Still carrying a little holiday weight

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It would appear that my blog posts are now unintentionally bi-annual. I hadn’t realised the last one was all the way back in June, when we were celebrating our first anniversary of trading, so I suppose that makes us around 18 months old, like a toddler. I’d like to think, in a metaphor that probably isn’t worth running with, we are beyond the street food equivalent of still needing help to walk, naps in the afternoon (although this is something we can get on board with) and only able to shout single words rather than string sentences together.

Without wanting to give a blow-by-blow account of the last eight months, it feels like we’ve continued on an upward curve. Dalston Yard was an amazing three week stretch, one we are hoping to pick up with Street Feast in the not too distant future.

It did, once again, teach us that whilst you are concentrating intently on the problems you believe will trip you up, the real issues are silently on all fours behind you, whilst their mate pushes you in the chest. We coped with going up against established street food giants and making enough to serve more covers than we’d ever experienced,  but what we hadn’t really considered was how difficult it is to source and keep reliable staff. Across the run in Dalston, we went through seven staff members, some weren’t available for every date, but it was, possibly naively, surprising that this was our biggest issue week to week. It did make us realise that in an industry which can be highly inconsistent for the people running businesses, often the type of staff you can employ reflects that inconsistency.

Anyway jumping forward to the winter. Our run up to Christmas brought a different set of challenges, but easily our most sustained period of money-making since we launched. We secured both a spot at Broadway’s Schoolyard Market on Saturdays and a pitch five days a week at Winter Feast in Shepherds Bush. Now the dream of most street food traders, is to be so successful in the run up to Christmas, you can spend as much of the colder months in the new year in hibernation, rather than be outside freezing your tits off, hoping to sell food to people who aren’t actually there. We managed to do this, find reliable staff and, for the first time ever, trade at two different spots on the same day.

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Winter Feast in all its glory

It wasn’t completely plain sailing, mainly due to me not being able to get my head round needing two of everything to actually give the customers what we have on the menu, but that was easily ironed out by the 5th or 6th week of the run up to Christmas…..

Which leads us to January, when we were able to take the whole month off and spend all our well earned cash on eating our way across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Our first holiday since getting back to the UK more than 2 years ago.

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Followers of our Instagram page may think that all we did was order amazing food, take pictures of it, then put on half a stone eating it. Which is actually fairly accurate. For once someone’s social media output was a true reflection of their life. We did refrain from posting most of the sight seeing walks to help settle our stomachs, naps to finish off the digestion and countless trips to pharmacies to buy my dad some U.S. painkillers (which I can only deduce no longer exist, such was the extent and fruitlessness of our search) Incidentally if you are in Miami, Savannah or Charleston any time, in need of a Wallgreens/CVS/Rite Aid, we have an encyclopaedic knowledge of where to go.

It was fantastic to get away and spend time together not over a hot griddle for the first time since about October, and apart from the 11 hour drive back to Miami from South Carolina on the final day which nearly resulted in a missed flight home, outstandingly relaxing.

I’ll tell the story in pictorial form (actually there’s more words than I expected, but they’re really good words)

Miami

We stayed about a 10 minute walk from Miami Beach. It wasn’t necessarily warm enough for a day of sun bathing, but given that there was a 26° swing from when I left London, and Laura got out of Washington before the North Eastern seaboard became a scene from The Day After Tomorrow  – we were pretty happy with our surroundings.

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After a couple of days of unwinding, we spent an afternoon in weather that only tropical climates can produce. Where it torrentially rains but you sweat at the same time. Except it was winter, so there was no sweat. However, we spent it in Wynwood Art District, which was easily the most intriguing place we visited on the whole trip. It’s a formerly rundown neighbourhood in Miami, which has been reinvigorated by artists moving in and making almost every wall the most interesting things to look at in Miami. It’s full of such skillful and insanely detailed graffiti that we didn’t care about being soaked through whilst running around the streets taking photos. Well technically, I drove, Laura hopped out of the car and took the photos, but my arm got wet when my window was open.

The Everglades

The next day was a sunny one in the Everglades, we looked at wildlife and got unnervingly close to alligators, who didn’t seem to care too much about humans being in their vicinity. Maybe we weren’t looking tasty enough because we’d only been eating American food for a couple of days and still relatively slim.

