It’s mid April & now is the time for street food in the UK to come alive. But events beyond my control mean there won’t be any more upbeat, cross-cultural StrEAT events to look forward to.
Twelve months ago, I was uber-excited at the prospect of establishing a weekly street food night market somewhere in the centre of Bristol, one of the most foodie & creative cities in the world.
Twelve months on, I want to tell you my personal reasons for closing StrEAT Food Collective operations.
Last years’ season kicked off with a bang with the mighty Cabot Circus backing local street food talent for five weeks in May. They helped with a massive media campaign using brightly coloured, urban StrEAT creative, professional event resources and StrEAT vendors traded in the salubrious surroundings of Quakers Friars. The punters came, enjoyed and wanted more. Street food was precariously tipping into mainstream.
Then Bristol City Council ‘s markets team approached ME to set up a nightly market. I met them and explained how street food could transform mid week evenings in the Old City. I sent them a three-year forecast, detailing how together, with a bit of marketing support, we could slowly build a sustainable & profitable weekly operation. We went onto host three amazingly buzzy events – our partnership transformed Corn Street with local bricks & mortar businesses praising the initiative and the independent street food vendors positive about having a permanent central Bristol home. It was essential for us to create an attraction with atmosphere, a destination.
In my humble opinion, it’s essential for these types of events to be free & to be run on a weekly basis. Curating vendors, keeping the line up varied and quality control is essential – look at Street Feast in London. I taste-tested dishes from every single one of my vendors, not because I’m greedy (oh wait, I actually am) it’s so I could be sure that my customers would get the best. I wasn’t willing to compromise – each vendor had to be as good as the rest. Everyone cooked street food dishes (certainly no pies or cupcakes), right there on the spot.
And we were at the mercy of our darned British weather. When the weather was good, lots of punters came, with the specific aim of buying food. We had to build up footfall numbers – to offset evenings where there was snow, hail or downpours. We dreamed of an indoor/outdoor permanent pitch… with a roof covering… akin to Frank’s Campari Bar in Peckham, London.
After much chasing, in mid September, Bristol City Council told me they would host their own night market. StrEAT had been pushed out and I was gutted. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was a real blow. For once, I was silent.
StrEAT was a passionate hobby. I wasn’t getting paid for the time I spent managing vendors, lengthy event paperwork and the days promoting on social media. Logistics was hard too – it’s expensive to cart kit around. And at a smidge over 5ft with slight build, I’m really not the best person at heavy lifting of tables, gazebos & rustic wooden signage. But ultimately, it was the numbers that didn’t work.
Street food suits part-timers, like Simon from El Greengo, who works as a teacher in the week or Darrin from Viet Vite. Starting off in street food is a journey, which could lead to product manufacturing like Chapatti Man a progression from trading at big festivals – or bricks and mortar. Chilli Daddy is taking this route, following in the footsteps of Meat Liquor - from humble burger van to upmarket multi-site burger joint.
My own Coconut Chilli has metamorphosed… I decided to take the product route. It fits best with my lifestyle. I’m the mother of a beautiful, spirited ten-year-old daughter who I prioritise before everything else, including my street food obsession of the past three years. I rely on Coconut Chilli as my livelihood, a satisfactory income where I choose to work my own hours and juggle family life.
But, please street food lovers; please understand that it wasn’t with a heavy heart that I decided to stop running StrEAT. I urge you to continue to support small street food vendors – buy independent – and tell your friends to do the same.
And my words to Bristol City Council, please support, don’t hamper. There is still time for you to nurture this local talent. Look globally to see how street food can enrich a city both culturally & economically …believe me Bristol has the potential to draw crowds from all over the world whilst providing cheap, wholesome food to locals too.
I’m certain that street food in Bristol will continue, I certainly will do my best to help this happen… but from now on, only from the side lines. But it is yet to be seen whether it can truly thrive.