On the up · 9 February 2017

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

Only Jerkin’, London – Jess Olsen and Luke Dawes

Only Jerkin'
Only Jerkin’ co-founders Jess Olsen and Luke Dawes

Jess Olsen and Luke Dawes started trading as Only Jerkin’ in 2016, inspired by a traditional family recipe. Only Jerkin’ now serves up its soulful Caribbean cuisine in markets across the capital.

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

Both Luke and I are huge lovers of food and our regular weekend routine would consist of strolling around London markets sampling all types of cuisines and foodie inventions.

It was a year ago that we invented our jerk chicken nuggets one night cooking at home using Luke’s Grandma’s traditional jerk recipe to marinate the nuggets. We were so excited to share this creation with the world that we began building our menu and jumped on getting a market stall immediately.

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

For the first few months of trading, Luke remained full time at his previous job to help fund the business and keep money coming in, as let’s face it, businesses don’t always get off to a flourishing start. That bought us some time to really figure out how to run the business and perfect recipes, menus and the general logistics of running a stall.

  1. What is more important to customers – quality or value for money?

Both. There is a lot of competition these days – there is such amazing street food available that the quality has to be up there.

Only Jerkin'
Only Jerkin’ uses traditional Caribbean flavours to create a unique offering

However, people like to be fed, and it’s in most people’s nature to get as much for your money as you can. It’s about trying to satisfy both for the customer ultimately.

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

The starting point of any street food needs to come from someone that is talented and passionate about food and flavours. However, to develop this you need to be business minded. I wouldn’t say it is 50/50, but it has been a surprise how many other elements there are to running a street food business that don’t actually have anything to do with food.

  1. How have you observed recent changes to the industry – where do you see the future of street food in five years?

The world of street food, particularly in London, has been rapidly developing in such an exciting way. It’s become the norm for people to have their lunch at local street food markets, or have a night out at Street Feast or Dinerama. This is sure to continue now that people are used to seeing and experiencing food in a whole other way.

The process of cooking and the preparation has become part of the experience of eating as dishes are cooked in front of everyone.

  1. How are you planning to grow the business?

We plan to expand the business at the pace we have been, but not get too ahead of ourselves. We currently have a food truck in the making, giving us the opportunity to trade at festivals and larger events. We hope to have a permanent space in the future, but all in good time.

Read on to meet the vendor who leveraged the success of his street food to create a profitable wholesale arm.

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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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