Breakfast @ Josh’s Deli, Surfside, Miami

Where we discovered it’s possible to have a main and dessert for breakfast.

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Corned Beef Benediction – House made corned beef (deli kind, not tin with stupid key kind), potato, onion, pepper, bagel, poached egg, hollandaise

 

French toast – essentially Jewish bread and butter pudding with whipped cinnamon butter. For breakfast. Diabetes and heart disease never tasted so good.

St Augustine

America’s oldest city – although you wouldn’t know it from how it’s been ‘preserved’ – A very rare occurrence in that it dates back to European settlers in 1565, which is very old in USA terms. P1000567

The thing is, the castle above is the only building that looks like it’s nearly 500 years old. The rest of the town kind of feels as though Disney designed a town colonised by the Spanish in the 1500s. It’s all a little fake. A beautiful setting but so far from a true reflection of what it would have looked like in the 16th century.

Surprise, surprise, we did manage to find somewhere fantastic to eat though. The Ice Plant Bar was a bit of a walk from the main strip of the town, but easily worth a walk from our hotel. It distills its own spirits, so as a result is as dedicated to crafting cocktails as a hen party are to drinking them. They even have an ice menu to tell you what’s going in your drink.

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New York strip steak, confit shallots and (the star of the show) whipped yams. A more accurate description would be yam brûlée, but amazing all the same.

 

Frogmore stew – a bit like a gumbo. Full of shrimp, grouper fish, grilled potatoes and an absolutely huge andouille sausage.

 Savannah

The next day we reached Savannah. Which is just a very pretty city. I am not sure what more I can add to this apart from telling you to look at the pictures below.


We were in the south, so it seemed a little rude not to try out BBQ, given that most of Sticky Beaks dishes are inspired by the long, slow cook involved in the cuisine. After much googling and discovering that most places appeared to offer ‘the best barbecue in Savannah’, we plumped for the one which was within walking distance.

And it didn’t disappoint. The Sandfly Streamliner was exactly what you wanted from a traditional bbq spot. Traditional old-fashioned dining car, classic diner features with a short and simple menu, massive portions. Check. Check. Check. We stuffed our faces with pulled pork, brisket, something called Texas toast, smokey, deep flavoured beans so good they would make Mr Heinz cry, collard greens and Laura managed to keep up her quest to eat mac and cheese at least once a day.

Charleston

It was then the turn of Charleston, South Carolina, to host the Sticky Beaks. We’d been reading that it was like a more halcyon version of Savannah. Downtown was a little less impressive than we’d hoped, but our AirBnB was as picturesque as St Augustine was fake. Looking out over Charleston Harbour, with sawgrass running down the boardwalk to the water, where we could see pelicans and shrimp boats slowly passing by. It was about as idyllic as it’s possible to be. It was difficult not to be envious of our host Susan’s life in this picturesque corner of the best city in North America, but she was incredibly accommodating, helpful and the epitome of famed ‘southern hospitalitly’. That and she gave us free beer.

Poogan’s Porch was the venue for our first evening’s dinner. We had insider knowledge that it wasn’t just delicious food, but to celebrate it’s 40th anniversary, in January all dishes were reverted back to 1976 prices.

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The menu is as South Carolina as it’s possible to get. Fried chicken, grits, biscuits, amazingly fresh sea food, ‘country fried’ everything and gravy. All sorts of gravy. We discovered that grits (kind of like a cornmeal porridge) taste the exact opposite to how unappetising they sound. It may have been the cheese, cream and butter, who knows? And biscuits are allowed to steal the name of what is traditionally dunked in tea, as long as they remain the softest, most pillowy scone you’ve ever tasted.

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This is a po-boy – traditionally oysters or shrimps, battered, deep fried, served in a hoagie with salad and a remoulade. I didn’t feel there was enough deep fried stuff on my plate, so went for some okra as well.

It’s difficult to say which meal we enjoyed the most on our trip, because apart from an incredibly ill-advised trip to Taco Bell, most were amazing. The Obstinate Daugther in Sullivan’s Island, was one of those meals.

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She crab salad – with chillies, spring onion, micro herbs and topped with caviar.

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Ricotta Gnocchi with a short rib ragu. I had a clam pizza which was delicious, but Laura definitely won dinner that night and so I don’t feel like posting my dish

The evening was only slightly soured when I discovered that the name of the restaurant referred to a defeat of the British navy when we tried to capture Sullivan’s Island. I had the last laugh, because I was wearing a red coat and left a £5 note with the Queen’s head underlined as a tip. I think they got my point.

