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.

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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