Kings Of Mobile Catering

The UK’s eating out sector is set to grow 2.2% in 2016 to a value of £56.3 billion by 2019 and no one is capitalising on that growth more than street food sellers and mobile catering companies. It’s estimated that street food is eaten by some 2.5 billion people each day, worldwide. The majority of which are likely to be those in countries where street food has been a part of their culture long before the boom in the UK. However, there’s no denying that grabbing a quick bite at a festival, market or dedicated street food event has taken off in a big way. In London alone, streetfood.org.uk lists 21 different markets selling street food.

The Guardian also reported (way back in 2011) that a street food seller can set up shop for around £3,000 and with a captive audience (e.g. Glastonbury Festival) can make around £10,000 per day. It’s not just the sellers themselves who are reaping the rewards either – local suppliers often see orders increase as a consequence of the success driven demand of street food sellers. Carnivore go to street food sellers, MEATWagon told The Guardian, “the bakers of our buns, for example, have had to buy a new £35k oven each time we've opened a new site”.

Traditional retailers will tell you that a shop front plays a huge part in getting customers through the door. In some instances, a premises adds an experiential aspect and a touch of character to the service or product that shop is selling. The same applies to street food retailing. However, street food kitchens and mobile catering-mobiles also face a different challenge - they need to be able to go where the work takes them!

We caught up with five street food retailers and mobile caterers to find out what makes their vehicle of choice so special to them and their customers and how they’ve made their vehicles into the mobile catering machines they are today.

Lickalix

What make and model is your vehicle and why did you choose it?

Ours is a VW Kombi camper van.

We chose it because both founders of LICKALIX already loved VW Kombis. We felt the look of the van was a great fit with the brand but it was also different to a lot of the other street food vans out there. There was only one other VW Kombi that we had seen on our travels and the size of the Kombi was perfect for a lolly-mobile. Our Kombi (his name is Kenny by the way) is a new cooler take on your standard ice cream van; and even better than a normal ice cream van Kenny sells healthy, natural, made with fresh fruit, ice lollies! :)

Everyone loves our VW camper van, we get waved at all the time and at events people always come up to us with happy tales of their times owning their Kombis. Camper vans just put a smile on people’s faces naturally.

What have you had to do to it to make it into the mobile catering machine it is today?

We were really lucky when it came to the décor. The colours on the inside of Kenny already matched all the bright colours in our logo. The bottom half of Kenny was yellow but our branded vinyl wrap covered that easily. We can always strip it back to the yellow easily if we ever wanted. When it came to making Kenny into a lolly-mobile we had to take out the travel cooker, sink and bed that was there and replace it with a freezer that would hold as many lollies as possible. What’s great though is we made sure if we ever wanted to turn it back into a van that we can travel around the country in we can take the freezer out and put the bed back! We also needed to make a serving hatch and prop open the roof...people must be served the lollies of course!

What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

The biggest challenge was making sure the freezer was robust enough to be driven around and would work both with and without power. We don’t ever want to have a freezer full of melted lollies!! So far so good. We had to test a lot of combinations of batteries and inverters; the guys we worked with worked really hard to get it right.

What’s the most popular thing on your menu?

Easy! Everyone loves our Strawberry Mojito Poptail - an ice lolly with alcohol! It’s made with fresh strawberries, lime and mint...and it’s only 22 calories. Our Mango & Raspberry Swirl would be the most popular ice lolly without alcohol.

Where can we find you/how can we hire you?

We’re all over the place at different festivals and stocked in different shops and cafes. It's best to follow us on Twitter.com, Facebook and visit www.lickalix.com to find out more.

Cocktail Caravan

What make and model is your vehicle and why did you choose it?

We've been told the caravan is a Sprite Major by avid caravan fans! We trawled through eBay and the local ads for a caravan for sale under £500 in the area and low and behold we came across the soon-to-be Norman the Cocktail Caravan on a nearby farm just waiting there for the adventure of a lifetime!

What have you had to do to it to make it into the mobile catering machine it is today?