Now throughout this seemingly gourmet trip around the southern states of the USA, we haven’t really focused on the extent of Laura’s dedication/addiction to mac and cheese. She could have written a blog based solely on her adventures in that field, which would have gone on a lot longer than this. We also haven’t mentioned the sheer volume of peanut butter products I consumed, drooled over and bought a new suitcase to bring home. If there’s one thing I love more than anything about our American cousins its their dedication to inserting this food of the very highest gods, into every avenue of its food world.

God Bless America and its (presumably) incredibly claggy roof of the mouth.

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Popping Corks on Our First Anniversary

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This Sunday just gone marked one year since Sticky Beaks’ first market. The (in hindsight) not so great pitch in Fulham, where we realised that the first few months would involve shamelessly exploiting friends and their families for money because they were the most likely to buy it from our slightly amateur looking stall.

See, told you it was a bit amateur

See, told you it was a bit amateur

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Looking a lot less sleep deprived than nowadays

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Loyal friends providing 75% of our takings

Without wanting to sound really cliched, but doing it anyway, I can’t believe how far we’ve come in 12 months. From a weirdly located spot in Fulham once a week, we’ve gone to trading 5, or sometimes 7 days a week, I’ve learnt to take on the roles of (in no particular order) head chef, van driver, social media manager, accountant, staff manager, secretary, blog writer, cleaner (kind of), stock manager and debt collector, all to varying degrees of success. I feel like the Daley Thompson of the street food world. I’m far from an expert in most of these fields, but there’s been a large step up from where my skills lay a year ago.

I know I often use this platform to pay tribute to Laura’s efforts to help, whilst holding down a fairly demanding job, but for all the effort I put in most days of the week, her ability to essentially say “Days off are for pussies” most weeks of the year is why the business is not bankrupt, we don’t have a dog that looks like this:

fat dogand the house, and especially kitchen, isn’t featured on one of those Channel 5 shows where people have a route carved between eight foot tall piles of rubbish, saying “I don’t know how it got this bad”.

I suppose the major truimph of the last year is how well the food has been received. In my adult life the one I felt I could rely on being better at than most is cooking. I always tried to make an extra effort for guests, or Laura, because I liked the feeling of people enjoying what I served, but mainly, them telling me how much they liked it. Pure ego boost. The difference now being that I don’t know everyone who eats the food, so they have no obligation to avoid hurting my feelings. The feedback has been incredible, it makes me feel very humble when regulars come back for more, or tell me I serve the best food at a particular market, or even (I am particularly proud of this one) that my lamb is ‘the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted’.

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Beyond the ego stroking, it does help to refocus you. There’s been plenty of times when I/we have been depressed after a bad week, cried at the state of our bank account once rent has gone out or the endless stresses caused by the van that Postman Pat clearly used as his evening joyriding vehicle, when (mostly by Laura) I’ve been told to just remember that I am doing what I love and the product is amazing, we just need to be calm and it will bring the money and success I am too impatient to wait for. Which is obviously true, compared to even three months ago, the business is busier than ever before, bringing in enough money that I don’t need to freelance and the recognition is finally starting to come in. This has culminated in getting a chance to trade at ‘The International Capital of Night Markets’ that is Street Feast’s Dalston Yard in August.

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Deep fried pulled meat balls we’ll be rolling out in August

It’s only a two week showcase to start with, and we would be really stupid to get ahead of ourselves and assume we’d made it, but it feels nicely fitting that the last year of physically and mentally draining graft has been book ended by a real opportunity to launch us to the next level. It’s as excited as I remember having been since we launched this time last year.

All that’s left here is to thank everyone that’s helped us out this year – there’s probably too many of you to name check for coming to try the food, which is testament to the amazing friends and family support we have received, but I’d like to give special thanks to the unpaid work put in by Neil and Dan, without whom the look and feel of the business would either be awful or have cost us more than we’d like to imagine. Dan has been incredibly enthusiastic and patient with our muddled view for how we want the brand to look and somehow managed to create some amazing logos, banners, animals and menus out of the less than clear instructions we have given and the branding is complimented almost as much as the food.

