Fate intervened when Lara and Charley met at cooking school in London; a long way from their respective homes in South Africa and Portugal, they bonded over their love of ‘pregos’, the steak sandwich which forms an integral part of the Portuguese diet and culture.
Having gained invaluable experience in professional kitchens the world over, the duo decided it was high time they applied their combined culinary genius to their own venture, and as such, Growlers was born. Unable to locate their beloved ‘pregos’ in London, it didn’t take long for the team to decide on a food type and they soon set about finding suppliers who share their passion for sustainability.
The Growlers team were unrelenting in their pursuit of sustainable produce from the get go, and as such, their beef is free-range and grass fed, sourced from farmers in Scotland; their bread is sourced from a family-run business and all of their packaging is compostable and sourced via Biopac. For Lara and Charley, sustainability is more than just a business model – it’s woven in to the fabric of their business’s DNA. This passion, integrity and attention to detail is typical of the Growlers’ brand and is undeniably one of the reasons for their many successes to date – they were recently featured in a prominent Women in Food editorial.
Their attitude also typifies everything that is great about street food; far from being fiercely competitive or relentless to the detriment of others, Lara and Charley bring community spirit to all of their endeavours and champion other street food traders (many of whom they pay tribute to below.) Exquisite, provincial food, on the money branding and a genuine fervour for everything street food – just a few of the reasons we’re obsessed with Growlers and we’ve no doubt, the moment you taste one of their signature ‘pregos’ you will be, too.
Hi guys, the language you allude to when you mention your food is quite primitive, for example ‘eat like an an animal.’ You also claim that your ‘pregos’ allow for ‘uncensored eating.’ Do you think this is why street food has enjoyed success in recent years – it allows people to dine communally and without formality and pretence?
Street food can be anything – from elaborate slow cooks, to complex combinations of ﬂavours, to straightforward and simple food. It can be eaten with your hands, forks, chopsticks; the lack of formality and pretence is at the heart of it. The message of uncensored eating which we try to convey when we use phrases like “eat like an animal” is all about our philosophy and how we perceive street food.
It’s about that moment of pure bliss when you eat something incredibly delicious. It’s about completely giving in to that raw and primal emotion, which, for us, is unbeatable – without worrying about how you look when eating – our food is a reﬂection of that. A traditional prego is served as a whole steak on the bread – unlike your traditional steak sandwich which is usually sliced and this means that you have to sink your teeth into it and tear a piece off. It’s not meant to be pretty or dainty, the point is to give in to your inner animal.
You were recently featured in an article about Women in Street Food – congratulations. Why do you think there are fewer women in the industry than men?
Thank you! We were really proud to be thrown in with such incredible women, all of whom we really admire. There is deﬁnitely a deﬁcit in the industry, and we’ve seen that from working in professional kitchens to going into street food. Cooking professionally means long, anti-social hours, with immense amounts of physical and emotional stress. Historically, it meant it wasn’t an easy job for women- trying to balance careers and family life is still tough. The truth is, women are extremely creative, excellent at multitasking and incredibly resilient – all prerequisites for the job.
There are more women joining the industry than ever before, something we are both proud and extremely excited about. Personal favourite female traders? Hard to pick! Suj (the other half of Indian Street Kitchen) is one of the best and loveliest cooks we know (her smoked butter chicken is something straight out of heaven!) Sinead who puts the Dreamz in BBQDreamz, Lani from Daja Chicken who we trade alongside most days, Maya and Kristy from Kaki Lima have to be up there, Alison, the force behind the Baggio Burger boys, Lucy from Ink, A Pie Party’s Claire… the list goes on! There are also the ones who we don’t know very well but are a constant inspiration for us: Rose from Smoking Lotus, Maria-queen-of-street food from Makatcha, Lily from Stakehaus, Anna from Anna Mae’s, Zan from Bleecker.
That’s quite a list! What inspired you to get involved in mobile catering? What do you get out of mobile catering that you can’t get from fixed site?
We are both trained chefs and have worked in professional kitchens in London, South Africa and Brazil. The inspiration to work in street food and mobile catering came from a desire to close the gap between kitchen and customer. It is so gratifying to see someone enjoying something you created and cooked, and coming back next week for more! And more than that, in a food truck you have the ability to do that from so many different places! We trade all over London and love to go out of the city for festivals and private events – you can’t get that sense of adventure from ﬁxed site. It did take some initial investment, but not even close to what it would have cost to have a ﬁxed site.
Your food looks insanely good. Can you tell our readers what inspired your food type? What’s your favourite thing on the menu?
A prego is a Portuguese steak sandwich; it is nothing more than a thin slice of steak in a roll toasted in garlic and butter and yet it is this simplicity which has made it a staple in Portugal. Lara is Portuguese and Charley is from South Africa, where there is a huge Portuguese influence. We both grew up eating pregos and when we met at cooking school, we bonded over how we craved one but there wasn’t anywhere to get one in London. So, when the came to decide what we wanted to do, the answer came to us straight away. There was never any back and forth.
Tell us about your team – as friends, has working together ever tested your relationship? How do you recruit staff?
Working together has certainly tested our friendship, but it has also strengthened it tenfold! We have personalities and skills which very much compliment one another and we’re used to working together in a kitchen which makes it easy with the limited space we have in the truck.
There will always be times when things feel a bit bleak, when anxiety hits or when it just simply isn’t a good day and you’re in a bad mood. Crucially though, we’re very good at picking each other up in those situations and if we have an argument, we always sit down at the end of the day and talk it through – with beers!
Thankfully, most of the time we are laughing ourselves silly and enjoying this great adventure, We have recently welcomed a third full-time team member, Jamie. Not only does he have the same work ethics and values as us, but he has the best energy, incredible personality and never fails to make us and our customers laugh. We are so grateful to have him on board and we do have a few other people who return to work with us on busy days, or we hire staff from agencies.
Your branding is great and consistent across all of your platforms, even down to the language, the consistency of which I mentioned earlier. Is aesthetic aligned with success in this industry?
Yes. Aesthetic is what draws people in, which is why branding is so important. We knew very early on with the business, what kind of personality we wanted Growlers to have and we ran with it. It’s this personality that comes across in all of our platforms, from the copy on our website to our Instagram stories.
How do you source work opportunities? How has this changed from when you first joined the industry?
We source work opportunities in a variety of ways. In the beginning it was really hard. We applied for every job that came up via NCASS, bothered market managers at street food markets, and explored every connection we had. The jobs weren’t always great, and one of the most important lessons we learnt was to say no. Sometimes it is better not to work, and it was hard to accept that doing so could be counter-intuitive. We’re lucky that now a lot of jobs come to us through social media, markets and from other traders.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who’s thinking of joining the industry but they’re second guessing it, what would you say?
Try and understand where the doubt is coming from. There is no sugar-coating it – owning your own business is the most physically demanding, mentally exhausting and emotionally draining experience. Owning your own business in an industry that is transient, weather and season dependent, and constantly in ﬂux makes it all the harder. But if you believe in your business, then go ahead, and do not give up!