London street food: US brands now embracing similar marketplaces (part 2)
Editor's note: This is part 2 of a series about how London and American street food brands are learning from each other. Read part one of this series here.
The emergence of private marketplaces in London has helped professionalize "street food," which includes food trucks and food tents, known as "gazebos." Given the fact that similar markets have emerged for food trucks in the U.S., a closer look at how private marketplaces impact the London street food scene in a positive way could shed insight on how the U.S. food trucks can be more successful.
According to The Independent, a London-based newspaper, the U.K.'s capital city is now leading Europe's rising street food movement. The growth of food trucks in recent years has pumped new blood into the city's multi-cultural street food scene and made it even more diverse.
Interviews with London food truck owners and gazebo operators indicate food trucks have made major headway in recent years. There is also reason to believe they have brought more organization to the characteristically informal venue, but in a way that continues to foster individuality, entrepreneurship and high quality food.
One change that observers point to since food trucks have entered the London fray has been an increase in the number of private marketplaces for both trucks and gazebos.
Londoners mimic Americans
London food truck owners are similar to their American counterparts in that they are entrepreneurs driven by their love for certain food.
Douglas Ritchie was a restaurant chef who launched Crabbieshack, a food truck specializing in shellfish dishes, four years ago. He has done well working at KERB markets — private marketplaces that have revolutionized the London street food scene, as described in part 1 of this two-part series.
"I didn't want to be constrained to one location, and I wanted to have my own business," he said.
Ritchie said a key to his success is the uniqueness of his product — shellfish dishes with seasonal produce. He gets fresh shellfish and produce daily at local markets.
In the four years he's been in business, Ritchie has witnessed continued growth in both food trucks and gazebos as the venues have become more popular, thanks in part to the visibility and organization that KERB markets provides.
"Most people (vendors) in London start with a gazebo, then they go to a truck," he said.
While the business has gotten more competitive, Ritchie said the sense of camaraderie remains strong among vendors.
"We all work together," he said. "There's no rivalry."
Like most of his colleagues, Ritchie's biggest challenge is finding good help and managing his cash flow.
KERB markets help get the word out about his truck. He also uses Twitter and Instagram.
A foundation for growth
|Baba G's has expanded from one truck to two stationary locations and a second truck.|
Like their American counterparts, some London food trucks migrate to the brick-and-mortar space.
Baba G's, which specializes in "Indian fusion," began seven years ago with a truck and has since opened two stationary locations in addition to a second truck.
"Lots of us have gone on to do more permanent sites," said Liz Selway, Baba G's co-owner.
Originally known as Bhangra burger, Baba G's parks daily at KERB's Camden market and at another London site called Pop Brixton.
Pop Brixton is similar to what's known as a business incubator in the U.S. It is a physical workspace supported by a local government, in this case the Lambeth Council, which showcases 53 local businesses. The location also offers delivery services via motorbikes and bicycles.
Selway has noticed a recent development in the London street food scene: big shipping containers retrofitted with kitchens.
Nick Friedman, who operates Jamon Jamon, a London gazebo selling Spanish food, said the number of London's private marketplaces is growing in order to accommodate the industry's growth.
"There are a lot more markets," he said. "There are more places to sell food."
Friedman, whose website boasts of winning the 2010 British Street Food Award, operates in a KERB market as well as a London public space called Portabello. He appreciates what private KERB has done for his business, although the public markets like Portabello are less expensive and better controlled.
"The council (public) markets are the best to get into," he said.
While he has witnessed the entrance of food trucks into the London street food scene over the years, Friedman doesn't think the trucks will replace gazebos. One reason is that trucks are more expensive. Another reason is that trucks are restricted in where they can operate.
Friedman doesn't think it's as easy to operate a food truck in London as it is in the U.S. on account of the licensing requirements.
"You can't just arrive curbside and start making food," he said.
As the London food truck industry expands, organized marketplaces are playing an important support role for an industry that hitches its post to entrepreneurship and individualism.
Similar venues in the U.S. like Spark Social in San Francisco could also play a bigger role as the U.S. food truck industry expands.
Cover photo: istock
Elliot Maras / Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.