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Also Neil, who we probably don’t show as much appreciation to as we should, for designing our beautiful website whilst working a full time job, buying a house, getting engaged and spending most of his days quoting the Simpsons to anyone who will listen. I’ll leave it to you guys to work out which takes up most of his time.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 11.45.56WordPress is telling me that i’ve written nearly 900 words now, which I remember once was a daunting total on school essays that were actually about something, rather than a guy rambling about how long it takes to shred a shoulder of lamb. It’s actually 912 now. 915. This could go on for a while…

Thanks for reading, I am sure there’ll be something more added to this in six months time when I find the time to add more. For everyone who’s got this far, here’s a video of a girl being woken up by a vacuum cleaner.

Les Becs collantes

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I bet when you woke up this morning, even in your wildest dreams, two editions of of the Sticky Beaks blog was too much to hope for. This is an international edition, talking about our little trip to France in October, including Les Allues in the Alps, where my brother and his family are in their sixth season running a ski chalet.

They are currently spinning more plates than 10 David Spathakys, you’ll have to Google that, which I definitely didn’t have to. Nope. They have taken on a second chalet (for their incredible business Alpine Ethos), decided to buy a house and rebuild everything apart from the outside walls by themselves and, most importantly, had this little guy:

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That’s Jake. Our nephew, wearing one of the many outfits Laura is going to dress him in for the rest of his life. It was great to spend time together with them and my parents for the first time in a couple of years.

But our family life probably isn’t really what you are interested in, even infants dressed as penguins.

I just wanted to talk about French food really. I’ll endeavour to avoid sounding like some preachy goon who thinks to praise the Europeans’ approach to eating means you have to disparage the way the Brits do things. In fact I think our approach is something our traditionally very culinarily insular neighbours could stand to learn some things from. Thanks to a long-standing tradition of immigration, a desire to explore the unfamiliar and a distinct lack of regard for food miles, the foods on offer in UK restaurants and high st shops are beautifully diverse. I believe that attitude is why Sticky Beaks and our fellow traders can successfully have businesses using flavours and influences from across the globe which customers are interested in trying.

Now, I won’t take you through every meal we ate, but here are a few highlights from our week :

1. First of all – markets. I don’t know how they do it, but French food markets are up there with some of the most enticing places I will ever visit. They somehow manage to just present their veg, fruit, meat and cheese in such a way that makes me go disappointed every time I wander up Walthamstow high st to the sounds of “paaahhhnd a bowwwwwwlll”.

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Maybe It’s a nostalgia for all the holidays in Normandy, Brittany and the Dordogne in my youth, but I get such a sense of excitment and awe when I visit the local markets that exist in every town. It’s essentially most of the stuff we would see and eat every day, so it shouldn’t inspire such wonder in me, but I can’t help it. Maybe it’s the fact you know all the produce is made by those selling it and they live close to the town or maybe it’s because I know I’m going to be eating a rotisserie chicken with potatoes cooked in the roasting juices, but essentially, it isn’t a trip to France without a market visit.

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2. Eating out – it’s a treat of any holiday really, despite now doing it for a living, I probably prefer getting someone else to cook my breakfast/lunch/dinner. We spent a couple of days in Saint Quentin, about 90mins south of Calais. We loved seeing the family but definitely needed some time to ourselves after a really intense few months with Sticky Beaks.

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Europeans seem to bloody love squares in their towns and cities and I suppose they are either tourist traps for restaurants and cafes or great focal points for locals to meet up, spend 4 hours eating lunch then fall asleep until dinner. So we managed to stop for lunch in the sun, Laura had moules frites, with which you can never go wrong.

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I had a salad, in what was probably the loosest use of that description of a dish  ever recorded. It was unbelievably good and indulgent. It included; smoked duck breast, lardons, cured ham, roasted potato cubes and, what I can only imagine was, an entire liver of foie gras.

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I think it was the token lettuce and tomatoes that qualified it as a salad. But only in the way that Kevin Pietersen is considered English.

3. Bread, pastries and confectionary – not much to say here , essentially probably the best in the world at all three. If you don’t believe me, just look at how excited Laura is by her giant macaron.

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But it wasn’t all great. I am going to bust one of the great myths peddled about French cuisine. Brace yourselves….. frogs legs are absolutely disgusting. Actually disgusting is probably a term that should be reserved for food that tastes of something.

