For Nick of Kool Kata, music and food both hold that inexplicable ability to bring people together and unite them in a fun and exciting way, all whilst opening their eyes to something new.
After dipping his toes in the waters of Australian hospitality, Nick came back to Blighty with new experience and a new career path. Determined to do something different and showcase the fun, creative side of Indian cuisine, Nick developed Kool Kata as a means to express his creativity and bring something new to the area. From supper clubs to holiday parks, weddings to corporate events, Nick and the team at Kool Kata are living up to their name and putting the ‘cool’ in everything they do. We sat down with Nick to find out more.
How did it all begin?
I’ve only been in hospitality for about 5 years. I went to Australia in 2017 and my girlfriend at the time was working in bars so in the evening I had a lot of free time. So then I thought to myself ‘I’m going to start working in a bar.’ I ended up working in a bar as a glass collector then worked my way up to bartender. Then I had to move and I did farmwork for about 6 months. I finished that then moved to Brisbane, but I had no job and I had no money, so I needed to find something ASAP! I went on the Brisbane Bartending group and was like ‘oh I’m a cocktail bartender.’ I wasn’t a cocktail bartender at the time, but I just blagged it! I got a trial shift at this place called Moo Moo that is a fine dining restaurant. I mean it was top class you had to wear all black and it was black tie for the guests. I hopped on the bar there and within six months I went from being a cocktail bartender to running the wine bar. We used to get some big names as well, Nickelback came in, Drake and Josh were in, the South African cricket team were in as well; you had all the ballers coming in! That’s how I got into hospitality basically!
That’s amazing! How did that lead to you opening Kool Kata?
I finished in Australia, came back to England and kind of dossed about for a month then my Mum was like ‘you better get a job.’ I applied for a bar supervisor role and my intention was to climb up and become a manager. The job was at this wedding venue in Leicester called Winstanley House. I started there as a bar supervisor and then after about a year or so I worked my way up to Assistant Banqueting Manager, so I was pretty much running all the weddings. I did that till 2021 then I left there, moved to Birmingham and ran a pub near Coleshill. Obviously, we were dealing with lockdowns then and my boss at the time was running all these pop-ups. I was going out to them with him and helping him run them and I started to think ‘this guy is making dough!’ We did that during lockdown and then when the pub reopened fully I carried on working there for a bit. Then not too long after, a mate and I decided to just do our own thing. We didn’t want to do what everyone else does. Everyone does samosas or curries, so we looked for something different. We liked the idea of kathi rolls (I mean we liked them anyway!), not many people are doing them, especially around the Midlands. So, from January to June 2022, we put all the motions in place, got all the branding, worked out a basic menu then sat down one day and ordered all the equipment and then started testing out the pop-ups at my friend’s pub. Everyone was feeling it around the Ashbourne area because that’s not necessarily food that people who live in that area have seen before. Then June to December 2022 was still a trial-and-error phase, we probably only did about 10 events, probably two or three a month, so come December I made it my mission to go full-time for 2023. And from April onwards it’s been three to four events a week.
What incredible growth! Would you ever want to open a bricks and mortar premises?
I like the flexibility of being mobile because I like being out and about. I love music and before this I was a DJ making music, so when we go out to [catering] gigs we bring a fat speaker and we’re playing tunes and creating a vibe. We try to mix food, music and culture together, that’s the path we want to go down and we want to bring that energy to the events that we do. We did our first wedding about a month or two ago which was wicked, we’ve done corporate gigs and gigs at student accommodation as well and it’s about bringing that energy to each one. Eventually, I’ll want to have more than one unit.
There is definitely a connection between food and music because it’s part of the experience and we’ve seen that desire for good experiences grow in the last few years. The food is such a part of the atmosphere that you are helping to create.
Literally that’s it. I’ve even bought a Spin the Wheel which I’m going to customize and have at events. Mainly for weddings, birthday parties and those kinds of events because it gets people involved. Of course, we’re there to provide the food, but we can have a bit of fun as well!
That experience is something that street food and the independent hospitality industry as a whole lends itself to very well I think and also something that people will eagerly tell their friends about, not just the great food but the great energy of the vendor.
