Despite the many hurdles that Covid-19 has thrown at the hospitality industry, a whole community of entrepreneurial minds that make up the independent food and drink sector have rallied round to confront the challenges head on. Whether by offering DIY food kits, hosting live cooking tutorials, or serving up food to their local communities and frontline workers, we want to showcase just how our industry is continuing to thrive under the toughest of circumstances.
This week, we sat down for a call with Mark Anderson from Pizzacraft UK to talk about how he’s been keeping his business going through lockdown.
Hi Mark, thanks for chatting to us. Tell us more about how you got started in mobile catering?
Pizzacraft has been going for 2 years and 3 months. I’ve been in the pizza industry since I was 18 years old – I started my career in Dominoes and worked my way up to area manager. I eventually took the plunge to open a wood-fired pizzeria with a friend, starting off with the one food van. After the second year in operation, I obtained a second van and I now work alongside my girlfriend.
What was your initial reaction to the Covid-19 crisis?
When Boris made the announcement that all non-essential businesses should close it was a bit ambiguous. Due to the severity of the situation, we closed completely and decided we would see how things progressed. The government sent out a list of what essential businesses could stay open, which of course included takeaway, so after five weeks of following the daily briefings and once new cases had started to drop, we went back out in the van.
It helped that at the time that lockdown began we’d moved in with my parents and so we had three people (myself, my girlfriend and my mum) from the same household who were able to help out. As soon as we’d outlined our safety procedures, we were back to working six days a week.
How did it affect you initially and how did you go about adapting the business?
We had weddings, fetes and festivals booked in for the year which went completely out the door. Just about all events were cancelled so we focused our attention on getting ourselves prepped for offering pop up street food again.
Luckily, we’d had a lot of prior experience of doing pop up street food events so we’re really lucky we could ramp up that side of things to make up for the loss of events. We had a lot of customers in local towns and villages already and they were really appreciative when we popped back up offering takeaway pizza, in fact, some people were really quite emotional when they saw us as they said it was a “sign of normality.”
We’re wearing masks inside the van and are only taking pre-orders between 12-4 pm. We place a line outside the van and have a card machine on an arm that we stick out to take contactless payments. We’re doing all we can to keep risks to a minimum. The mobile way of doing things is ideal for this type of situation as it’s in the open air, nobody is going through doors and we don’t have to be face-to-face with customers. It serves itself well during a pandemic.
Sounds like you’ve handled the situation well!
Our sector is very adaptable. It’s just a shame that some people aren’t so lucky to continue working. Government advice is changing constantly and it would help massively if in the next few weeks we could go from the 2 metre to 1 metre distancing rule – that would benefit street food traders massively.
Yesterday (Thursday 28th May) we’d pre-sold all stock and it was the busiest night we’ve completed yet. We were situated outside a carpet shop in Horsham, which has actually worked out to be a really nice spot to be based. Every council is bit different but the place we’re on currently is private land, so we asked the landlord if we could make use of the site and he kindly agreed to let us have it in return for a few pizzas a week (which by the way they still pay us for anyway). They’re looking out for us and supporting us as a business and we’re really grateful for that.
What a lovely landlord! What hurdles have you faced along the way?
Very early on in the process we were trading on a pub car park and got a call to say we needed a street trading licence because pedestrians could gain access to the premises without payment. It would be nice if councils had a blanket rule on that so that everyone knows where they stand. It’s a lot of money to fork out for a licence if you don’t know if you’ll make any profit – the council were asking for £720 for the year which is a big risk to take if you have no guarantee of sales.
In general people have been very understanding concerning the rules we’ve put in place for social distancing and how to collect from the van. I think, on the whole British people are quite a sensible gang and don’t need to be told what to do. Everyone is following the ethos that it’s a severe situation we’re under and are adhering to guidelines.
Has your customer base grown since lockdown started?
Definitely, I think we’ve gained a lot of new customers via word of mouth and obviously everyone’s at home on social media and are seeing that we’re offering a pick-up service. We do daily posts on social to tell people where we are and to reiterate the rules of how we’re operating and we’re getting lots of shares from that.
At the end of the day people who would usually be going out to restaurants still want the option of not having to cook for themselves at home and they’re coming to us for their treat night. We took a hit when we closed for five weeks but we are busier now so are recouping our losses.
What’s it been like getting supplies – have you noticed a change?
Yeah, because the restaurant trade has closed down, we’ve found that a lot of suppliers who would usually service them have paused for the time being and we can’t get our hands on certain things. We’re running out of mozzarella sticks, Shropshire blue cheese and a certain type of pineapple we use on our pizzas, but it just means we have to get creative in finding alternative options.
I’m just glad the supply lines from Italy stayed open. We went through a phase of buying in lots of flour and tinned tomatoes in the beginning just in case but there’s obviously a lot of people working hard behind the scenes to keep It going.
Finally, what advice would you give to those businesses thinking of offering delivery or takeaway?
Check with local councils and see what their rules are for offering takeaway, delivery or pick-up. We were really pleased when we spoke to Crawley Council because they supplied us with a list of sites, including a community centre, where we could trade and that was extremely helpful – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
People are still craving takeaway food, so long as you follow the correct procedures and get the go-ahead from the right authorities, your business will take off again.
Thinking of offering a delivery, takeaway or collection service?
You can get all the guidance you need to trade safely during Covid-19, including food safety management, licensing, packaging, labelling and more, by downloading our guide here.
If you’re on the lookout for an online ordering platform to sign your business up to, we currently have some great deals for NCASS members with Slerp, Flipdish and Hungrrr. To find out more, or to catch up on our latest webinar: Online Ordering Systems Explained – click here.