The street food business is a lucrative industry to be in.
With the rise in Instagram food porn and the hipster feel surrounding it, it is surprising that more people haven’t tried their hand at setting up some kind of business. Hell, I have no idea why I am not doing it?
Oh wait, I already did.
Rewind to 21-year-oldld me, lost in a world of Graduates.
Having decided to for- go Uni for a few years, I was working in a pretty awesome fish restaurant on the beach, in a small seaside town, in the North East of England.
Thanks to a ‘culinary switched on’ business partner, I was introduced to the concept of ‘Street Food.’ This was back in 2011, when street food wasn’t a ‘thing’ and the only really well know street food business concept was Jun Tanakas ‘Street Kitchen’. He sold gourmet, restaurant standard food, from an air-stream in central London. His market were City dwellers, in need of some decent food on the go, rather than the usual sourdough sarnie from their local hipster hangout.
If he could do it, why couldn’t we? (says the 21 year old with no business experience)
The Street Food Journey
We began our journey researching street food businesses, finding places we could eat it and discovering how we could meet traders. We got our hands on an awesome book:The Street Food Revolution by food journalist Richard Johnson. After a few emails with the journalist, we were en-route to a street food festival in the south of England at Jimmy’s Farm.
That day was an eye opener, the vibes , the music, the cool street food traders and the abundance of overpriced but absolutely worth it food: Sticky pulled pork in huge wraps, washed down with boutique cider and followed up with deliciously rich brownies.
The Greedy Bassets Kitchen
We already had a new street food business idea, and we decided to just go for it.
‘The Greedy Bassets Kitchen’ was born.
My role in the business was marketing, networking, PR and just generally being the face of the street food van. Whilst my business partner prepped and cooked and ran operations.
How did we know how to do this ? Well, one of us (not me) had experience in cooking, and running a kitchen. Whilst the other was a customer service pro who knew how to smooth over any situation.
Everything else, we just bloody winged it.
Operating a street food business
Marketing? I could do it no problem, Networking? Why not? I just gave it a go.
At our first ever networking event, in an urban village, under a viaduct in the middle of Leeds, we were congregated with other traders, food and industry experts and Journalists.
A bunch of crazy and passionate foodies, creatives and our future street food family.
I remember how nervous i was trying to explain the concept of our menu, and it was weird, but humbling when people thought it was pretty awesome.
Fast forward a few years and we were up at 3am getting ready for Manchester International Festival. The day started in a dark courtyard trying to attach the ‘Street Food Boat’ trailer to the back of the transit van. Checking that the indicators worked, in silence. We weren’t even sure if the stock would last us for the weekend, after buggering up the cash flow.
We had had to scramble some money together, to buy what we could and just go and see what happened.
That event happened to be one of our most successful ones, it was also the one that broke us.
That’s why, I want to advise you how to start a food business, the right way.
Do your research
Like, really really research.
Look into the real cost of setting up a food business.
This should encompass:
- Equipment costs, including gas checks and maintenance
- Licenses and certificates needed to trade, including food safety certification (country depending)
- Insurance, such as public liability, and equipment cover.
- If you’re a mobile business, do you need a certain drivers license to drive a van?
- Stock prices and price per dish needs to be worked out accurately, so it’s possible to determine if it’s all worth it.
Once you have that in place, you should have a pretty accurate idea of the setup costs of a street food business and whether it’s a feasible and affordable option to quit your job and live in a kitchen.
Oops- don’t forget one of the most important bits… is there even a market for your business and product?
Marketing a street food business
I would recommend reading up on basic market research strategies — (I suggest reading anything by Phillip Kotler, he is a marketing genius) this should most importantly include:
- Demographic: Where will you advertise your wares? To every region? Or just the one your business is in?
- Your customer profile: Who are your customers? Young or old? Female or male? Vegan or meat lover? Sweet tooth or burger muncher? Do they earn loads? Or are they poor students?
This will all determine how to price and target your products and marketing campaigns.
- Where are your customers? Online? Talking in the street? At health food shops? Michelin starred restaurants? Make sure you know how to reach them through different marketing platforms online and offline.
Once you have determined who, where and how to reach your audience, and what they are likely to pay. Then it’s time to really strengthen your brand.
