Podcast Summary (It's way better to listen)
Owning a Restaurant – Dream or Nightmare?
00:00: Robin Leeburn, KERB Podcaster, from BAO in Soho
02:42: Petra Barran, KERB Founder
07:18: Chris Miller, Restaurant Hunter. White Rabbit Fund
10:40: Nud Dudia and Chris Whitney, Breddos Tacos
16:12: Tom Brown, Decatur
22:40: Petra Barran, KERB Founder
26:20: Zan Kaufman Bleecker Burger
30:25: Alec Owen, Baba G’s
Londoners lust after the new, trending street food traders. It’s a perfect match and for a while, we can’t get enough of each other. But where do we go together after those first few rough and ready years on the street?
Londoners are obsessed with newness, scrolling through the streets with a need to fill Instagram like a sticker book of trending dishes and restaurant openings. London’s craving is deep and insatiable.
Street food traders are exuberant and ever ready, with fresh energy and a lust for banging out new ideas that jolt you with mind-blowing flavour sensations you’ve never experienced before.
Endurance is everything. Over time, some traders acquire rockstar status, while others weather and lose their shine.
The rockstars have choices. They can go into ‘bricks and mortar’ by themselves or with an investor. They can stay on the street and take on a different form. Or they can use the street food experience as a portal into something entirely new. KERB is not a permanent platform, but a springboard into whatever comes next. KERB Alumni have made all of these choices.
Robin Leeburn hunted down a few of the rockstars to find out why they made the choices they did.
Bleecker Burger’s Zan Kaufman, who now owns permanent restaurants in Spitalfield Market and Victoria Street, as well as pop up locations around the city, has expanded on her own, without outside investment.
Raising money to speed up expansion is an attractive prospect, but Zan is cautious not to relinquish control over the business. “I can’t imagine a Bleecker where someone else is making key decisions about what we do… Bleecker’s my child.”
The sense of connection to the very roots of a business is exactly what people want to buy today; buyers want to know the origin of everything – they want to own an original.
It’s the magic ingredient investors are looking for in a promising food business. Chris Miller from the White Rabbit Fund said: “Today’s customers have been marketed to since they were kids and they can see right through a something that has been set up by a corporate company. Part of what I look for is that genuine story. There’s something important about that story of starting from scratch that turns it into an investable opportunity.”
Investors can catapult a trader out of the rain and into a kitchen that they don’t have to transport and rebuild every day. Naturally, a lot of street food traders relish the idea. And although it’s easy to see the allure, Petra Barran, KERB Founder warns traders to think carefully about their long term goals before leaping into partnership with an investor, especially in London. “The business model for a restaurant in London now doesn’t work. It’s too expensive to sell the food you want to sell at the price that people are prepared to pay for it, in a good area of London, where you need to be to make it work in the first place.”
That’s one conundrum.
Another is this: many traders get into street food to be free. Will they relish the ‘reward’ of a fixed restaurant with a 5 year lease, long opening hours and fixed running costs?
Alec Owen, Baba G’s Founder said, “You’re not just your own boss, you’re the boss of your own time. I’ve got a kid. I took a slight hiatus from the business and had time to spend with my family and watch them grow which is something that people can’t do when they’re 9 to 5 wage slaves.”
Working 80 hours a week in multiple restaurant locations isn’t possible, so moving indoors also means losing your direct relationship with the customer, and potentially becoming the corporate entity you fled in the first place.
How can you keep your freedom and your customer relationship and grow at the same time?
The Rib Man has beaten this path by himself. After all these years, you can still follow the smoke and find him serving up to a tonne of ribs a week on Brick Lane and at West Ham games. He reaches a global audience online with the sale of his legendary sauces – Holy Fuck, Holy Mother of God, Christ on a Bike, Judas is Scary Hot and more.
The KERB Life podcast has been produced, edited and hosted by Robin Leeburn, of Fairly www.fairly.media
Executive Producer: Petra Barran
Petra Barran, Founder, KERB
Chris Miller – Director, White Rabbit Fund