Lunchtime in most major cities is now consumed with streets full of small, independent vendors showcasing the very best in authentic cuisines, or innovative food ‘mashups’ (think the Yorkshire pudding burrito or the oversized bao, both of which are now among The Beaver’s favourites). The street food boom has showed no sign of slowing down – with what used to be confined to the worlds of music festivals and sports events, and limited to a plain, greasy burger, now continues as big business in the foodservice world.
More recently, The Beaver has noticed this movement becoming more common across the redundant areas now known as food halls or markets. These locations, which there are many of across London, have now turned into fantastic street food havens. However, with a lot of uncertainty within the high street restaurant scene, The Beaver wanted to dig a little deeper to find out what it is that really makes these locations so popular, interesting and a good investment.
From a customer’s perspective, it’s fast, fresh and informal. It is all about providing the to-die-for, mouth-watering pulled pork burger wrapped in paper that people can wash down with their favourite beer, while enjoying a social get together with mates, colleagues or fellow disciples of the street food movement. These places have even evolved past the foodservice element to include other features, such as exclusive themed cinemas or special screenings of special events. Without the need to book or have to dress up, these locations allow consumers to enjoy themselves in a much more casual atmosphere.
From an operator’s perspective, this going back to the basics theme means that, frankly, every man and his dog can have a go at a street food business, as long as the passion and skills are there. Normally, these street food operators take small spaces, or even turn up in their own vehicle cooking out the back. As a result, there are no hefty fit-out costs associated with the unit, meaning an operator can do their thing with little fuss. Simplicity and low investments are, after all, the name of the game with street food.
Finally, from a landlord’s perspective, they have understood the importance of keeping the places exciting so that some of that ‘leakage’ can be stemmed. Plonking a street food unit in an otherwise empty space works a treat as it generates rental income for the landlord and creates interest for the customer. With more popularity among street food and authentic experiences, The Beaver believes landlords are looking more commonly at this model to try and provide a real point of difference.
However, there are some concerns too – one of the biggest being the scalability of the street food model. These businesses are usually very owner-driven, whereby the he or she wants to put their personal stamp on the dishes they serve and the way it is delivered. Getting out of this frame of mind will be key if the operator is serious about moving away from a pure lifestyle business to one that is aiming to make the big bucks.
But the good news is that, whether you are a serial entrepreneur who is looking to diversify or a laid-back check-shirt and bearded hipster, there is still room for everyone in this market space. As ever, The Beaver is monitoring the street food market and is interested to see how the expansion models work. Will we will see more street food markets or will we get to the point of too much, where they are no longer interesting or exciting? The important thing is that they are the ‘now’ and nothing lives forever; people’s demands and habits change and who knows what we will be doing in five to 10 years’ time? Food for thought indeed!