Specialising in the “filthiest burgers around,” Tom Hope set up Stripclub Streetfood in 2018 and quickly took his hometown of Birmingham by storm with a saucy selection of smashed, smoked n’ stripped patties and sides.
The business was fairly fresh on the street food scene when Covid-19 hit, presenting a “make or break” scenario for Tom and the team. We caught up with Tom to find out how he’s been getting on.
Hi Tom, thanks for speaking with us. So, tell us more about your background and why you decided to set up in street food?
When I left school at 16 I was lucky enough to be taken on as a commis chef in training; it’s strange to say it now, but looking back this was the start of my passion for cooking. I loved that feeling of getting up excited to be in the kitchen and learn something new. The kitchen gripped me from the get go and 17 years on, Stripclub Streetfood gives me that exact excited feeling today.
I set up the business at the tail end of 2018. By October 28th I’d purchased an ex ambulance and got to work on it back in Birmingham whilst still running a kitchen in London. I spent four days a week cheffing and then I’d grab a train back to start three days of truck building, I broke all the jobs down into smaller jobs and ordered the materials I needed to be delivered on my return, with the train journey back to London planning the next part. This was all done on the front of my parents house where the ambulance was tucked snug on the driveway. By mid February it was time to leave London and focus on the build. the launch date was set…May 19th 2019.
I was inspired by a few different things to start up Striclub Streetfood. I had just returned from living in Melbourne for two years and although when I had left London to go there I was deeply passionate about restaurant food, the inability to have a career in Australia with an exploration date on living there helped me find the fun and quirky side of street food. I got in with the crowd and the match was lit to a whole new way of thinking about food for me. I wanted to have a restaurant but how was I going to get there? I wanted no investors and something manageable on my own and so the plans for my truck started then.
Your branding is really on point, how important do you thing this side of a business is?
In my opinion the branding is of equal measure in importance to the quality of the food you produce. It goes hand in hand really, if you know you produce amazing food you need to create an amazing brand… a feeling around it so that when your customer takes a big juicy bite of that burger they feel the space they are in, they are not only buying into the food you cook but the whole concept you’ve created.
You were doing a lot of events before Covid-19, what was your reaction when it was clear that we were going into a nationwide lockdown?
Initially the feeling was that it wouldn’t be anywhere near the magnitude that it became. I looked at the situation as the ability to grow and do things we had no time for before. We shut up our residency in Leamington, kept the food truck in our unit and started building a new truck with the outlook of doubling down after the lockdown had ended by having two trucks on the road. Having the time to focus meant it only took two months to build the truck the second time around with our existing knowledge. Funds were tight after this and with the date of reopening ever moving the stress levels did increase.
That’s some turn around time on the second truck there, nice work! What did you do to adapt?
Once we built our second truck I looked at other ways we could still interact with our customers – the build was great in terms of having a presence on social media but I wanted to reconnect with all the people that support us. We created our DIY burger packs and they took off really well. As well as that, they were very manageable as we’d set up a page to purchase within a radius around Birmingham and the orders came in. We were selling 30 boxes each week and with limited supplier action we kept it to Friday delivery. We’d stock up Wednesday, build the boxes on Thursday and deliver the on Friday by car. It would sometimes be an 8 hour round trip but you’ve just got to keep going and try to build the business wherever possible. We weren’t eligible for any support from the government and so it was really all down to us to ensure the business would survive the next 12 months.
Speaking of the future, what’s next for the business in 2021?
There are no real plans for 2021, the beauty of street food is you can manoeuvre around any given situation. To put plans in place at this time, to map out 2021 and the future of Stripclub Streetfood, would, in my opinion, be a waste of time when things are still uncertain. Would we like a bricks and mortar? Sure we would! But keeping overheads down at the moment allows us to save and reinvest in strengthening the brand, neatening up the bits we want to improve on and building a team we can launch full throttle when the time is right…that’s far more important.
What’s the best thing about working in street food?
One word.. family. Our street food family is one of the nicest things to be apart of. The camaraderie within the street food community makes you feel like you’re apart of something special. From traders to bloggers and event organisers we live it day in day out together.
Even though you’d think there may be conflicting traders or that us and another burger brand would see each other as a threat, this is simply not the case. At any point I know I can reach out for support and receive it. In turn we are always there for them.
What advice would you give to those looking at your killer burgs on Instagram and dreaming of starting up their own street food business?
If you’re looking to get into street food my first advice would be to know what you want to sell and who you want to sell it to. Be realistic and find your USP (unique selling point), reach out to other people in the street food industry or companies like NCASS that will give you a guideline of how street food works.
A key part of starting up is confidence in yourself and actually starting! In any way you can just get started. Write things down, go to events, research a lot, build a frame work of ideas to work off.
Money is another big factor so work within your means, use your unique skills to your advantage in saving costs and call on friends that are willing to help.
It may be that it’s a small budget.. in which case focus on the food with the most cost effective setup you can build and always remember, once you start selling, that money you spend will replenish.
If you want to be in street food for a lifestyle then that’s okay, its a rewarding job, but if you want to build a business, reinvest.
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