Wholegood: from the West End to the fruit market

As a former tap dancer and now an organic produce supplier, Carl Saxton-Pizzie's career has changed directions several times – but each pathway has brought valuable business lessons.
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Carl Saxton-Pizzie, founder of organic fruit and vegetable supplier Wholegood, didn't follow the career path that was perhaps expected. ‘I grew up in a really poor part of north London, but I definitely had a natural sense of ambition,’ he says. Fate stepped in when his mum gave in to his requests for a pair of tap shoes and a trumpet for his seventh birthday. ‘Of course, I had to go to tap lessons!’ he says. 

As a child, Carl joined the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London, finding that he loved performing. ‘I realized I had a real passion and it took me out of where I lived and how I thought, because I was going into central London every Saturday to do these incredibly creative classes,’ he says. When he went full-time at the school, he had to start acting to pay his own school fees and began taking roles on TV at 15. ‘So much you learn as an actor gives you phenomenal business skills that are very transferable.’ Carl's acting career included working on British TV shows like Grange Hill and EastEnders. 

He opened a pub in Notting Hill, London, with two friends while still underage, which, he says, was a key turning point. ‘We were very lucky because their parents owned the freehold,’ he says. ‘That was much more about learning about business, learning about selling. I used to be obsessed with finding anything that I could make a margin on when I wasn't acting. When we were building it, I was 17. None of us could work behind the bar until just by the time we opened it. That was a really important year of learning about discipline.’ His career took a few more turns he wasn't expecting. He sold window cleaning, toured with a girlfriend's band and opened up an art gallery before going on to found Wholegood. 

Taking on the art world

In the early 2000s, some friends were renting space to a little-known artist known as Banksy. Carl liked Banksy's work, so the artist sold him a few prints, which he says cost just £50 – an extra £25 with a signature. When Carl noticed that the artists around him were undervaluing their work – something that he'd also done as an actor – he wanted to create a space for them. 

He started working to help artists earn more money and eventually opened a gallery space on London's Carnaby Street. ‘I felt like rather than buying work cheaply and collecting, it would be more appropriate to try to sell it for more.’ It was never really about money, says Carl, though they did try to make some. ‘It was about trying to make a difference at the level of the artist and also about trying to celebrate people's work.’

Carl launched Wholegood in 2007 after becoming interested in whole foods while touring across the US with a ‘militant raw’ girlfriend. Back then, it was ‘super uncool’ to want to sell fruit and veg and he started the business in a disused bakery. A friend saw Carl's bigger vision and invested £50,000, enabling him to rent a warehouse. To keep his connection to the art world, Carl installed a printing press and a space for artists to work.

Building Wholegood

‘They'd be trimming the veg with an artist's razor and I'd work all night delivering it. It was surreal,’ says Carl. Wholegood has been bootstrapped through its growth, but it's now a £30 million business, supplying brands from online grocery Ocado and Amazon to on-demand delivery service Gorillas and organic retailer Whole Foods Market. ‘I've found where I fit. Wholegood has changed as a business so much so often because it had to in order to survive. If I ever had a really strong idea about what the company had to be, it wouldn't exist any more,’ he says.

This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2022. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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