Member Spotlight: Peter Farrell of Epsom Social

Epsom Social

Entrepreneur Peter Farrell has extensive experience of the hospitality industry. After university studies and stints working in Michelin star restaurants, Peter took the leap into starting up his own street food business, which eventually led to the launch of community food hall, Epsom Social. In this week’s Member Spotlight feature, Peter shares his business journey and who and what inspires him to continue striving for more.

Peter Farrell of Epsom SocialThanks for catching up with us, Peter! So, what kickstarted your passion for hospitality?

Looking after people was instilled in me at any early age. I would cook at home with my mother, baking cakes and savoury dishes for dinner parties and I’d had a passion for the industry since the age of seven.

After finishing school, I went to study for a Culinary Arts BA at university, which provided an excellent foundation in hospitality. I gained a WSET Diploma in wine & spirits and then undertook a Masters in Business in Dublin, with a special focus on hospitality. Following 6-7 years of study and after working as a chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin, I spent a year travelling and worked at a couple of Michelin starred restaurants in the South of France. It was a fantastic opportunity to get exposure to different cuisines and cultures. Then finally, I decided to move to London around 15 years ago where I worked at the likes of the Michelin starred restaurants Wild Honey and The Fat Duck, and generally spent time expanding my skillset across the industry with roles as a chef, front of house, and up through senior management with Sir Terence Conran’s restaurant group.

How did you make the move into street food?

After gaining lots of experience in a range of areas of hospitality, I had the urge to go on my own start-up journey, so I launched a street food concept based around doing posh crepes. That’s when I joined NCASS who were super helpful with providing me with event opportunities, getting the van sorted and with the compliance side of things. I joined the Nat West accelerator to support the launch and the idea was to bring crepes to the mass market. It wasn’t quite right in terms of the market and much too niche to continue.

What were your next steps?

Following the end of that project, I happened to be introduced to an investor through networking who offered me funding to put in motion a new concept of a quick service restaurant  on Carnaby Street. That’s essentially the start of how I got to where I am currently with running Epsom Social.

It was a good concept but it just didn’t work out. We set the structure up too big, too early, and we started losing a lot of money, so ended up closing after only a few months. Thankfully, we were able to sell our equipment and pay all the staff so nobody left with bad blood, but it wasn’t ideal and essentially, I was left with nothing again. That’s when I launched my consultancy business – Food Motion, with an aim to help early-stage operators in hospitality to develop concepts, launch and to grow. We supported street food traders with limited experience of the industry with refining processes, increasing revenues, getting systems in place, procuring sites and franchises, as well as the mentoring side of things.

We realised that most consultancy businesses in the industry support the big restaurants, so to date, we’ve worked with over 100 operators.

How did launching Epsom Social come about?

I was chatting to the landlords at Epsom Square who just happened to have a large site. I saw an opportunity and did a joint venture deal with them to open a food hall. They paid for the fit-out and we engaged the street food traders. Epsom Social is similar to BoxPark in that we host 6 different world cuisines and a bar, and of course, we have the stage. We host events pretty much every day of the week, whether it be quiz nights on a Wednesday to Family Sunday’s. We’re about to enter our second year on site and it’s going great.

What’s so unique about Epsom Social?

Events are what get people out of the house. We’ve got ‘social’ in our name, and we really are a great community of people just wanting to help each other out. We’re not based in the centre of London so we don’t have the massive footfall of the city, which means we get regulars coming to visit us each week. We work with local entrepreneurs, musicians, local charities and publications to support the local area and we very much believe in serving the local people and providing a welcoming hub in which to gather.

We launched Epsom fashion week last year on our site whereby local designers and retailers were able to showcase their products on the catwalk and we’re set to host it again this year. Again, it goes back to that simple purpose I had since I was a child and wanting to serve people with food. It’s my passion and what I think about all day long. I love eating and get real enjoyment out of cooking, which is why I get such a kick out of seeing a smile on people’s faces when they sample our traders’ food and enjoy it. Food has the ability to bring people together and build connections.

The world has changed, we’re so digitally minded right now and a lot of people are lonely as a result. We’re able to provide a hub where people can meet every day and interact. One of the best things about hospitality is the ability to bring people together and that’s what’s so brilliant about working in this industry.

What attributes do you look for in traders?

We have to ensure a good mix of cuisine offerings; we can’t have two pizza vendors in a line-up of just six traders. Essentially, it’s the people and their values that are most important. We look for entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they do and have an open mind about opportunities on offer. They have to present themselves well; which means good branding and having a strong social media presence and even merchandise is a big advantage.

We’re very much in partnership with our traders and so if they share the same values as us then that’s a big plus point. It helps if they’re an NCASS member as it means we know their food standards, operations and compliancy is of a high standard. We don’t charge fees or deposits, we just take a percentage of their revenue so it’s a super low cost barrier to entry. There’s no base rent to pay; essentially it’s really quite hard for traders to lose money when they pitch up at Epsom Social.

Name some of your favourite independents…

I love Asian food such as ramen and sushi so I enjoy sampling that when it’s on offer. I’m still a big fan of Wild Honey where I previously worked. Myrtle in Chelsea is up there with my favourites. They showcase Irish dishes in a refined way and you receive a very genuine, warm, and chatty Irish welcome. They offer phenomenal food using great quality ingredients and it’s somewhere I love visiting on special occasions to reminisce about home.

You used to host a podcast as part of the Food Network, who were the most inspirational people you talked to?

Simon Woodroffe, creator of Yo Sushi was particularly inspirational. He was the first person to bring the conveyor belt style of dining back to the UK. He’s very entrepreneurial and he has a really cool story to tell. Also, Tony Kitous of Comptoir Libanais; a middle Eastern, casual dining concept. He really persevered with his hospitality career and really loves to make people happy with his food. Finally, David Abrahamovitch of Grind in London. He went through lots of highs and lows to build an amazing business that I Iove frequenting myself. He launched Grind out of  an old record shop in Shoreditch and through hard grit and perseverance, built a really inspirational brand.

Your advice to others coming into the industry?

I’m a firm believer in that you’re not born with anything. You learn and develop everything as you grow and are very much influenced by everything around you. They say you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and that’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with positive like-minded people. The goal is to keep developing yourself, understand what your imperfections are along the way and keep working on yourself to the point that you can confidently walk out into the world and succeed. If you have a dream to launch a business, conquer your fears and find a way to sustain your income in order to get your business off the ground in whatever shape or form that may take.

There’s so much support out there; NCASS in particular were amazing. Whether it’s through free advice from those already in the industry, through to networking opportunities, people want to help so learn to accept it. Even if you fail ten times, keep going and learn from your mistakes and you’re bound to succeed eventually.

What does the future hold for you and your business?

At current, I’m fully focused on Epsom Social and building the brand. I think the food hall model works really well and there’s going to be a lot more demand for these types of venues as the industry continues to change and adapt following Covid. I’d like to explore opportunities to open more of these venues and bring them to a bigger audience.

On a more personal note, I was working 100 hour weeks in the past and faced some health challenges, so I learned the hard way to value my health and find the perfect balance. I’m big into fitness, hiking and travel and I very much value my homelife. The business never switches off but I focus greatly on keeping an excellent health and family life. It’s very important to find the perfect balance if you’re going to be happy and successful in this industry.

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