cyprus. This simple idea would change everything.
Soon the word spread throughout the local restaurant community and his friends came calling. They too were desperate for proper charcoal and Theodoros was happy to oblige, taking from his personal stock. Over time, more requests lead to more orders from Cyprus and soon the first seeds of our business began to grow. In 1965, Theodoros made things official, forming the company Kleanthous & Son.
Even back then, Theodoros knew that quality mattered. It was the reason people kept coming back for more. In fact, we’re proud to say that we’re still selling charcoal to one of our very first customers from that time. Together, through three generations of family-owned business, we have built a strong relationship based on consistency and trust. A way of working that we believe in, and follow, to this day.
The power of family and relationships
Theodoros was forging a new path and soon his son Chris would follow in his footsteps. Moving to the UK in 1967, Chris started out his charcoal career helping with deliveries on the weekends. And, after a few years learning the ropes, he quit his job and moved into the company full time.
Chris shared the same belief in quality as his dad. So when the standard of charcoal that they were receiving started to drop, he decided to travel abroad to find new suppliers. His wife helped to organise the trip and Chris set off to Portugal. It was here that he would learn a key principle – the importance of strong supplier relationships. Over time, Chris and his Portuguese supplier grew close. They trusted and respected each other, so his new partner was happy to hold stock just for him. This relationship would play a huge role in what was to come.
Being in the right place at the right time
The summer of 1976 was an absolute scorcher. Before this summer, it was mostly restaurants, rather than the UK public, that used charcoal. But, the blistering heat led to an explosion in the home BBQ industry. A family friend put Chris in touch with a wholesaler looking to take advantage of the growing trend. The wholesaler ordered 2000 bags of charcoal within one week – a massive amount for our small up-and-coming business. However, all it took was one phone call to Portugal to get it done. Thanks to their close relationship, Chris’ supplier was happy to help. The stock was already there ready to be shipped and the order was imported quickly without any problems. Since then, we have consistently sold charcoal both to restaurants and the public.
New name, same quality
In 1981, Big K in its current form was born. Our original company, Kleanthous and Sons, was rebranded to Big K, and the iconic chef logo was created. The name Big K was chosen for 3 reasons: charcoal in Greek is kárvouno, the family name of Kleanthous, and the family’s hometown in Cyprus of Kampia. As you can tell, we’re immensely proud of our heritage. It reflects who we are, what we believe and how we do things. Our Greek Cypriot identity is the very heart of Big K itself.
In 1984, the company expanded to two new warehouse units in Tottenham, moving from 3,000 sq.ft. to over 15,000 sq.ft. of space. From these two units, our fleet of trucks deliver Big K products all throughout London.
Big K expanded again in 1989, opening a new distribution centre and office in Norfolk. Increasing the size of our operation allowed us to add new product lines, creating a full range of Big K products for both restaurants and the public.
The home BBQ industry grew again in the mid ‘90s, and Big K began to add high quality instant light and all-in-one barbeque products to our range. These easy-to-use products made BBQing a breeze, helping even more people to fire up the flavour for themselves.
The last 15 years has seen our industry go from strength to strength, and Big K has evolved along with it. Our Norfolk site has three production lines packing summer, winter and restaurant products. So now we are fuelling all those special moments in life – all year round.
Quality matters. This simple philosophy has guided Big K throughout our 40 years of selling charcoal as a family-owned business. It is the powerful idea that resonates through our whole operation, from our products and customer service to our supply chain and attitude to sustainability.
Quality matters drives us to create innovative, forward-thinking products like our new Cocoshell briquettes. It means we don’t accept average or mediocre materials. It means we grade our charcoal accurately and only sell the larger graded pieces. It means working closely with our suppliers, establishing meaningful, long-term relationships to produce quality with consistency.
Most people view quality as a product characteristic – the best of the best. While this may be true, we take the idea even further. At Big K quality is more than just a standard. It is a philosophy. A way of thinking and working to become better. A value that we will never compromise for competitive advantage. By improving every decision and every action, from material sourcing and strategic partnerships, to refining our operation, we improve our end product. In other words, real product quality is about what we do and how we do it.
Every company talks about trust. So we don’t want to spin some brand story, in fact we don’t need to. After all, it’s not rocket science. We believe that trust isn’t given, rather it is earned. So we have spent over forty years doing just that. How? By taking great care and pride in what we do, working with integrity and reliability, nurturing relationships and delivering quality with consistency.
Big K is a family-owned business. What does this mean in a wider sense? Basically we see both ourselves, and the industry, in a different way. It’s about faces not figures, people rather than just profit, relationships instead of alliances. Family keeps us grounded and makes us ready to listen and engage. It is because of family that we treat everyone with respect. And ultimately it is family that reminds us of our mission – to spark the special moments in life.