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Rip it up and start again?

NCASS food traders

As we begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, could more opportunities be opening up? Mark Hix took his livelihood mobile recently after his business became a Covid Casualty and many fixed sites are starting to diversify through mobile; we’re seeing an uplift in enquiries about starting up in independent food & drink, new businesses are being set up – the independent sector is starting to trend across the media.

If you read Mark Laurie’s latest article, you may have been inspired to dig a little deeper into the Street Food revolution of the 90s and undoubtedly, you will have seen an important development of late – those who have that drive and entrepreneurial spirit are looking to secure their future in food & drink businesses. Large chains are closing, rents are causing untold damage, redundancies are taking centre stage on LinkedIn, the time for the independent is here and as Mark said, now is the time to be bold.

We are incredibly proud to be part of a sector where resilience and adaptability shine through, where people don’t give up but instead, go for it. I wanted to share 3 member stories with you this week who all have one thing in common – they have seen challenges as an opportunity to change their lives. We all know life isn’t Disney but sometimes there is a bit of synchronicity  – finding what you need at the right time, meeting people who will be intrinsic to your future, call it cause and effect, luck, destiny even – whatever it is, this sector proves that in spite of difficulties there is hope in abundance.

Alex with his Bedford TJ truck

Alex

Alex’s response to the challenges he has faced in recent years was to take his future into his own hands. Inspired by memories of his own wedding and with a family Bedford TJ truck handed down from his wife Charlotte’s family farm, Alex and Charlotte decided on the 1st of June this year to start their own narrative.

When Alex was made redundant with no work from the end of August and not a huge amount of work out there, he thought “OK, if I can’t find a job elsewhere – I’m going to have to create one myself.”

He had fond memories of the truck that had been given to them covered in hay bales and blankets, being used as part of the champagne reception at their wedding and had recently built a wood fired oven in the garden. His pizza was good and after many job rejections and prompted by a neighbour telling him he could sell them, Alex began working on his plans.

The truck was the obvious catalyst for creating a viable mobile food business and so Alex and his wife got started on renovating it. They did everything they could do including throwing in a kitchen sink and their truck is now in the workshop getting its sides, top and gazebo integrated. They’ve tried to do as much as possible themselves and the rest has been done by experts.

With the vehicle being sorted, Alex carried on perfecting his pizza. Alex was born and lives in Staffordshire and wanted his wood fired pizza to reflect this; 70% of his ingredients are locally sourced in Staffordshire; from the tomatoes to flour and even the mozzarella which is from Hampshire and 100% of his ingredients are UK sourced.

He described his journey thus far as the stars being aligned, from his mum coming across a summer programme for entrepreneurs, to getting a fully funded place on the course which has created an invaluable business network, to the support and kindness he has received from local suppliers, it has been an amazing start to a business that has a bright future ahead of it.

He has begun looking for places to trade and although the state of the events industry at present is a barrier to weddings and private events, his network; he will be continuing to develop this through markets, private land, parks and local business and the truck will be ready to go in the next month.

Through adversity, Alex has found something that has presented him with possibilities, it has taken a weight off his shoulders – the timing was right and he is excited about the future  – from working on the truck to developing his recipes, Alex looks forward to sitting at his desk every morning and sharing his story and I for one, am excited to follow his progress and wish Bedford & Basil, Woodfired Pizza the brightest of futures.

Tricia – founder of Mobile Brew Co.

Tricia

Tricia had started her business plans in March just before the Covid-19 crisis hit, with a new move and vision for a career change under her belt, the reality of the pandemic didn’t deter her from pushing on and putting her plans in to practice.

Being fanatic about coffee has been the driving force in the change of career from Science to becoming an independent trader – she could never really find a good coffee and a move to Bury St Edmunds a year ago and the many independents operating there inspired her to make real the dream she held of having her own coffee shop. She had been doing a 9-5 most of her life and found the thought of going it alone quiet daunting at first, but hearing and seeing how much support there was in her community spurred her on and gave her the confidence to feel that she could do it too.

Tricia stumbled upon NWES.org, an organisation who provide support for start-ups – she did some start up courses. This is where she stared putting her plans into action – a business on her own terms – a one woman show with her future in her own hands.  

