How to start a Street Food Business.

How I Got My Start

Starting a street food business could be the best thing you ever decide to do; however, it isn’t all as straight forward as you might expect. Despite the quaint image of an apron clad trader opening up their truck hatch on a frosty morning, a street food business, as it says on the tin, is indeed a business…a difficult one at that.

My name is Cameron King, co-founder of Stroodie and in this blog I will be walking you through the process I took to start my first street food business, Wildflour Pizzeria.

Photo by Emily King

My journey and first exposure to the events industry was by working for wedding caterer…once…when I was a child. Years later, I went to university and got a part time job working for a chap at harbourside market in Bristol. His name was Gareth and he was brand spanking new to market trading too, I actually started on his first day ever. I worked with him for a couple of years alongside my studies, but then realised I was heading down an academic path I didn’t much care for pursuing my entire life.

I have always been a bit entrepreneurial in some ways. Even from a young age, I spent considerable time inventing new things, coming up with business ideas and pitching them to my mum over dinner (to her dismay). I was an ‘ideas man’ and I still am to this day in fact, but I had no idea whatsoever of the intricacies and legalities surrounding business. I read business studies at school, but even that didn’t prepare me for the real-life realities of running my own business.

Anyway, my wife (then girlfriend) occasionally joined me at the stall where we sold wood fired pizzas to hungry workers at lunchtime. One day Gareth managed to secure himself a lovely pitch for Harbourfest. We were busy as hell, sold hundreds of pizzas and loved doing it. Em’s (wife) parents phoned to see how we got on and suggested we started our own catering company. As the naïve ‘kid’ I was back then, we jumped at that idea.

We went to America to see my grandparents for Christmas that winter. I told them about the idea in passing and they decided to help us out with the financing we’d need. When we got back to England, we started planning our new lives as caterers or street food market stall owners, food suppliers or whatever you’d call it.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Choosing What to Sell

We were drawn to street food by experience. We more or less knew how to do pizzas; we knew they were profitable, and they were an overall attractive prospect. We didn’t really think of doing anything else, because we were “certain” we could succeed based on Gareth’s success. We were one of the lucky few who landed on our feet after jumping in optimistically from La La Land. Choose something you enjoy eating yourself and preferably something you enjoy making too. You should also check what is and isn’t selling in the area you want to trade in before committing.

We found competition for wood fired pizza in Bristol was huge, therefore always ensure you’ve checked how many people do what you want to do in the area you want to do it as this could indicate whether or not it is a good idea. Luckily we had an individual prime pitch, which managed to keep the wolves away.

Photo by Emily King

ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Sourcing Equipment

The first thing I did, as any excitable young man would do with $20,000 (roughly £16,000 at the time) of ‘not your own money’, was to start buying the equipment we would need. For us, doing pizzas, this included the wood fired oven, utensils and chopping boards etc. Make sure you keep a hold of your receipts when buying everything, and make sure you only buy what you actually need. It’s easy to get carried away when you have a budget, but a contingency could well come in handy at a later date like it did for us.

Photo by Emily King

ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Registering with HMRC

This was fairly straightforward. You simply visit www.gov.uk and either register as a sole trader which involves submitting an annual self-assessment tax return or register as a business if you plan on hitting the big leagues straight off the bat.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Public and Employer’s Liability

It’s important to take out and remember to renew liability insurance. The last thing you need are accidents potentially ruining your entire operation. Accidents happen as everybody well knows so make sure you’re covered properly. One Mothering Sunday, Em and I were finishing setting up our stall in Bristol. The fire was nearly up to temperature which usually takes best part of two hours, the sauces were decanted, mushrooms and chorizo chopped. We were ready to go. I wondered off up the road to see if it was getting busier and Em was chatting with a passer-by.

We forgot to attach the weights to the legs of the gazebo and a freak gust of wind picked it up. The gazebo legs swung round and flipped both tables, the sauce exploded on the floor, the ajar tubs full of chorizo, salami and mushrooms all fell open and onto the cobbles. The scariest part was that the gazebo took off but was luckily (or unluckily if you’re me) stopped by our van. The gazebo smashed up the front of our van and windscreen pretty good.

This illustrates how important it is to have insurance. We were lucky, but what if the lady chatting to Emily got hurt? or the gazebo didn’t hit our van and caused damage further down the road? Employer’s liability also protects you from compensation costs from employees if you have any, so make sure you do your research.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Trailer Insurance

We needed trailer insurance as the bulk of our budget was zapped by the price of the custom-built wood fired pizza trailer and we needed to protect ourselves if the worst should happen. It may be wise to have your vans and trucks insured against theft and damage. There are companies that specialise in street food, catering and food trucks. The insurance company may well ask you to put wheel locks and tow bar locks on your equipment in order for it to be covered by the policy so bare that in mind when it’s raining, you’ve had a long day and the last thing you want to do is kneel in a puddle to put a wheel lock on.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Hygiene Rating

The one thing I wish I had known when it came to hygiene ratings was that Food Standards Agency are really helpful if you just phone them up. They will walk you through anything you have concerns about which means you can really be on top of your game when the inspector visits. I found this out the hard way. It was an exceptionally hot day, I had the pickiest inspector known to man, I left my cleaning schedule in the car Em took to work, which is a huge part of rating.