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In an otherwise delicious meal, this was the dish that was so pointless, so devoid of flavour, it makes you reconsider if the French actually deserve their worldwide gastronomic reputation. I’ve heard them compared to tasting like chicken, which is essentially an enormous insult to chicken. The point I’m trying to make is, they weren’t very nice.

(Clarkson hat on here, without the not so thinly veiled bigotry) And on that bombshell, I’ll leave you. Hope you managed to get through both of these blogs. I can almost guarantee this prolific spree of musings won’t be a regular occurrence, so lap it up people.

Look at what owning a business does to my face

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I’ve managed to secure a pretty quiet first week of 2015, half through planning, half by chance.

I felt like the letting out of belts following the annual Christmas gorge, followed by their immediate retightening as people simultaneously check their diminished bank balances and increased guts may lead to at least one week where people felt street food might be an extravagance they could live without. Here’s to hoping 5 days of no carbs, gym promises and the inertia sitting at a desk will put sales back to normal from 8th January.

It’s also given me a break from turning our kitchen into a bomb site about 3 times a day to assess the first 6 months of Sticky Beaking and it only makes me break out in a stupid grin to think of the achievements since the summer. See, stupid grin.

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(Not to mention an incredible hair style)

I’m not going to try and convince anyone that it’s been anything like a smooth ride. We’ve made dozens of mistakes, but neither of us are chefs, business experts or lucky enough to have everything go perfectly to plan all the time. Becoming entrepreneurs feels more about multiple fuck ups and what they teach you than anything else, and you’re grateful for every single one.

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December itself was an incredible slog. From November 27th until Christmas Eve there wasn’t a day that didn’t involve trading, cooking or prepping and most of the time, all three. Regularly up at 5-6am and bed at midnight cursing whoever decided that slow roasted meats was a good idea for business model. But it really felt like there was a shift in fortunes. November had promised to be our most lucrative month, but bad business choices meant no profits and even fewer wages. December just felt like we got on a roll. We sold out multiple times, secured great pitches that will continue to ensure the business builds in 2015, got some really heartwarming and humbling feedback, found staff that we can rely on when bigger and better events come along and made the money back that was lost in November and then some. I may have forgotten what Laura looked like and her name every once in a while, but it did mean  her Christmas presents could be bought using money that she didn’t earn, so….. swings and roundabouts.

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Checking the Sticky Beaks business plan, which scarily was being conceived about a year ago when we were job, house and penny-less and living with parents, I think we are actually ahead of schedule. We are doing more weekly markets than expected and selling even more sandwiches than I calculated, the 3 and 5 year goals of getting Laura to join full time and opening the Sticky Beaks cafe may not feel so far away soon. It’d be a risk selling something other than  cereal with pink milk for £3 a bowl, but there should be room for everyone in the market.

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We’ve got some ambitiously high hopes for this year, I am looking to find a commercial space to increase our cooking capacity and it’s only slightly down to the fact everything coming out of our oven has a pulled porkyness to it. A lot more foresight is going into the calendar, with March filling up already, giving us the chance to really target the big bucks at festivals this summer and start to really build a business. It’s invigorating, daunting and a load of other adjectives I would use Google’s synonym tool for if I had time. We hope that you can join us and help to make the equivalent blog in 2016 feature an even stupider grin than the one above.

You’re actually going to get two for the price of one in blogs today. We took a trip to see my bro, his wife and our new nephew Jake in October, which was lovely and full of French food, the pictures which will probably outnumber the words.

Sticky Beaks’ Sporadic Musings

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This is the first post I’ve written since we started trading at the end of May/beginning of June. I find it highly unlikely that anyone has been checking back to our site daily, desperate for a Sticky Beaks update, if you have then all I can do is sincerely apologise. When I started the blog, I was thinking this could become a weekly or, at least, fortnightly thing to update. It would help promote the brand, maybe serve as a good way to keep our many, many followers up to date with the progress of our budding enterprise and, in some ways, act as a cathartic outlet, to talk about all the things which might be a bit too in depth to constantly bore our nearest and dearest with. That way, if you get bored reading the post, you can just stop, which is far more polite than telling us to be quiet face-to-face. 