We stripped the caravan back to its shell, tearing out all the faux wood and pink 70s décor with a crow bar and a hammer. The only original feature we kept was the pull out bed so we could camp at an event after a long shift! We're great believers of upcycling and shopping local so we kitted the caravan out with reclaimed wood, fabrics sourced from local markets and glassware from charity shops / jam jars that we collected. The scariest moment during the conversion was installing the hatch as we had to cut a big hole in the caravan and we only had one chance to get it right but it was surprisingly easier than we expected! Choosing the decor was our favourite part; we spent days creating design boards on Pinterest and then spliced together all our favourite colours, patterns and designs to transform the caravan into what it is today which included lovingly stencilling each polka dot on by hand.

What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

Our biggest challenge has been marketing the caravan on a small budget. However, we've been really lucky in that people love the concept of the caravan and we've been mentioned in Vogue and Emerald Street as well as having the chance to work with companies such a MTV district and Converse.

What’s your favourite/most popular thing on your menu?

Our favourite drink on the menu at the moment is a Breakfast Martini which is gin, fresh lemon juice, earl grey tincture and marmalade, shaken with ice and served in a tea cup and saucer with a bit of toast of the side. The most popular drink this weekend was the Lemon Tree; citrus vodka, fresh lemon, elderflower and ginger beer.

Where can we find you/how can we hire you?

The Cocktail Caravan is available for parties, weddings and corporate events. We mix up beautiful handcrafted drinks from bespoke menus and travel the country hosting cocktail hours, drinks receptions and cash bars. The best way to get in touch with us is via our website http://www.thecocktailcaravan.co.uk. Or you can email us at hello@thecocktailcaravan.co.uk.

The Tinderbox

What make and model is your vehicle and why did you choose it?

The Tinderbox is based on the 1930s teardrop caravan built for us by the English Caravan Company (ECC).

We fell in love with the teardrop caravan when we saw one travelling around Britain on the TV. We had been looking at all sorts of vehicles to convert for our mobile catering business but nothing else quite hit the spot.

What have you had to do to it to make it into the mobile catering machine it is today?

Essentially, we’ve replaced the beds and kitchen with a half-ton brick wood oven!

It was whilst having a cup of tea in bed one Sunday morning that we saw the teardrop on the box and it changed everything. We contacted ECC at once and asked if they would build one for us and they accepted the challenge.

What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

Converting the tear drop caravan wasn’t an easy task. The whole design had to be changed due to the weight of the oven and the wheels had to be moved to get the balance right. None of us knew if the oven would fit. It was a very tense moment when the oven arrived and we placed it inside. Luckily for us it fitted quite snuggly with 2mm to spare.

Getting the look just right was also tricky. We didn’t want to spoil the look of the van with any branding or make it too twee. I think it took us longer to pick the right colour than to have it built. We finally went with an original VW coach green and cream. We think it shows her off perfectly.

Oddly enough, we also faced a tough hurdle in getting insured, I called lots of brokers but no one was keen to take on a half-ton oven on wheels, inside a caravan made of wood and the name didn’t help much either!

What’s your the most popular thing on your menu?

We fire up the oven three times a day. A typical daily menu would include a breakfast of Welsh rarebit, an afternoon fresh pizza and with the setting sun, wood roasted lamb legs served with salsa verde and braised white beans.

The wonderful thing about our oven is that we can cook so much and are always trying out different dishes; pulled pork, pizza, Lahmacun, stews, curries and wood roasted fruit (which is amazing by the way!). My current favourite though is whole sides of salmon, but I can’t wait for winter as rump steaks are going on the menu.

Where can we find you/how can we hire you?

We appear at festivals, parties, corporate do’s and weddings. You can get hold of us and keep up with where we are on our website, on Twitter and on Facebook.

We love what we do. It’s a great way to make a living, we always see everyone having a good time so we can’t help but enjoy ourselves too. So, get in touch – we’d love to be a part of your good times too.

Street Kitchen

What make and model is your vehicle and why did you choose it?

It is a 1967 Airstream Safari - we chose it because it looks so damn cool!

What have you had to do to it to make it into the mobile catering machine it is today?