She wanted to be mobile and started looking for a horsebox trailer, luckily someone she knew put her in touch with someone who was selling their coffee business – a completely kitted out horse box which has now become her pre-loved trailer, now named Beryl. The previous owners were so helpful, giving her advice and they’ve now become friends, it was exactly what she needed when she needed it!

When I asked Tricia what her proposition was all about she said it is “all about the environment and sustainability.” She is passionate about caring for the environment, creating a low carbon footprint, buying and trading local. She is trying to get all her products sourced locally, for her packaging to be sustainable and creating something that her customers can enjoy but is also good for the environment.  

Starting a new business and then the lock down happening isn’t ideal in any sense but after the initial shock, Tricia poured all of her free time and channelled her energy in to training, her thoughts of “what else can I do to make money” transformed into deciding to invest in herself  – Tricia was going to go forward and believe in herself.

She designed her own logo which reflects the simplicity and environmental focus of her brand, she has been busy making connections with markets, other business owners and is proud to let us know that she will be working with Greater Anglia trains from October, taking Mobile Brew Co to Burry St Edmunds train station which is a mile and a half from where she lives.

Tricia struck me as being an incredibly driven person who has overcome a lot. She finished by saying that passion must come from within, if you have the vision to do something your passion will drive and motivate you to make this a reality. Thank you, Tricia, for sharing your story and if you’re reading this and are local to Tricia and her pre-loved horse box Beryl, make sure you say hello and pick up a delicious coffee when she starts trading!

Chef on Wheels NCASS
Christian Crowder of Chef on Wheels

Christian

Christian Crowder rose from a young trainee chef to multiple business owner thanks to his love of cooking. With over 20 years of experience behind him, Christian has travelled all over the world as a chef, working at everything from small pubs to Michelin star restaurants – he’s even cooked for Hollywood celebs.

Christian bought an Airstream van in 2019 and after spending months renovating it, was finally ready to start up in the street food sector. That was until Covid-19 delayed his plans to work at festivals this summer.

The Airstream was in bad shape and abandoned in storage, he finally finished renovating it in February after about a year and then Covid-19 hit. He had started researching what festival work was out there but as soon as lockdown happened the vehicle went straight back into storage.

Christian has a very positive mindset and so began thinking “what else I could do to stay active during the pandemic?” He contacted a pub in Ross on Wye called The White Lion and whilst the kitchen was closed, the owner kindly said that if he put his truck outside then he could operate there on a limited menu selling burgers, hotdogs, veggies dishes and the like. He got all the relevant permission and paperwork from the council and trading there has been a huge success ever since.

Last weekend he was pleased to Chef on Wheels was fully booked, and the landlady has also allowed a couple of other street food traders to pitch up at weekends doing Japanese food and loaded fries. The pub wants him to stay pitched up for a while but I’ve also got a job coming up at the The Valley, a shopping centre in Evesham selling fish & chips, chicken tenders and finger food so he shall see how that goes too – whatever the outcome, it’s amazing for Christian that there indeed options for him and his airstream!

When asked about where he found his drive, Christian said that it comes firstly from being positive and thinking outside the box. “If your business is supposed to be working at festivals this summer then try to think about other places where you can sell food; whether that’s through using dark kitchens, trading on a car park, in open areas or at outdoor markets. There are a lot of opportunities out there currently that maybe you would not have thought of if you hadn’t been kicked into action by a global pandemic.”  

Staying positive and looking for opportunities is key. For example, when he finishes at the pub he’s at currently, he knows that they’re looking for a chef to take over the kitchen. He also left his business cards at a clay pigeon shooting centre near Cheltenham and they rang him recently asking if he could cater for 130 people at a day event in September and that is set to become a regular thing. He added that you have to be on top of things all the time, whether that’s keeping your website up-to-date, launching new menus or getting someone you know to get some decent photos of your food.

I couldn’t have put it better than Christian – when asked about advice he would give to businesses starting up he said “Go for it! If you think your product is good and you have confidence in your food then definitely go for it! If you keep putting it off until tomorrow, then it will never happen – put lots of love into it and you’ll get a lot in return.”

I hope that these experiences can inspire you the way that they have inspired us –  your vision, drive and determination can pay off and of course, we’re always here to help you along the way with everything else.

To share your story, please get in touch with roxy@ncass.org.uk and sophie@ncass.org.uk