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The issue with that is there’s very rarely nothing to do. When you’re trying new ideas recipes to keep your menu fresh, making sure the books are up to date, desperately seeking a new market to trade at and keep the money coming in or, in Laura’s case, holding down a full time job and doing Sticky Beaks which gives you, at most, one day off a week, the idea of blogging seems a tad self-indulgent and less important than the more tangible aspects of running a business. Case in point – I started writing this more than a week ago, and have only just got round to finishing it off.

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We absolutely love the gratification that comes after a good, or even average, day of trading – and it’s not just down to (very, very occasionally) being able to go home and roll around in a pile of £10s and £20s on your bed, but also getting incredible feedback from customers, making your friends’ festival a success, feeling part of a community of traders who genuinely want everyone to do well. The fulfilment far outweighs the sacrifices, but there are certainly plenty of them to deal with. I feel at my happiest when both of us are trading together on the stall, when we get a spare day or evening to discuss how to develop the business further or even just when Laura’s around to organise me. By the very nature of our current arrangement, the day-to-day running of Sticky Beaks falls mainly into my lap, and while I feel comfortable being a one-man band for 90% of the time, everything goes a lot more smoothly when she’s there directing me in which order to play the instruments. (The crowbar used for that metaphor is tax-deductible.)

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So there it is, the last three months, or Sticky Beaks’ first three months, have been physically, emotionally and psychologically demanding and dissecting it all, which I could very easily do, will not make for a particularly thrilling read. One thing I have noticed of late is the rise in popularity of buzzfeed-esque pointless lists, with intentionally non-round numbers of pictures/gifs/poignant advice, so in homage to that, I give you….

7 Highlights from Sticky Beaks first Summer of trading. #7 will literally blow your mind and change your life 4evs.

1. The Open City Docs Fest at UCL

This was our first big event, not long after we started out. Unknown to us until the day, we were chosen from hundreds of applicants because they liked our branding and menu, which apparently stood out from the crowd. We planned quantities perfectly, sold out of everything around 30 minutes before the end, but as well as this there was an incredible response to our food from the organisers and attendees, one of the other traders even bought three haloumi wraps and we have a potential source for future events with guaranteed high sales.

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2. Selling to an international star

Probably our worst day in terms of sales, so few that the girl organising it was too embarrassed to ask for a pitch fee, however the advantage of trading in Dalston is that you can easily be selling on the same street where a girl from Harry Potter and the verbose, back-combed, Fox News baiting, bedroom Olympic champion Russell Brand live (not together as far as I know). Being the only people offering a veggie option helped as he cycled past looking for some lunch. Laura got understandably flustered, I was a bit cooler, but also made reference to his drug addiction, not so cool.  It wasn’t just the thrill of selling food to a guy we’d seen on stage within the last 12 months, but the amount of social media interest and reaction having a picture of a well known celebrity eating your food can have. When you measure your success in Facebook post reach and retweets, it ended up being a good day. We still don’t know if he enjoyed it. 

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3. Buying a van

Maybe a slightly odd highlight, but I can’t even stress how vital it is to have your own wheels. For the first two months we rented vans, not only did that limit the number of days we could go and buy equipment and stock, but it would just eat into any profit we made over most weekends, which, fairly obviously for a new small business, isn’t huge and is even more vital for developing everything about your operation. That and it’s Postman Pat’s old van.

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4. UV fest

This was a micro-festival put on by three mates, by a twist of luck (possibly not how Ed would describe it) we ended up being the only food trader to a festival with 300 potential customers. It was a really encouraging day of trading, easily our most lucrative, but it’s not all about money. The day gave us some crucial experience of how to handle extremely busy rushes, which in conclusion is, you need more than two people. There was about a two-hour period where it just didn’t calm down at all, and without Ed stepping in and essentially acting as the director of the stall, I genuinely don’t think we’d have coped without him, and barely did when he was there.

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5. Fellow traders

You’d think in such a bloated industry as the London street food scene, there would be a lot of competition and animosity between you and your competitors. Traders are literally next door to their rivals. But it’s the complete opposite. The markets we have been at have been exclusively inhabited by kind, friendly, warm and unbelievably helpful people. Everyone is in the same boat and it’s a genuine community because we all know how difficult it is to get off the ground and make ends meet, especially at the start and it’s that shared experience that seems to create a genuine bond across the board.

