In an endeavour to ‘do something for themselves’ and armed with the self-discipline that comes with having worked under successful chefs, Dan and Steph established Chilli Dogs, cutting their teeth on the festival circuit before venturing in to private events too. They’ve now catered for some of the most renowned brands in the world, to include Virgin and ASOS and we’d be lying if we said we were surprised.
Dan and Steph haven’t just focused on making one aspect of their business great; they’ve ticked every single box. Branding? Great. Food? Incredible. Customer Service? Second to none. This approach is instrumental to success in an industry where turning to a competitor often means taking just a few steps or clicking another profile. We spoke to Dan and Steph about why it’s so important to them to get every aspect of their business spot on and why people are more important than profits.
Hi Steph and Dan, thank you both for chatting with us today. What inspired you to join forces and set up the business together?
We were both at the point in our careers where we fancied doing something for ourselves and have some more fun!
Dan, you’re a Michelin trained chef and have worked in professional kitchens for many years. What inspired the move from fixed site to mobile catering? Was it a culture shock?
The 18 hour days confined to 4 kitchen walls was taking it’s toll. I craved more freedom…so switched to 18 hour days standing outside! The biggest culture shock I found moving out of professional kitchens was that things weren’t as straight forward as I thought and you have to deal with people a little more ‘gently’ than in a kitchen!
When you first set up the business, you cut your teeth on the festival circuit. What did you learn from those experiences?
Although doing the larger events certainly plunged us in the deep end, we learnt a lot about how to do business, the hard way! We soon learnt all about profit margins and controlling costs as well as when to walk away from a deal. It taught us how to create well motivated teams and also the importance of turning failures into lessons – you have to be very resilient in this game!
Resilience is key for definite. Your website is incredibly informative and does a really good job of communicating what Chilli Dogs is all about. Do you think having a discernible brand is instrumental to success in this industry?
Thanks, that’s largely down to Steph! Yes we certainly believe for the long-term success of a business it is important to develop a strong brand that people trust. It is one thing to attract a customer to make a one-off sale but it is another to build up that credibility and professionalism to them wanting to hire you for their big day. Building this reliability and trust is one of our core values and means a lot to us.
You’ve catered for a lot of prominent brands. How did you secure these opportunities and do you feel under increased pressure when it’s an influential brand, such as Virgin for instance?
These events come from various routes including past contacts and our website. Although we do feel the pressure when catering for a brand that has millions of admirers, at the end of the day, each customer is the same and we do what we can to exceed expectations at every event. But yes, it does feel extra good when you’ve smashed an event for one of the big guys!
I love that you explain your values on your website and that you openly ‘put people before profit.’ Do you think your genuine passion for customer service has influenced your success?
Yes this is super important to us and an aspect of running our own business that we both love as we are in control, but also frustrating as you realise how little some other companies care! We have now built up a great team of suppliers who share our values and it feels great to know your money is going to the right place. From the customer’s perspective, when they feel they are genuinely valued it makes them appreciate what you do even more.
You have a zero waste policy and are committed to being sustainable in various ways such as using local suppliers, utilising leftovers where possible and using compostable packaging. What are your main motivations for your sustainable practises?
Both Dan and I are keen lovers of the natural world and feel it is important to preserve as much as possible for future generations to come. As business owners we feel an increased sense of responsibility to ensure our impact on the environment is a positive one. This plays a crucial role in nearly all of our decision making.
Will you be going on the road for the events seasons and if so, how do you manage the private events area of the business whilst working the festival circuit?
We are now prioritising private events and sticking to smaller, tried and tested events. We are both getting too old to spend several nights in a tent and the financial risk of festivals can be huge.
You established the business with a lot of prior experience about the food industry and health and safety regulations etc; so in whats ways has NCASS membership been most useful to you and what are the top 3 things that motivate you to renew your membership year on year?
At the beginning I had a hugely helpful chat with Bob Fox who helped me bridge the gaps in my current knowledge and make the transition to mobile catering. The top things that motivate us to renew every year is having the support of an experienced and knowledgeable team, access to updated training and decent templates for the arduous paperwork!
What are your plans for the future of the business? A lot of mobile caterers we speak to endeavour to move into fixed site, but seeing as you’ve been there and done that, is that not a direction you’re interested in going in?
We both love the freedom and flexibility mobile catering allows and although we do occasionally talk about owning our own restaurant, when we really think about it, moving back to those 4 walls is not what we really want!
If you could give a budding mobile caterer just one piece of advice, what would it be?
a.) Understand your costs, know when something is too good to be true, stick to your values and never think you’ve stopped learning!
b.) Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and enjoy the journey.