Emily Hughes and Jess Meads founded Jeco Bowl in 2021, after finding inspiration during lockdown to start their dream business. The pair can be found at markets, private events and at festivals serving vegan friendly açai bowls, pancakes, smoothies, healthy snacks and hot drinks from their converted mobile horse trailer.
Hi Jess and Emily. Happy New Year to you both, it’s good to finally catch up! So, take us back to the beginning. What lead you to set up Jeco Bowl?
Emily: I’d spent some time studying in Australia between 2019 and 2020 where I became immersed in the healthy food culture on the Gold Coast. I noticed a huge demand for smoothies, açai bowls and clean eating, and I grew a love for those things myself.
I came back to the UK in April 2020 due to Covid restrictions, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do between studies, so I ended up working in a law firm for a while. The initial idea of Jeco Bowl came after Jess and I took a walk during lockdown and saw how many mobile food businesses were still open and trading, creating atmosphere for those people on their daily walks. It was then that we realised an opportunity was waiting for us.
Jess: I was living in Bournemouth finishing my last year of university, and Emily was staying with me in a lockdown, and we noticed the number of businesses still selling food along the beach front and in other public areas. We both love the outdoor lifestyle and healthy food, and so we decided that a great way to start a business during Covid was to set up a food trailer. That way, if further restrictions or lockdowns came back into force, we’d still be able to find a way to work.
Your menu is vegan and gluten free. What inspired you to go down this route?
Jess: It’s something we wanted to do from the beginning. We are both passionate about raising awareness surrounding environmental issues and animal rights. We wanted to create a menu that uses clean ingredients without compromising on taste.
I’m vegan and Emily is gluten free and vegetarian but is taking part in Veganuary this year too. You don’t seem to find many smoothie bowls in the UK, so we thought we’d found something niche that would go down a hit at summer festivals or after a day at the beach. In the winter we serve warming pancakes with lots of toppings.
Emily: The plant-based and health-conscious movement is growing in the UK, and we really wanted to demonstrate that eating healthy, vegan dishes can taste amazing. We’ve had lovely feedback from so many people; many cannot believe our menu is gluten free and vegan and we’re still very much in the minority when it comes to offering both.
How did you go about setting up the business during the pandemic?
Emily: We went down to Bournemouth beach front initially and found similar traders who we could get advice from. We were speaking to one who happened to be an NCASS member and recommended we joined in order to get help in setting up and getting the business off the ground. Because we were going through so many lockdowns and could not meet up, we had to rely heavily on Zoom calls and text messages between Jess and I, but that did not stop us.
Your branding is on point. How did you decide on the concept?
Jess: We explored a few different options for the trailer. We decided on a horse trailer as if we had any breakdowns vehicle wise, it would be the towing vehicle that was the problem rather than our unit. We designed the trailer layout ourselves and ordered what we could and sent it over to the guys from Why The Long Face to convert the horse box for us.
With regards to the branding, I did an A-Level in graphics and did branding throughout my degree and so I put those skillsets to good use until we both came up with a good idea of what we wanted the brand to look like.
The Jeco Bowl logo features the silhouette of Emily holding one of our bowls. ‘Jeco’ stands for Jess, Emily, Co, so there’s a lot of personal touches there. To see it go from design concept to trailer was an amazing experience and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far.
What are your plans for the business in 2022?
Emily: Well, we used 2021 as a year to set up and get the branding, menus and operations right, so our plan for 2022 is really focused on scaling up to work at large festivals, brand and corporate events, as well as private functions.
We completed the Event Catering Academy (ECA) course recently with Greg Gabriel, who founded The Mixing Jug, which gave us lots of useful advice on applying for events, staffing and suppliers.
Between the two of us we are working full time and completing university studies, but at some point, we’d love to commit to focusing on Jeco Bowl solely because we have big plans for the future. In the meantime, we’ll be at music and food festivals this summer and hoping to get the go ahead soon on a couple of other work opportunities.
Tell us your favourite thing about working in hospitality?
Jess: We love the atmosphere when we’re working and seeing people really enjoying our food. I always really look forward to the weekend and having the opportunity to get outside, socialise and whip up delicious food in the process.
Emily: We’ve built a great community and I love that we attract people from all walks of life. A couple of our customers have told us that they regularly check out our Instagram page to see where we are that week, and that they then plan their weekends around it. That’s incredible feedback to receive.
Any hurdles along the way?
Emily: You really do have to keep going. Things don’t always work out the way you wish. For us we initially ran into issues with insurance and the trailer, but we’ve always managed to find a way over the hurdles and find alternative solutions.
NCASS have been brilliant, we’ve always found their advice to be fantastic and it’s great to know that if we have any questions, we can pick up the phone and speak to the right person.
Jess: We’ve learnt that often it’s just about asking people in the industry to share their experiences with you. When we first started out, we thought that maybe other business owners wouldn’t want to share advice or tips with us, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They’ve been really supportive and will always lend a hand when you run into a problem.