On the up · 9 February 2017

The British street food vendors taking a unique approach – with inspiring success

Street Food Awards
The British Street Food Awards 2016 at Digbeth Dining Club

Back in 2014, almost half of the British public claimed that they planned to eat more street food over the next year. Putting their money where their mouth is, the UK’s hunger for interesting street food has seen the face of the industry change dramatically within just a few years, and the growth of street food has shown no signs of slowing down.

Neither, it would appear, has the appetite of ambitious entrepreneurs for entering the world of street food trading. According to an industry analysis by Van Monster, online searches for “street food van” jumped by 320 per cent between 2014 and 2016 – currently, there are 7,000 street food vendors trading across Britain.

Business Advice met five street food vendors who have each found success through a unique approach, using their own distinct talent to offer the hungry public something new.

Baked in Brick, Birmingham – Lee Desanges

Baked in Brick
Lee Desange converted an old Mini into a unique cooking station

Baked in Brick was started in 2015 by trained chef Lee Desanges. Found in the street food markets of Birmingham, Desanges built a wood-fire oven into a converted Mini that cooks a diverse range of food, from stone baked pizza to slow cooked lamb shoulders.

  1. When and why did you become a street food vendor?

I trained as a chef when I left school at 16 so I’ve always been involved in food, working for lots of different restaurants. I built a pizza oven in my garden about five years ago, which I really enjoyed using, but I loved going to street food events as well. Baked in Brick has been around for two years now. 

  1. What was key in terms of getting started – how were you able to fund the business?

Funding wise, my wife and I had house savings that initially covered costs. The Mini was bought off eBay after a few weeks of research into prices. 

  1. Would you say it is more important to have culinary talents or entrepreneurial?

Having run a food business I already had entrepreneurial skills, and having that background as a chef does help massively. A lot of street food vendors don’t have that professional background – they are just really good at cooking one particular thing, something that they’ve learnt and mastered.

For me, I get to put on lots of different specials, which maybe other street food vendors without a cooking background wouldn’t be able to do. That string to my bow is an extra benefit.

  1. Has it been easy to forecast costs?

You won’t know until you start trading. Unless you completely copy other street food vendors – which I would never recommend – you’re never going to know what works and what doesn’t until you’re actually working.

Baked in Brick
Lee Desanges was awarded Best of the Best at the British Street Food Awards 2016

Like any business, it is good to keep to a budget. Now, I can see what events I have coming up and can work out takings and overheads. There is a bigger element of forecasting now, but when I first stepped up it was like “suck it and see”. If you can, talk to people who have experience – I didn’t have that when I started.

  1. Do local authorities offer enough support to street food vendors?

Since I’ve been trading I’ve worked with the environmental health team at Birmingham City Council. I’ve been invited to different forums where you sit with the local Environmental Health Officer (EHO) and discuss how you can help them, how they can help you. They are very open to the changing trends of street food trading. The EHOs want to go to an event and see that you have your paperwork in order, see that you’re operating in a safe environment and move on.

Most traders are members of The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS). NCASS help startups with the legal side of street food, and it also advertises job opportunities.

  1. What do you enjoy most about being a street food vendor?

The buzz of working a street food event. There’s nothing better than working really hard all week – the other day I was at a market by 4am and then at an event until 11pm – then have people queue for an hour to get to your stand and tell you “I’ve been waiting all week to eat your food”.

Afterwards, you see they’ve posted pictures of your food on Instagram and Twitter. Those stories and that recognition make it worth it.

Street food is all about the flavours – read on to meet the duo capturing the imagination of London’s foodies.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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