We ended up getting a 3 our first time because I didn’t have written proof that I had indeed been cleaning the immaculately clean, unused kit, and I didn’t have a few of the choice products they like you to have, like a teal unit. A teal unit is basically an incredibly overpriced lump of plastic. I had a hot water urn which cost £15 and did the job of hand washing better, but the inspector rather I spent £200 on an inferior product. Regardless of my views of the system, customers, markets and events like you to have them and they like them to be better than a 3. So, if you are in any doubt at all, be safe and call them to clarify everything before they send out the inspector as it can takes months for them to get out to you for a re-do. FYI, the next time around we got a 5!!

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Sourcing Food Prep Space

We found a little commercial kitchen place in Bath. The building ended up being completely unusable about a week before our first gig. It wasn’t fit for purpose, damp, unsafe and entirely unfit for food preparation. This threw us a curve ball and we had to think fast. We ended up buying a clean little burger van without any fittings. We then put in two new table tops and that’s all we needed to make dough. Some cuisines require a lot more preparation, so a decent commercial kitchen or large home kitchen could suffice, providing you keep everything sanitary and abide by the tips and tricks the hygiene team give you when you phone them prior to your inspection. You can get hygiene ratings on home kitchens as well which is ideal if you are just testing the waters before completely committing.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Sourcing Storage Space

If you have a trailer or a food truck, you are going to need suitable space to store it. This is well and good if you have a drive, but make sure you are transparent with your insurance provider and make sure you are covered for the right circumstances and location. Being a heavily city orientated industry, a lot of street food businesses actually use lockups closer to their trade locations due to lack of parking at home. Gareth did this whilst we elected to use a paid parking space in a locked compound just around the corner from our home.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Finding an Accountant

My Step-mum introduced me to her accountant, and we hit it off immediately. There isn’t a whole lot to say about this as its usually a personal thing. You’ll definitely know someone who is willing to recommend an accountant they have used in the past. You can shop around on price and you can likewise do it yourself, alas I found keeping all of my receipts in one place complicated enough in the early days.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Hiring Staff

Em and I started our business together, therefore we didn’t need to employ anyone in the beginning. We did have friends and family who would come and volunteer on the odd weekend for beers and dinner which worked well. We kept doing this for years as we were affected heavily by seasonality meaning we didn’t need anyone enough to warrant an employable position. If you start a business where you can run it on your own, you obviously won’t need to hire anyone, but if you do need help, try friends first. A lot of people avoid employing friends, but I found, especially in the beginning, it’s really nice having people who actually want to see you succeed instead of people who are simply there for the money.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Looking for Pitches

We knew that it would be imperative to find pitches to trade at as early as we could in order to avoid disappointment, but our oven was going to take 3 months to build and nobody would allow us to apply for pitches as we didn’t have any photos we could send them. I don’t know whether this is a universal problem, or just one we faced, but it was frustrating to say the least. Ideally, we would have lined up opportunities ready for the minute the oven was picked up.

Looking for pitches is extremely time consuming. I didn’t know where to begin, I couldn’t find anything, and with the markets, they were all taken up by people who had been trading for generations it seemed. Funnily enough, my issues with finding pitches and trade opportunities is the reason Stroodie exists. We strive to drive opportunities to our member street food and drink suppliers so they can focus on what’s important; their goods and services.

When we did get pitches, we would then slowly get people asking us for private occasions, but few and far between. Stroodie would have been a welcome tool to have.

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ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Sourcing Ingredients

I started by getting our ingredients at Lidl and Aldi because I was yet to discover the joys of wholesale shopping. I then swapped to Booker and a conveniently placed Italian wholesaler just down the road from us, which I accidentally found when I took a wrong turn. It was a real eye opener and we ended up saving so much money and time as we didn’t have to stand in supermarket queues anymore. Getting your ingredients from a supermarket isn’t cost effective when you start making large amounts of sales, and you put yourself at risk of ingredients not being in stock simply because another ‘chorizo fan’ is having a party and needs every last one.

Photo by Marisol Benitez on Unsplash

ead over to www.stroodie.com to sign up to our email list so we can let you know when our event catering and supplier booking website is ready.

Thank you for reading, I hope you found a few ‘takeaways’ that help you in your own street food journey. If you have a new street food business and you need help with sourcing bookings. Please do visit www.stroodie.com or email my at cam@stroodie.com and I will try my very best to be of assistance.

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Cameron King

Wood fired pizza stall owner/operator and co-founder of Stroodie, an events catering and supplier booking platform. www.stroodie.com