Speaking at Caffe Culture, Johnson – founder of the British Street Food Awards and the author of Street Food Revolution – said street food has transformed the traditional culinary career path by offering a low-cost, low risk way for young chefs to start their own business.
“It feels very rock and roll that there is a new generation of chefs that don’t want to work under angry Frenchmen for 10 years before realising their dream of setting up their own business,” he said, adding:
“All the chefs we have spoken to say if they were starting out now they would do street food because they could get their menu in front of people straight away.”
Johnson said the development of indoor street food sites and markets meant street food vendors at the top of their game can now make a living 12 months a year.
He added that many end up opening a permanent site on the back of their street success, pointing out that some of London’s hottest restaurant openings - including Meat Liquor, Pizza Pilgrims, Yum Bun, Patty and Bun - originated on the streets.
Street food is currently generating annual revenue of over £600 and growing 20 per cent every year and Johnson put its success down to the coming of age of Generation Y – who are cost conscious, have strong feelings for the local community and seek out individuality.
“We like the sense of change and something that is evolving and freewheeling and street food fits into that perfectly,” he said.
Street food also taps into demand for local, seasonal and fresh food, as well as desire for theatre and excitement.
“There is an element of theatre in street food that the wider food and drink business could learn from,” said Johnson.
Although some councils remain resistant to street food, Johnson said some are beginning to understand its potential to transform town centres by attracting families and changing the evening focus from booze to food.
“Street food is designed to be inclusive. It is about putting the food and the experience of food right at the middle of what we do,” he said.
Top tips for setting up a street food venture
Here are some top tips for setting up a street food venture from Johnson and a panel of London’s leading street food entrepreneurs.
- Focus on one thing and do it well
- Don’t rush in! Start slowly and do your homework, work out exactly how you will operate and where
- Don’t invest in too much equipment too early
- Start contacting markets early on – sometimes the hardest thing to find is a market to trade in
- Don’t get tied down by the van idea, lots of people are pulling pizza ovens around on the back of a car or using a marquee and a trestle table.
- If you do invest in a vehicle get something sturdy, secure and safe
- Everything will always cost more than you think – work out your budget and double it
- Be passionate and be authentic – foodies can smell someone who it is just in it for the money from a mile off