How the hell do I do this? Well I thought the same but it’s easier than it seems.
If people buy into you, then your product is sold. I know it’s great to think that you can be a hard business bitch, but in reality, really connecting with your fellow traders, business owners, suppliers, and most importantly, your customers, is what will help massively at this point.
Being a natural extrovert helps tremendously, and usually, you will find that most owners in the food and business industry are extroverts. If you are introverted, ‘fake it till you make it’ as they say, because you are the face of this business, and if people find it hard to work with you, then you’re a bit buggered.
I am interested in and just love people, I befriended all my suppliers and they’re now good friends. I still follow my fellow trader’s success through social media. It took time, but when you have no cash because you just paid all your suppliers and your event next week just fell through, then they are the people who are going to have your back.
They’re also great cocktail/beer/gin drinking companions (or makers!) so you’ll never have a dull moment around them.
‘It’s a whole new, real and supportive community ready and waiting out there to help you succeed.’
If you have passion for your business and your industry, then this shines through instantly, it will make the whole process easier, more exciting and will add to your likeability factor!
Be A Social Media Pro
Get your social media up to scratch. Now, this doesn’t just mean a few fancy Facebook posts. You need to put in some real leg work.
- Pad out your social media platforms.Fill in every part of it until it reflects your brand completely.
- Post delicious looking, shareable imagery on your Facebook, with links back to your website or blog.
- Tweet till your hearts content. I used to live on Twitter, and we managed to secure tonnes of our events and gigs through the platform. Most importantly target; chefs, food and drink TV shows, Journalists, PR people, successful restaurants and other traders or owners of restaurants, both locally and further afield. Live tweet during the day, run competitions… the ideas are endless. Get scratching up on your #thumbskills!
- Make life easier and use a social media management system like Hootsuite, get all your main posts scheduled in bulk.
Gain Media Presence
This should be part of your marketing plan. Mine was to: ‘gain local, regional and national media coverage’ in two years- and we achieved this.
However, it isn’t possible without the above.
Here are a few pointers I learnt along the way:
- Network. Go to local food industry events, launches, make new contacts, talk to journalists who are as passionate as you about the industry.
- Follow up with people. Find out if they’re doing features on food businesses- magazines and papers have pages to fill.
- Give your business cards or flyers to everyone, and TWEET TWEET TWEET.
- Learn how to write a basic press release. I learnt through lots of reading and researching on who does them best and how. I am lucky, post business, that i have had the chance to learn from others on how to grab a journalist’s attention and structure one properly. You are maybe just beginning, so get googling. Hubspot is your best friend for any templates you need.
Once you have honed in on your press release writing skills you can use your new found connections, and get them pinged out, with a friendly phone call to follow up, and wait for the rest to follow…!
Be a Planner And Operational Expert.
You learn the hard way in any food business, like, how do you even go from production to customer? We struggled at first, but trial and error is key.
Set a weekly and daily schedule. When are you picking up stock? How long do you have to prep it, or will it be a continuous process? Using fresh, local produce is expensive, but it is also a selling factor, consider what these items are so you can work out how long they will last, and how they need storing.
It is important to work out your costs to the absolute tee as mentioned above. You need this, so you’re not short changing yourself, and can work towards the goal of actually making a profit. Most young businesses find this difficult at first. I didn’t really understand our costs fully for at least a year, but once you understand where you can save money, it suddenly becomes a hell of a lot easier.
Another piece of advice is to quickly understand that there are lots of people out there who need jobs, and yes you can afford them because they will make your business streamlined and a less stressful place to be.
After we got over ourselves and gave in to the fact that a food business is difficult to successfully run and operate with just two people, we quickly recruited our younger mates and students in the locations we would be trading. It’s a minimal cost that will make you more money in the long run (It will also reduce burn out!)
You may already have a food business, or are in the exciting planning stage of a new venture. The advice in this article, is just a little heads up from a previous business owner who struggled, but some how managed to pull it all off in the end. Get your marketing right, alongside a really great operational schedule and you’re off to a start. Be a lovely, passionate and driven person who makes for an interesting chat, whilst making your customers lunch- then you’re really on to a winner.
Dont. Give. Up.