If you want to get into the food business, the BEST way is to start working in it. Founders from the world’s most successful food (and non-food) companies have started this way, as it gives you tonnes of insight into what you want to create and how to do it. Working with existing traders provides you with contacts, teaches you important lessons and helps you avoid classic pitfalls to help your business get off to the best start.
You might have a street food idea and can see in your mind’s eye your concept successfully taking over high streets across the UK (or the world!). To get there you have to enjoy the work – from preparing food and taking orders to taking out the rubbish after a slow service. Getting to work with other traders will allow you to witness how succesful businesses are run and see if street food is right for you, without spending a penny and most likely earning a fair few in the process.
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The food industry is full of brilliant, hard working people and has hugely diverse roles within it. Though it is not always considered a great career choice by previous generations, this is rapidly changing; lawyers, accountants and even architects are packing in their ‘professional’ jobs and moving into food.
CASE STUDY: The Beefsteaks
Alex Pashby did exactly the above. Moving away from a social media role, he began working with KERB street food traders one summer and then set up The Beefsteaks, a hugely promising and successful business that is currently trading at London’s historic Borough Market. His development, learnings and success of his business are directly linked to his experience working with different traders across London.
We sat Alex down and got him to give us all the intel in how he went from having an idea to bringing it to life, all whilst working in the industry.
How did you get into street food?
In 2012, I was working at a social media agency and through this saw that the early street food traders were really learning how to harness it. I used to queue up at the MeatWagon down in Peckham after he posted his menu and so many used to flock there.
Over time, after getting I got a bit dissatisfied with my job, I saw that Engine Hotdogs was starting a residency in Shoreditch and I went for it. I still had an idea in the back of mind about of what I would like to sell.
I really enjoyed the work, but after about a month in the owner realised they needed to cut back the hours. I was forced to find more work in the industry but that was a bit of a blessing.
So I went straight to KERB King’s Cross and started getting work from a variety of different traders on and off. Over one summer, I think I worked for over 10 different businesses. I would work at the markets in the daytime then at pub residencies or food halls in the evenings.
Then I started doing every Saturday on a stall selling waffles at Maltby Street Market. Over time, I got to know many people in the area including the market manager. After a few months, I got my offered my first pitch on the Sunday, which was the point The Beefsteaks took off.
Did working for other traders help you come up with your idea?
I actually had the idea already and had tried it out at a supper club I did when I was at university, it was to recreate the old steak clubs of the 18th Century using lesser known cuts of beef.
What it did help me with was confidence that it could work. Red meat was selling well at the time and I got validation from this that the idea was good and that people would buy it on the street. I do know many other people who have formed their ideas from working on the stalls though.
When did you go full time?
I was only doing Sundays at Maltby Street so I got to keep working for other traders and keep a constant income.
I borrowed loads of my kit from other traders and saved all the profit to reinvest in the business. This then bought me a fryer which meant I could move into doing steak and chips not just sandwiches. We then started doing the Saturday market and eventually applied to KERB who knew of me already and liked my idea. There was not many doing steaks on the street then so I really filled a spot with a dish they needed.
The preparation kitchen we are in right now is part of Maltby Street Market, which may not have happened if I was not part of the community of the market early on. Without working with the traders I could never have bootstrapped my business as well as I did. Some people now come in with a lot more money which can speed up their progress, although this is not an option for everyone and can just lead to learning something the expensive way. Not every dish works!
Did you avoid making mistakes from working with trader?
You want to pick up the best practices and not the bad ones. I got to work with both traders who had worked in the industry before and those who left office jobs. The differences were clear and it helped me build more efficient layouts and setups.
I learned plenty about the affordable kit that is just not good enough. I learned that buying new can be much better.
What are you doing now?
I am still doing exactly the same menu as when I started. I really made sustainability core to my business early on. I always use high quality beef, good potatoes and make my own sauces. I know my supply chains very well and have good relationships with my suppliers for all parts of the business.
What’s the plan for the business?
I want a bricks and mortar version of the stall essentially. Keeping the core product of steak and chips but I really want to expand into under used cuts of meat. This then keeps the prices affordable and means more people can eat with you regularly. Although, who knows!
Hopefully, there could be a sit down place one day. I am trying to keep bootstrapping the business as I have done from the start and this means that a big restaurant experience is not in my remit right now.
All of this would have been tough to achieve without working in the industry early. It is a key thing to do even if it is just for a couple of days.
If you want more stories straight from the traders mouth, check out Jack Hogarth of Kolkati speaking at our KERB Workshop in May 2018 here.
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