Evolving a business can be a tricky thing to master, or so I’ve discovered. When things are going so well, changing the formula can be a risky game, but sometimes change is forced upon you and it’s necessary to adapt or die. This is the situation I’ve found myself in the past few months and deciding which moves to make next have been at the forefront of my mind for a while now.
As many of you are aware, the clock is ticking away at the Wood Store. The Circus Street development is stepping up a gear and it won’t be much longer before they are forced to find a new premises. This means the end of the Wood Store pitch for me, so I decided rather than wait for the inevitable, it’s time I started to plan my next move.
I’ve tried to gather as much feed back as possible from you all over the past few weeks, whether face to face, via social media, or experiments such as the Bounty Hunter pop up. It seems there is a huge untapped demand for evening openings and it therefore it seemed obvious to try to work towards that goal.
Knowing what had to be done was the easy part, but working out how to do it and still keep all the key features that have been the cornerstone of the businesses success is the hard part. The easiest solution seemed to be to take up a franchise in a pub, but it soon became apparent that even that seemingly simple solution was fraught with dangers. Would there be table service? If so would extra staffing push prices up to unaffordable levels? Would ordering at a bar lose much of the appeal with no chef/customer interaction?
Perhaps the biggest worry was would I be able to keep up with demand? In the trailer I currently can do up to about 8 burgers every 4 minutes, with three options available. Despite my speed almost doubling in the past 2 months as I’ve become more efficient, queues still continue to form. Would people end up waiting for over an hour if I worked from a kitchen?
I was also afraid of detaching myself from the whole street food movement, which I think is so important. My whole philosophy is to help people feel more connected to what they eat. I want to have that direct link to the customer so that not only can they see the food cooked in front of them, rather than tucked away in some detached kitchen, but also so I can talk to them about where the meat comes from and the seasonal ingredients I use. Don’t even get me started on eating burgers with a knife and fork, something I strongly disagree with. If you can’t eat a burger with your hands then it’s not a burger. That immense feeling of satisfaction as you lick the last drips of grease off of your fingers is one of the crucial elements of the burger experience.
The other big problem was ensuring the quality remained. Working exclusively from a pub, serving burgers 6 days a week, lunchtimes and evenings is something that I would need some extra help with. Making everything from scratch including the baking the buns and making the sauces all takes time. It’s taken me over a year perfecting the art of making an amazing burger. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be able to train people up, but they are going to have to be the right people and it’s going to take time.
A couple of months ago, I became bombarded with offers from various pubs and cafes regarding pop ups or franchises, but I realised that if I wanted to keep all of the elements that had made my business a success, then I needed to stick to the street food formula as closely as possible. So I approached The Hobgoblin on London road.
Not only did the name seem appropriate (an alliance between a goblin and a Troll) but it also has a fairly big heated garden, a range of local ales and shares a similar demographic to my own. It also has a very relaxed easy going vibe which I thought would work really well with street food. The customers seemed like the kind of people who would go for a quick burger with their pint, rather than a stuffy sit down meal.
The original idea was to build a burger shack in the garden, but that’s been toned down for now while we have a test phase to make sure my unconventional idea will actually work. Instead the plan is to just do Saturday’s and Sunday’s, serving up in the garden from a pop up gazebo. On the down side this does still mean there’s going to be a limited menu for the time being (still no fries). On the positive side it means I get to keep the prices low, keep the quality high, as well as turn ensuring a quick turnover.
The other reason for limiting it to just the two days is that it frees me up to concentrate on other projects. I also plan to do the new street food market that’s opening on Queens Road in April (follow them on twitter at twitter.com/StreetDiner )
I’ve also decided to utilise the pop up idea to help promote other small ethical food businesses over the summer, perhaps either weekly or fortnightly. If you own a business that sources your produce locally, or a pub that sells local ales and are interested in a one off popup, then feel free to get in contact at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can discuss viability.
I’ll shortly create an event on Facebook, but the plan is to do the first evening at the Hobgoblin on Sunday 31st March. Co incidentally that’s also almost exactly one year after I started trading, so it’s a bit like Easter, birthday and a celebration of a new venue all rolled into one. We’ve still yet to discuss all the details of the event, but expect live music, a great atmosphere, delicious local beers and of course, plenty of burgers!
So there you have it, the next phase of the master plan. This is still only the beginning and I have still got many ideas swimming around my head for the future. Maybe I’ll tell you all about them one day.