On the up · 15 May 2017

Poptata is bringing a cheesy chip revolution to Boxpark Shoreditch

Poptata 1
Poptata was a finalist at this year’s British street food awards

Celebrating a British culinary institution in style, Poptata is the street food startup serving up its own brand of cheesy chips at some of London’s coolest food and drink hotspots.

Having spent two years making a name for itself at street food markets and music festivals, in 2017 Poptata made the finals of the British street food awards. Next month sees the opening of the brand’s third bricks and mortar outlet, at Shoreditch’s Boxpark.

Co-founder Marco Maiocchi spoke to Business Advice about sourcing sustainable food suppliers and the difficulties of raising finance as a street food startup.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

M & LWe are Marco and Luca, co-founders of Poptata. Two years ago, we decided to share our passion for fries with hungry Londoners. The chip is an institution – a monument to British culinary tradition – we thought it was something to be celebrated.

We provide a new, fresh snack-time alternative at some of London’s most popular street food markets, festivals and shopping districts. Poptata makes the most delicious chips and cheesy fries in London.

(2) How long have you been around for?

Our company’s story began in 2015. On 16 May this year we’ll be celebrating our second year trading.

What Poptata has achieved in two years, with a humble product like the potato, is impressive. In that time, we have expanded our business from operating out of a temporary gazebo in 2015, to now having permanent locations at BoxPark Croydon and in London’s bustling Portobello Market. We are opening our third shop in Shoreditch in June 2017.

(3) How do you make money?

To make money in the highly competitive London restaurant space, we’ve identified three things that will be instrumental to Poptata’s success.

The first is implementing strict financial controls on the business. The second is to offer high-quality, fresh and healthy food that clearly stands out from the competition, in a cost-effective way and in cosy, family-friendly locations.

The final requirement is that we’re able to maintain proper visibility. The Poptata plan has been to open small shops or kiosks, of 18 to 50 square meter units, in areas with high footfall. Then, targeted marketing campaigns support the opening of each store.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Everybody loves fries but, where we saw a gap in the market, instead of serving them as a side Poptata makes chips the main character of the meal. All of our potatoes are sourced from British farmers, and once they have gone through a rigorous quality control check, they are peeled and cut by hand, before being fried twice at different temperatures.

Rather than create a new market, we feel we’ve changed an existing one. We’re committed to the principles of uniqueness, quality, and simplicity and our brand is based on creating and enduring connection with our customers. We want people to keep coming back!

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

We invested very little money to begin with, starting as a street food business with a gazebo at Portobello Market. Having the gazebo first allowed us to test the market in a busy location, without investing too much capital.

Everybody thought it was a bad idea, and at the beginning it wasn’t a success, but with consistency, hard work and belief in our product, we started to do well.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Poptata 2

We received great reviews in local London magazines when we started out two years ago, but aside from those, our biggest achievement has been to have regular and repeat customers coming back every week to enjoy our food. We like to think that Poptata is in the people business serving food, rather than in the food business serving people.

(7)  What setbacks have you had along the way?

At the beginning, we didn’t have any support, and some people thought it was an awful concept and a bad idea (but we refused to listen). Now, our main setbacks are to do with raising investment to be able to grow further.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Hopefully, growing Poptata, with more locations and more customers.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Follow your gut instinct. If you think you’ve got a good idea, have the courage to see it through.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

My personal hero is an Italian textile and food entrepreneur called Luca Bellandi –
a businessman who is the definition of class, morality, honesty and integrity.

He doesn’t know this, but he taught me that your employees are your first guests, or customers, and that you don’t have to compromise on your moral values for money in business. Thanks to him, I’ve made fewer mistakes.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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