Restaurant operators have been warned the growing popularity of the street food trend could lead to an unsustainable growth in the market and a dilution of the original origins of the concept.
That was the message from Richard Johnson, founder of the British Street Food Awards, who was speaking yesterday at The Restaurant Show in a discussion at the Business Bootcamp on the recent restaurant street food business revolution.
Johnson, who credited McDonalds with kickstarting the popularity of the trend by changing the perceptions of casual eating, said larger operators and financial backers jumping on the bandwagon might have a long-term detrimental impact on street-inspired cuisine.
“You get so many people coming into the business now and there aren’t enough pitches. You get people coming in to make a quick buck and larger chains are financing vans of their own which can undercut their rivals.
“There is a danger that the market inflates to such a degree that it can undercut where it came from,” he added.
Also speaking on the panel, chaired by Restaurant magazine editor William Drew, were Scott Collins, co-owner of Meat Liquor and Petra Barran. Barran co-founded the Eat St collective and more recently Kerb, which is providing the main catering for The Restaurant Show this year.
Despite a number of operators choosing to make the move from operating on the street to operating in a permanent restaurant building, Barran said it did not automatically mean the street food concept was being diluted or negatively altered.
“If you have got the ethos, you have got the ethos. Whether it is on the street or in a restaurant – it doesn’t matter. People who trade do it because they love it and whoever wants to be in that space, contribute in a nice way with a nice attitude and good food can do.”
“Their business (Meat Liquor) hasn’t changed from its origins in the Peckham car park it began in – it has just been re-situated,” she said.
Although Johnson warned big-name brands doing street food could often be more popular than the independents they are mimicking, Collins argued the best would always succeed.
“With social media and the press the public knows and will vote with their feet – quality will shine.”
And tips for street food vendors who, like Collins once was, are now wannabe restaurateurs?
“If you remain true to what you set out to do you can get people around you to do the grown-up, important stuff and you can concentrate on keeping the ethos going. Never bite off more than you can chew - we never spent more than we earned. Every day is a new problem – don’t be in the restaurant industry if you don’t like it and what it throws at you,” he said.
BigHospitality took a wander down the special street The Restaurant Show has laid down at Earls Court 2 and spoke to a number of vendors to get their views on the popularity of street food in the restaurant industry and whether they would consider making the move from the street to bricks and mortar:
Jan Smith, Green Goat Food – launched four months ago.
“At White Cross Street we only do sustainable fish because unfortunately a lot of the markets are really full up at the moment and they won’t let you in unless you are doing something really different.
I didn’t start the business to fit a trend – I used to work as a chef and wanted to start something myself – financially it is actually affordable. I might make the move into a permanent restaurant but I would prefer a deli – I don’t like the life of a restaurant because I don’t want to be in a cage the whole day.
There is a lot of big guys trying to get in and it is very frustrating because they can throw money at problems. Street food is good for the smaller man and they are very genuine about it and do a lot for employment – when the big companies come in they take the whole charm of it away.”
Simon Luard, Luardo’s - launched five and a half years ago.
“I would like to make the move into a permanent restaurant but I like doing what I am at the moment. Restaurants are such a massive commitment – I can still easily take holidays or days off at the moment. I don’t want to be working every hour of the day – not quite yet anyway!
There is a lot of people that want to get into the industry and that interest is great because it builds public awareness .
It is inevitable that the big operators like Jamie Oliver and everyone else are going to want to get into street food. Some of them probably do it quite well but some do it really badly – I am not that concerned about it.