6. Support of family and friends

It was a fairly large part of my first two blogs, but everyone is still stepping up in every way they can to help. Whether this is parents coming to visit and look after Lebowski or make our house look presentable after a week where we haven’t even looked at a vacuum cleaner, or Dave, Andy and Bobby helping me out at a new market when Laura has the audacity to not want to work 7 days a week, Neil designing the website for free or even just people asking how everything is going and showing an interest in what we are doing. It’s still a scary and daunting venture and the efforts however big or small of everyone around us that keeps us going on the difficult days. 

7. Being your own boss

I suppose it goes without saying, but being the man rather than working for him, is a wonderful feeling. The pay cheque that’s about as steady as a horse trying to play football (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AHVDJlKmKkdoesn’t matter when you’re starting out. I’d spent a number of years in an industry that I just didn’t care about, so got by on doing the bare minimum. Sticky Beaks, for both of us, is the polar opposite. It occupies every waking thought, I’m excited to be in control of our destiny. A quote that I keep reading, which is probably attributed to any number of people from Groucho Marks to Stalin, that helps inspire everything about Sticky Beaks is “Find something you love doing and work out how to get paid for it” – which is exactly what this business has provided. For the first time since probably my first couple of years at Sky, I am striving for excellence, and I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to food, so sailing through without much effort has already become an attitude of the distant past.

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Sticky Beaks flaps it wings

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31/5/14 – the date that Sticky Beaks went from being a dream to a proper bona fide street food trader. Last Saturday we sold our first sandwich to the public – a blonde girl in Fulham Broadway, who wasn’t wearing any shoes. She wanted meatballs, but they weren’t hot enough yet (more about that later) so she went for the Vietnamese pulled pork sandwich instead. It was an incredibly satisfying day, it certainly won’t be our most successful afternoon sales-wise, but definitely the most triumphant feeling we are likely to have after a market day.

Laura became designated grill (wo)man

This may come as a surprise to all of you, but it turned out, we didn’t know everything about selling sandwiches on a market stall. I know, we were as baffled as you. I’d say we probably learnt more over the weekend than in the last 6 months of researching the business. Here’s a quick rundown of the key moments on a learning curve so steep, Red Bull will probably be televising someone sliding down it very soon.

Guess the number of balls competition

1. You should probably start cooking food earlier than 3pm the day before trading – it had been an incredibly busy week making sure all our stock was ordered, equipment arrived and we knew how to set up the gazebo properly (we didn’t). So on Friday, it was pretty late in the day before I started to make 3.5kg of lamb into nearly 200 meatballs, 5kg of chopped tomatoes into a thick, spicy sauce, before even considering mixing the minted yoghurt, spicy dressing, let alone toasting almonds. It was a late night, not helped by a bread delivery from the bakery at 2:45am.

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2. It’s not as easy as you think to put up a gazebo – In the midst of setting up before trading, we were pretty happy with how it was all going. The tent and tables were up, menu written on the blackboard, business cards displayed proudly at the front of the stall, when James, the market runner, comes over asking “what’s wrong with your gazebo? It looks a bit saggy on top”. It turns out the pole that fell out when we were doing a dry run in our back garden was actually useful as opposed to ‘probably not important’. It props up the apex, to make it look like a proper tent, rather than something a couple of drunk guys put up after a late night, drunken arrival at Glastonbury.

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3. Chafing dishes take longer than 30 minute to heat up food – There was a slight panic at 11:30 when people were starting to show interest in the food stalls around Jerdan Place and we had put the heat under our meatballs and pork around half an hour earlier, and they were both stone cold. So we added a third… then a fourth pot of fuel underneath each one, but it still took until about 2pm before everything was hot enough to serve at a proper temperature. We could whack the pulled pork on the griddle, but it’s quite hard to heat up the meatballs in sauce on a flat grill. When we arrived at around 8:30, the hog roast stand guy, who’s been doing it for years, was set up, with his chafing dishes already going, and instead of taking it as a sign, we both thought “look at that chump, his meat’s gonna be well dry by the time it comes to serving”. Hmmmm.

