Having been in business since 2014, The Hip Hop Chip Shop have seen it all in the world of independent catering.
Their name has become as iconic as the experience they provide, whether serving up hungry faces at festivals in their award-winning mobile unit, or hosting entertaining live events at their bricks and mortar premises. And like all good independent businesses, the project was born from a passion, as business owner Ozzie states: “You know music’s the first love, it will always be my biggest passion. I absolutely love going to gigs, and I’m a fan of all music, not specifically hip hop! I remember back in about 2010 thinking of the name ‘hip hop chip shop’ but I just felt sure it must have been used before. After some searching I was delighted to find not!”
Sometimes the best ideas take time to come to fruition, and they don’t say patience is a virtue for nothing. After keeping the name and idea on the back burner for a while as Ozzie “saved up money for about four years” the moment came where he and fellow business partners, Luke and Holly felt ready to give things a go. “The business name came first and we just sort of built the food around it. The name kind of dictates what we want and what we needed to do.” So things started to take shape, a menu was drawn up and some gigs were booked, but it wasn’t all plain sailing.
Admittedly, the infancy of the venture was a true definition of a trial by fire. Ozzie recalls how they’d borrowed kitchen equipment from local restaurants – something he likened to “picking samples” as is common practice in hip hop – and ferrying it to a gig in his “little Suzuki Alto, we just had all this massive heavy catering equipment that kept scratching the back window.” Writing orders on a lined A4 notebook that was being passed back and forth, there is no question looking back that they “made things so hard for ourselves because we had absolutely no idea – we had like 5 different flavours of salts that people could use that we made.” After a chaotic day of trading Ozzie would then take all the kitchen equipment back to his flat in Salford and spend hours trying to scrub off batter and grease in the bathtub. It’s no glamorous depiction, but it was a lot of hard lessons well learnt, and as much as he can look back and laugh about those situations now, going through those struggles early meant The Hip Hop Chip Shop quickly gauged the extent of reality in catering. After refining the act, the picture became a bit clearer, and the idea for the legendary boombox mobile unit was born to take on the festival and event circuit.
None other than internationally renowned artist Stanley Chow, who was also based in Manchester, helped bring the vision to life. The unit would go on to win a Best Looking Mobile Unit British Street Food Award in 2014, which soon became the first of many awards the business went on to claim. Having some success with catering for private events and weddings, the team looked to hop on tracks of friendly Manchester establishments in a residential capacity. “It worked really well, but with those things you’re in someone else’s space and not in control of a lot of things. So the next step was to get our own place.” Which sure enough they did, opening up the fixed site Hip Hop Chip Shop premises in Ancoats, Manchester where a lot of residential development was going on.
Ozzie has always been passionate about the business being community-focused, and this location meant it would be in a neighbourly setting, be somewhere people would come and spend time, and could enjoy the atmosphere they wished to create. Ozzie explains how “I didn’t want it to just be a fish and chip takeaway. We have a licensed bar, we put on loads of cultural events like art fairs, scratch battles, music producer meets. We want it to mean something to people – we try to connect the area, so for example we work with a charity called Manchester Cares where we look to bridge the gap between older and younger generations in the area over a chippy tea.”
From day one the team were respectful of the history – the area was typically an industrial area, and with new developments sweeping through and shiny gentrification rolling up, often the residents who have perhaps been there for generations get forgotten about – so it was imperative for them to ensure they were giving something back, acting to try keep the area and that sense of community alive for locals. Very much like with music and in particular hip-hop, food also is all about the people. This mantra is what has worked so well to sew The Hip Hop Chip Shop into the heart of so many across Manchester and the UK. Of course there are many challenges that come with operating a bricks and mortar premises and keeping the dream alive of the niche the team offers: “If people complain about the prices once they’ve eaten it then I’m entirely fine with that as they can judge properly – but it tends to be people online complaining that we’re expensive. When compared to a local takeaway people have an idea of how much fish and chips should cost – but our overheads for a licensed bar are substantially higher, so it’s not a fair comparison, we’re not just a chippy.” This is a difficulty for any business to battle, to ensure that they’re not operating at a loss which simply isn’t sustainable, but to continuously offer affordability and appeal to a wide demographic regardless of background or income. Of course we’re all sick of hearing, reading and writing about it – but the current cost-of-living crisis, especially on the back of the Covid pandemic, has vastly challenged the sector.
In the wake of this juggling battle, Ozzie believes it’s more important than ever to stick to your principles. The business was built on offering quality experiences and good food, and in order to survive, staying consistent on these is non-negotiable. A compromise can be just as big a risk as sticking to your guns. If you’re not providing what people expect and love about your business anymore, they’re likely to lose that love, and that philosophy is not lost on Ozzie: “We’ve always said, it’s just simple food, done well. We try to be consistent and high quality with the food we serve, with the ingredients that we source, with every element of the business.” With the halloumi they offer, for example, it is all sourced from Razan Alsous, a Syrian refugee who settled in Yorkshire after fleeing her homeland. Her and her husband sought to start afresh with what they could around them. Of course, there is no shortage of dairy in Yorkshire, so they began crafting award winning squeaky cheese as a result of Razan’s microbiological background and her husband’s mechanical expertise, to successfully channel their culture in their new home. Sure, they could probably find a cheaper wholesale alternative to source, but this attention to detail ensures customers are getting an amazing food experience that “tastes great in our batter,” but also that every bite is providing a positive impact on both ends of the scale.
There is a quote on The Hip Hop Chip Shop website that states how ‘Since we opened our restaurant, we’ve been able to donate 5,000+ meals to those in need. If we achieve nothing else this will be the stat I’m most proud of and ashamed of at the same time.’ This speaks volumes to the community, people-first mindset of the business and also shows the power such a venture can have on people’s lives and it is an incredible achievement. On this note, Ozzie admits that “every decision that we’re making in the business is to try and make the business better equipped to help the people within it. If the business isn’t secure, then we can’t offer helping hands to anyone.”
It is a vehicle to better lives, whether that is delivering hot meals to food banks for people, or Ozzie himself making sacrifices to be able to offer those that work for the business more. “The work life balance is difficult in hospitality, our goal is to constantly be making steps to try to be in a position to give the team the flexibility and freedom to be able to do what they want to do, to have enough time off to enjoy themselves and be earning enough that they can do what they want to in that time.”
A business is nothing without its staff – independent hospitality is built on the success and hard work of people, and that is everything The Hip Hop Chip Shop embodies. Food brings people together, hip hop is a celebration of culture, and The Hip Hop Chip Shop strives to marry both in beautiful fusions of fine quality soul food with every fillet, every chip, every plate and every smile it spreads.