Six years ago, Yianni Papoutsis was flipping his ‘dirty burgers’ on an industrial estate in Peckham. Last year in Singapore he opened his tenth MEATliquor restaurant. For many of today’s new food concepts, making the journey from the margins to the mainstream is very much the goal.
Pitt Cue went from pulling pork under Hungerford Bridge to a gleaming new 100-cover barbecue restaurant at Devonshire Square in just five years. Patty & Bun, Pizza Pilgrims and Rosa’s Thai Café are others who have ‘moved indoors’ to establish permanent chains.
While it seems like a natural progression for street food outlets to eventually graduate to ‘bricks and mortar’ restaurants, an increasing number of operators are establishing platforms which blend fixed sites with pop-ups, trucks and tents. However, some remain sceptical about having a permanent roof over their business.
Fundi Pizza is a regular fixture at the street food hub, Dinerama, in Hackney but its founder, Charlie Nelson, is yet to be persuaded about putting down roots. He questions why you would want the extra costs when at big events “we can easily do 200 covers and the burger guys can sell 5,000 units without breaking a sweat”.
Most landlords assume pop-ups and successful street food traders will jump at the offer to do something permanent, but it’s always worth bearing in mind just how much profit some of these guys are making already. It’s a very different business model.
Traders who are considering the move are doing so much more slowly. Taking on the rent and rates bills entailed by London sites can be huge, so traders are looking for an interim solution – a way of refining concepts in a staffed, stocked, stationary unit. Typical examples of these are Boxpark in Shoreditch and Pop in Brixton.
Now in its fifth year of trading, The Duck Truck, is taking space in the Shoreditch Boxpark. It’ll cost the business about £35k a year including service charge and utilities which is much less than it would pay for a conventional restaurant site.
Its founder, Ed Farrell, is excited by the move and says that if it’s successful he’ll have “much more confidence that we can prove to investors that it works”.
But long-term permanence is very much on the agenda. He says: “I want the story in 10 years’ time to be that we’ve got 100 restaurants – but we started in a food truck.”