We have worked very hard to make restaurant quality meals available in seconds using the best seasonal British ingredients. Quality and consistency are imperative and our team of Michelin trained chefs put a huge amount of energy into the careful preparation of these amazing British ingredients.

The Airstream is ideal for making all this happen. It’s amazingly spacious so really all we’ve had to do is pack it full of sophisticated cooking equipment to allow us to deliver this quality food at lightning speed.

What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

Perception was quite a challenge at the start, our boxes are freshly prepared to order and the ingredients aren't always on show - people's perception of a food truck was burgers and greasy food. However, as soon as people try our food they are immediate converts, they often say that they are blown away by the quality of food and the speed at which we serve it.

In terms of more practical challenges, we once did an event in a mews in Mayfair in the early days - we got the trailer in but then realised that we needed to reverse it up a ramp with 10cm gaps on either side and then round a corner...we almost didn't get out.

What’s the most popular thing on your menu?

It has to be our crispy chicken salad, made using the most amazing chicken from Label Anglais (small traditional farm just outside London) and a sauce made from Old Winchester cheese (an incredible cheese from Lyburn Cheese - it makes an epic substitute for Parmesan in Caesar dressing). People also love our award winning Buffalo Bill burger using dry aged grass fed beef from The Butchery Ltd near London Bridge and our secret weapon - a smoked mustard mayo that makes a glorious accompaniment with the dry aged beef.

Where can we find you/how can we hire you?

Check our website but mostly Monday - Friday in Devonshire Square and Broadgate (see our website for exact location) and in Battersea from Monday - Friday.

We do lots of corporate and private events (ranging from Michelin quality tasting menus for 8 people to canapés, bowl food and bespoke menus for 1000) Our events team can be contacted at events@streetkitchen.co.uk

Anna Mae’s Mac and Cheese

What make and model is your vehicle and why did you choose it?

Our big gold mac truck Burt Reynolds is a GMC Vandura - the same model as the A-Team van only with mac related adjustments. It only seemed right that we go for such a classic American vehicle in which to prepare a classic American dish.

What have you had to do to it to make it into the mobile catering machine it is today?

When we picked up Burt he was a slightly worse-for-wear grey day-van with a few leaks and creaks, in semi-retirement in Croydon. After some intensive internal work we turned him into the ultimate mobile mac kitchen, raising the roof and kitting him out in top of the range stainless steel. We’ve kept the equipment minimal so we have flexibility in what we take to which event, and that works really well. When it came to the cosmetics we had a few disasters - cowboy graffiti artists painting him under random bridges in West London, only for all the paint to come away in the rain, that sort of thing - but in the end the gold just seemed like the perfect outfit for Burt. We researched classic 80s gold car paints and found a little stocked colour that works so well on the truck. It isn’t a perfect finish but that is the look we wanted - a little rough round the edges!

What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

Every job comes with its own set of challenges, that’s what keeps things interesting, keeps you on your toes and teaches you something new all the time. The biggest challenge I’d say is keeping up the momentum when you’ve been working 17 hour days for two months straight without a break and not losing your marbles! The summer season is very intense with long hours and lots of travelling, but a good list helps keep you on track.

What’s the most popular thing on your menu?

Our most popular dish is the Don Macaroni, but I love doing specials as we can be really creative and try new things out by playing around with flavours and ingredients. I love our Big Mac (N Cheese) where we recreate the iconic Big Mac in mac n cheese form. It tastes exactly like it. Machos is another of my favourites (mac, corn chips, Texas red chilli, guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapeños, sour cream) it’s pretty immense. I’d always recommend trying out the special – that’s why they’re called ‘special’!

Where can we find you/how can we hire you?

We pop up all over the place! During the summer you can find us at many different events and festivals but we trade all year round at markets, food events, pop ups etc. All of our dates are listed on our website www.anna-maes.com where you can also find infomation on private hire.

One last bite...

Having been in contact with each of our featured street food sellers, it’s clear that their vehicles are key to their business and in many ways, a part of the family. It’s no surprise that their owners have given them names like Kenny, Norman and Burt because these vehicles are the heart and soul of the business. And that’s what street food is – fast, delicious food with heart and soul to boot.