Yeah 100%! We’re a small team, it’s me and one other staff member who I employ and then I’ve got people to help me out so it’s pretty tight knit. But we’re always catching jokes, playing music and just chilling! Customers come over and ask us why we’re having so much fun and we’ll be like ‘come we’ll show you!’ and then before you know if they’re buying food off us anyway and it’s great. That’s the direction I want to go down, just good vibes, that’s why it’s called Kool Kata as well. Kathi rolls originally come from Kolkata, so I was like ‘let’s call it Kool Kata,’ but that also speaks to what I wanted to make it which was something fun and quirky.
How do you embody that fun and quirkiness?
So, with our menu for example, originally it was just the kathi rolls and we did tandoori wings and something called the Railway Mix, but now we’ve expanded it so we’ve got things like tandoori loaded cheesy chips. I don’t want to be ‘too innovative’ where I’m just doing wild things for the sake of it, this is more about making fun, quirky Indian food that can appeal to everybody. It appealing to everyone is really important. I’ve found that when I’ve got a gig at say a holiday park, there are a lot of older retired people and when they see Indian street food they think it’s going to blow their head off! But it’s about letting them know that I can make it spicey if they want but it doesn’t have to be, then when they try it, they are pleasantly surprised. It’s about things like that, just trying to educate people about the food in a fun way.
What does the future hold for Kool Kata?
Getting a slot with the Digbeth dining Club guys is one of the next things on my list. Having our name be on the Peddler Market line-up last month has already got us two bookings and they’ve not even been to see us yet. I ask everyone who books us how they heard of us and two people said they had seen us on the Peddler line-up and they thought we’d be great for their event. Digbeth would be sick for getting our name out even further.
What do you like most about working in this industry?
The community feel and I love going to cool new spaces. Like I said before, I used to be a DJ and so I used to go to a lot of warehouse parties and train stations and old post offices and stuff. I really love that I get to still see cool new places with Kool Kata. Also meeting new people, meeting customers, it’s great. You meet so many different people from all different walks of life, it’s sick! I’m a bit of a chatty patty man anyway so getting to chat to people is great, which is weird because when I was around 16/17 I wouldn’t talk at all! But when I went to uni and left my area I began to meet all these different people from different walks of life, then I moved to Australia, and that was a big character builder for me. So now when I’m doing these events, I’m comfortable just chatting to everybody and I love it. It’s also great to hear people compliment the food. It’s me prepping all the food, I prepare everything myself, roll out the flat breads, make all the curries; it’s just me doing it all. So it’s nice when people enjoy the food. With our kathi rolls we serve Jeera salted chips, we fry them off in the fryer then we smoke them with cumin. Sometimes customers will come back just to ask me about the chips because they love them and in my head I’m thinking ‘but what about the Railway Mix?!’ But it’s great to hear compliment all elements of the food, even what I might think is the ‘standard’ side.
It’s the joy of that immediate feedback isn’t it! You’ve put your heart and soul into preparing that food and you get to see someone enjoy it in real time.
It’s mad as well because it’s the same feeling I get from DJ-ing and having everyone skanking to your set. I get that same feeling when I’ve got loads of people coming to the food truck and they’re all eating the food and enjoying something that I’ve produced; even though this time it’s food and the other times it’s music it’s still that same feeling or bringing people together.
What achievement of 2023 are you most proud of?
I’m proud that we did our first wedding because that was a goal for 2024 and we achieved that in 2023. Getting into the weddings is what I wanted for us this year, but we managed to do that last year which I’m really proud of, that’s a great achievement. Also getting into some big line-ups like Peddler Market and Suppa Club. For me they’re big achievements because they don’t just let anybody on. Well, that’s what I think, you never know! Getting into the wedding scene and events are big, but also my staff. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. For the first time the other week I had two gigs on and for the first time ever I wasn’t there at one of the gigs. To be able to have the processes in place for someone else to run a stand while I wasn’t there was really good.
What are you most looking forward to for 2024?
I really want to branch out into the wedding scene, I want to bring Kool Kata to your wedding basically! I want to carry on doing street food, but I do want to branch more into weddings and corporate because they’re prepaid and offer stability. When you’re doing these street food events, where you are relying on foot fall, there are so many factors that stop you from essentially making living. The weather for one, whether the event has been promoted properly or not for another. I’m glad I’ve gone through that early on because now I’ve got a better idea of what I will make my minimum and maximum number of gigs a week, but it means I prefer the financial stability of corporate events. Also, because we’re new, this is the first-time people have heard about us. So, when we’re at the holiday parks, the same people who come back every year will see us and know us and want to come and get our food. I’m actually really excited to see what kind of repeat business we get this year.