Flippin Somerset Burgers - Starting My Mobile Catering Business
Hi everybody out there in Burger land, Steve here, been cooking and selling hot and cold food from my mobile catering vehicle (as my wife likes to call it)or burger van as everybody else knows it since January 6th 2014 here is Somerset. Having been prompted by our esteemed website Meister to share my experiences, well here we go.
I am afraid I am not a William Shakespear, and so please excuse the writing style. I spent many years in the insurance industry and then hospitality, ending up co-owning a live music venue in Somerset.
My partner and I could not attract enough people through the door to make a decent living for both of us, so we packed it in. A shame really as we had some really good ideas and plenty of drive and energy, but hey ho!
My partner went off to the Northern lands and set up a burger van, he is now doing ever so well and although it took him 12 months to start seeing decent income he is now grossing £1400 a week on average.
And therein lies my first bit of advice, have a mentor of some description, we speak on the phone most days and share ideas, experiences and funny stories about our respective burger vans. The advice we give each other is invaluable and saves us both having to invent a new wheel.
I started back in October (2013), looking at vans, and trying to find the right pitch, everybody will tell you that this is the bee all and end all, it’s no good cooking the most fantastic street food on the planet if there is nobody to buy it.
I was doing some courier work in a town, on an industrial estate where there was no hot food outlet. I drove around a bit and saw a few likely sites, then contacted the owners of the units asking if they were willing to let me rent a small part of their car park.
One chap responded, and I arranged to go and meet him and talk through details, that was good and away we went.I got up an image of the street on Google maps, and there, to my surprise was a burger van that was no longer there, there were about five or six people waiting to be served or being served.
Looks good I thought. So a bit of due diligence required. I went and sat on the estate for a couple of hours to get a feel for the traffic and how busy it was. Yep this is the place for me! I had very little in the way of capital, and so was working to a very tight budget.
I could cobble together £2,500 to get started buying a van, and I had a tax rebate of £800 which was going to stock the van, and keep me afloat for the first month.I looked at hundreds of vans on eBay, went to spend a couple of days with my mate on his van, and pumped him for information about all sorts of things which were important to me.
What was funny is that all of the information coming from this site and Dave in particular was coming the week after I had already done it, so when Dave said right get your menu sorted, or contact licensing, well I was one step ahead, but, I did everything he recommended. Jolly useful it is too. OK let’s have a go said I.
I eventually found a van which was in Kent, brilliant I thought towing it round the M25 and down the A303 for six hours will be huge fun! No disasters and I set it up on the drive at home to get to grips with how everything works, I got it at the end of November and invited mates and sons mates to come and try my offerings.
This taught me how to get the griddle set just right, how the urn works and what sort of kit I was going to need and what space I had to prepare and serve my culinary delights. I learned a few things from this exercise, not least of which that very high quality sausages, bacon and burgers cook so much better, leave so little mess and taste so much better.
I found a butcher that supplies all my meat, and the local cash and carry for other bits and bobs, and other outlets that have good prices. Not advertising anybody here, but Farm Foods do great cheese and Coke at good prices, decent hash browns, Lidl does good gherkins, and some good offers on ketchup and HP sauce.
This again is all part of setting up and finding your suppliers, I have a local egg supplier, and great baker (who was on the telly a few weeks back) and whilst the buns he supplies are expensive, they are worth every penny as the punters love them and ask where to buy them, likewise the sausages.
Next bit of advice from Dave was to get marketing, so I got my menu sorted and printed, and took it to the factories and offices on the estate. I made a cheap advertising board from wood and hand painted it with "hot food". That was the extent of my marketing.
I got hold of the council and met with the head of licensing, that was going to cost me £1600 a year for my street traders plate...Deep Joy. Fortunately it can be paid by direct debit, but a cost I had not expected as my mate pays no license fee "up north", I later learned that I am also to be clobbered with "non domestic rates" again towards £2000 a year, (non for my mate up north and not mentioned by licensing) there are no services being offered by the council for these rates, and I am about to start questioning them, but have been so busy, that I haven't yet got round to looking at my letter again.
It’s a bit feisty and I need to tone it down a bit before I post it. Food standards also knew I was starting up and I gave them the time they needed to get me going. Both agencies were a delight to work with, and caused me none of the grief I was expecting.
Anyway first day of trading arrives and its chucking down with rain, as it was for the first 9 weeks in Somerset, in fact on several occasions I was running a burger submarine, and had to deliver rolls to customers about 20 yards away from the van. Everybody was on a diet after Christmas, nobody has got any money and nobody knew it was there. So my expectations were not high.
£40 day one, and everybody kept telling me that Friday will be busy, it was a very steady week, and indeed Friday was very busy, 10 o'clock and 12.30 saw me trying to cater for numbers that I could not cope with. I ended up taking the best part of £200 on the Friday, and £700 for the week.
Its been steady since then with numbers not fluctuating very much, but regulars are now very regular, and there is an upward trend. I am very hopeful that I will reach the £1000 a week soon and now that its stopped raining, he says as we have another downpour, and people get to know my food, recommendations should see my through. Fingers crossed.
If I were to give any advice, don't compromise on quality, don't buy kit until you know you really need it, and don't try and make people eat what you want them to eat, offer them what they want, find really good suppliers that you can trust. Oh and enjoy it and be jolly, nobody like a miserable burger flipper.
Sorry this has rambled a bit but I could have gone on for hours. Anybody is very welcome to visit, and if I can be of any help to anybody starting out, please don't hesitate to get in touch, I would be happy to, offer what help I can.
Cheers and the very best of luck.