Wood fired pizza has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in the past few years thanks to people wanting to experience the smoky aromas of freshly risen sourdough and tantalising toppings that so commonly waft down the narrow side streets of Naples. Hop on over to the beautiful Surrey Hills region and the Nelson-Yates family are packing a punch delivering delicious wood fired pizzas using ‘00’ Italian pizza flour, covered with a layer of fresh passata sauce and finished off with an array of tasty toppings from their quirky little teardrop shaped vehicle named Patsy.
We caught up with Debs, who runs the business with her husband Simon, to get the lowdown on how The Wood Fired Larder came into creation.
“It was back in 2015 that I spotted an advert for a teardrop trailer caravan housing a wood fired oven on a Businesses for Sale site. We really liked the idea but when we viewed it, we didn’t get a good feel.
“A few years earlier we had met and become friends with Chris Haddon (of the My Cool… book series) and his wife and family. We were speaking to him about our idea, and he mentioned that he’d been involved with a project by Richard and Lyn Stark of The English Caravan Company, who had made a teardrop caravan that was used in the Aide in Britain television series – it subsequently went on to host a wood fired oven.
“We all met up and commissioned ‘Patsy’ our teardrop caravan. As they had done such a fantastic job building Patsy, we later asked them to build ‘Mo’ our Shepherd’s Hut.”
Whilst Debs and Simon had no previous experience of working in the hospitality industry, they had always been huge foodies and enjoyed cooking and entertaining for guests.
“We are a family business, and as such, we set up with a view to us all working together, which our customers love. On that note, what does Debs love most about being her own boss? “We have free reign to grow and take our business in whatever direction we like.”
With that in mind, the couple have lots in store for this year. “We are expanding the Shepherd’s Hut café at Priory Farm and now have an indoor seating area. We are open 7-days a week, but we plan to get an alcohol licence and open some evenings as well.
“We are also going to offer vintage afternoon teas. We currently offer these for wedding breakfasts and think it will be a popular addition to the menu at the Shepherd’s Hut. We are on the hunt for an additional chef so that we can run both Patsy and Mo at the same time. This will enable us to cater for more weddings and outside events.
Like all independent businesses, the pandemic was an unexpected hurdle that Debs and Simon had to navigate their way through. Thankfully, the duo found ways to stay operational during the troubling time.
“We were really fortunate to have been able to remain open throughout Covid. We opened our Shepherd’s Hut take-out café at Priory Farm in South Nutfield, Surrey around five weeks before the first lockdown. As we were a take-out, we stayed open and provided a much- needed service to local people. We also provided a delivery service in our home village of Brockham on Wednesday evenings, delivering wood fired pizzas to people who were shielding or isolating, in addition to providing free pizzas to families who were struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.”
So, what are the most important lessons Debs learnt along the way about setting up a business?
“Don’t think it’s easy. It’s extremely hard work – we worked seven days a week building up the business, but it was definitely worth it. It’s so rewarding when you look out and see people enjoying your produce and knowing that they come back time and time again because they like what you do. Be prepared to work hard and put in the hours as it is does pay off over time.”
Debs and Simon are not shy of hard work and in fact, their commitment to perfection in the business is what led them to become NCASS members right from the beginning of their venture.
“NCASS provides amazing support to its members. It definitely helped us with our food hygiene and our local authority was really impressed with our paperwork. I also think being a member adds a level of professionalism to our business. Just knowing that support and advice is at the end of the phone is so reassuring too.”
Talking of being a part of a professional body, Debs holds other street food traders in high regard due to their endless enthusiasm and commitment to the job at hand. It’s for this reason, she classes them as her idols ahead of the celebrity chefs we’ve become so accustomed to on the silver screen.
“Honestly – any fellow street food trader is an idol. Anyone who puts so much love, time and passion into this business is a true hero as it is damn hard work – but so worth it!”
To end off the interview, we asked Debs why she thinks street food has become such a big hit in the last decade with the general public.
“I think people have become much more discerning when it comes to food. There is so much variety out there now and the quality of what is on offer is so good. We can go to festivals and events now and take our pick of some truly delicious, freshly prepared fare – we are so lucky! We use locally sourced produce wherever possible and love to work with small independent businesses. We know how important it is to support local.”