 

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4. Explain yourself better! –  Annoyingly the stall sign we ordered was ready but not delivered for Saturday, so nobody knew we were called Sticky Beaks. We had a blackboard written with our menu on it, but working on a budget meant there wasn’t much left in the pot to buy anything else. The other stalls on the square had big, bold signage which inevitably was going to attract more customers, but it’s something we will get right and be able to compete with in time. Better explanations of our menu will also go a long way to attracting customers. We know what a Banh Mi is, a sandwich sent by the French and Vietnamese gods for us all to be thankful for, but it’s dangerous to assume everyone is on the same page. This weekend, a new sign shouting about the pulled pork element, giving us the chance to sing the praises of its accompaniments should be a more effective way of bringing in the passing trade. The lesson learnt is you can’t boast about yourself enough, something one half of Sticky Beaks (hint: it’s not Laura) should be well aware of. 

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5. Your friends will come through for you every time – It was 12:30, the meat was cold, we hadn’t sold a sandwich and the Venezuelan food stand and hog roast appeared to have swarms of customers, there was a look of mild panic on our faces that we’d made a mistake setting up a business, all ridiculous considering we were an hour into our first market, but we were still worried. Then people we knew started arriving. People we knew but weren’t expecting, arrived. Quite a few of them. A couple of them even came back for seconds. Neil (the friend building our website for free) started taking pictures and the gathered people started making yummy noises when we served them. It felt like we’d actually arrived and were proper street food traders. It didn’t matter that it was friends eating our food, because that’s the kind of support network you need when starting up. We are supremely confident about having food good enough to impress the public, but that confidence is shrouded in the uncertainty of not knowing if everyone else is going to think that. We need people to spread the word about Sticky Beaks and those who know us the best are going to be our primary marketing tools in these early days, and we love and appreciate everything they have done, are doing and will be doing for us.

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Sticky Beaks is hatched

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Meet Steve and Laura

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We are the two fledgling business owners behind Sticky Beaks, a street food start-up, supplying sandwiches to anyone who’ll eat them. The idea for the stall was hatched in Sydney, Australia, where we were living for 18 months before we decided incessant sunshine, stupidly high salaries and being less than 10 minutes from a beach pretty much anywhere you went, clearly wasn’t enough for us.

The concept of the business has changed a number of times, lurching from a bakery, to a coffee shop, a sandwich kiosk, before settling on a street food stall. The major attraction is the relatively low start-up costs, flexibility in menu and trading spots and an opportunity to express ourselves with the food we make in a way that the other brilliant traders at markets and events across London do. It’s a scene that’s been expanding for the past few years in London, and where some of the most exciting cuisine is being produced.

However, the process of making a concept real hasn’t happened overnight, with no small input from the incredible people at The Prince’s Trust.

There’s been plenty of ‘field research’ (i.e. visiting markets and eating a shed load of other people’s food)

Invincible Admiral Burger from Galbi Bros

Invincible Admiral Burger from Galbi Bros

Korean Burrito from Kimchinary

Korean Burrito from Kimchinary

Confit Chicken from The Joint

Confit Chicken from The Joint (with Heather from Alpine Ethos beautifully modelling)

 

And testing our own recipes

Pre-cooking Moroccan meatballs

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Pulled pork Banh Mi

 

Which is the hugely enjoyable, tweetable, instagramable side of starting a food business, expanding your knowledge, waistline and repertoire before launching it on the public.

There is a much less glamorous, but equally essential, side to how Sticky Beaks has got to this point though. We have been working tirelessly to decide whether the business is viable, delving into statistics and reports on the takeaway food industry (finding out the seemingly useless, but actually vital fact, that sandwiches account for 1/3 of all fast food in the UK). Our pulled pork Banh Mi and Moroccan meatball sub could take London’s markets by storm, and by could, I obviously mean will, but if we don’t know how much they cost to make, then Sticky Beaks won’t see its first birthday.

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Number crunching with a favourite cookbook performing a photobomb

 

On the upside, we now know how to bookkeep, calculate profit margins, cashflow forecasts, set up our kitchen to avoid poisoning people (apparently this is an important aspect of food production) and other slightly dull, but incredibly essential aspects of self employment.

There’s going to be plenty more rules, regulations and major hiccups along the way which are, to quote Dick Cheney, unknown unknowns, but it sure as hell is going to beat working for someone else for a living.

Sticky Beaks will be trading before the end of May, at Jerdan Place market in Fulham, and hopefully in Camden Passage in Islington by the time the World Cup kicks off in June. We’ll try to keep this blog updated with all the thrills and spills of street food trading as we dip our toes into a world neither of us have much idea about, but can’t wait to get our feet soaking wet.