Setting up Your Own Food Company: Week 8 – Licenses (Part 2)

KEEPING IT LEGAL: LICENSING YOUR FOOD BUSINESS

In Part II of our Q&A interviews regarding licensing, we spoke to Lee Galloway from the Roast of Sherwood, a popular street food market loved for their free-range, roasted meats (particularly their hog roast baps). Lee comes from a business background before he decided to join the family business so he not only has the book smarts, he has the street smarts as well.

The Roast of Sherwood is predominantly based on Whitecross Market – a street that is popular for hungry office workers in the area. Lee, his father and their coworkers have been in the business for some time and know how hard it is to keep their stall popular and to keep it legal. We grabbed him for a chat just before the lunch rush hour at Whitecross.

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A family business: Lee (left) and his father.

So Lee, let’s talk the dreaded headache of licensing your street food business.

“Okay so where do I start… Starting up a food business really isn’t as easy of a challenge as everyone expects!

A lot of people get into it or think they can get into it quite quickly and rapidly but obviously there’s a lot of paper work and a lot of bureaucracy involved in doing so. We’ve been running this stall in Whitecross Street for about 6 years and to be honest because it’s council run the council and the local authorities did give us a lot of early advice.

Some of them told us what they needed and what they wanted and we tried to comply with all of those regulations and over the years we’ve increased our compliance and make sure that that things are better everything is fully legal. It’s important because we do a lot of events work as well such as festivals which are particularly very stringent and they require all of your paperwork to be up to date and valid. There is a hell of a lot that they require from you!”

Bit of a nightmare?

“Generally you have to get your head around it. Luckily I come from a compliance and very business background where I worked for 7 years and helped people be legal themselves. I think my prior knowledge is/ was quite important so I knew a fair bit about how to tax and make sure you apply to all of the government bodies.

I would suggest if any company were to set up now to start as a limited company. The liability is then on the company so if things do go wrong, which they can and do go wrong, then it’s much easier. The liability rests with the company and not on the individual.”

What exactly do you mean by ‘limited’?

“Limited as in your company structure. You are registered with the government and put basically all of the insurance through the company and I found out that that is the better way to go. Obviously there is stuff to notice, for example once you hit the VAT threshold (60-something thousand pounds) you do need to be vat registered which does take a chunk out of your company. When you’re a small business it’s very hard when other big companies are paying less taxes offshore. All your employees need their taxes covered, too. Corporation taxes PAYE taxes for your employees.”

What about like joining NCASS, did they help?

“We didn’t join NCASS until about a year ago. We originally did everything ourselves and we did actually find it easier and more affordable option going with them. They actually build all of the structures for you and put in all of the effort so I would recommend any new trader to talk to them.

They are very much involved in the industry. I went to an event a few months ago for festival organisers at Earl’s Court promoting NCASS registered vendors. They’re the only body recognised by the government and you’ve saved a lot of time for just £250 a year. It’s very reasonable – they provide all of your Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates at cheap, affordable rates. People can get a Level 3 and if you have your membership, it’s about £20 rather than £120. It’s also NCASS approved and also approved by City and Guild. It’s very helpful for our staff to have all of these certificates even if they’re only with us for a short time – they can take that wherever they go next.”

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“We have to present all of this documentation when we do festivals. We have to make sure everyone is insured. We have make it clear that everyone knows what they’re doing with hygiene – which is really important because working with and serving food is high risk.”

What do you think about the difference in street food and restaurant hygiene levels?

“I think street food vendors are doing extremely well actually because most of them have to work a lot harder than restaurants because they’ve got a lot of different things like being in the street for example – you have to be really careful and ensure people trust you.

There’s also the government’s enforcement that’s become active in Wales – displaying your hygiene rating publically. People that don’t display their food hygiene ratings/ scores (which can also be found on TripAdvisor) are going to make people a little bit more cautious about where they eat.”IMG_1044

“For example, I have the app on my phone that said that a restaurant I was in had only a 1 star hygiene rating. We have a 4 at our street food stall so it made me think what can they be doing wrong? Are they not cleaning properly? Keeping records? Checking temperatures? We get checked here every 12 months which in my opinion isn’t enough really but we do get checked every time we go to a festival.”

What do they look for prior to festival events?

“They will check all of our paperwork and want to see documentation and practices in place like hand washing facilities. Making sure all of your gas safety is checked and your equipment is also checked – if you fail to have that done and something happened in the street, your insurance wouldn’t cover that unless you kept your records straight.

You need to make sure you don’t ruin your reputation and it’s very important to have things like fire extinguishers and fire blankets – we have seen other stalls have small fires and accidents. We are also dealing with sharp carving knives and occasionally people will cut themselves. It’s important we have our first aid equipment. We also work with hot food and hot oils so we have a burns kit also available. We have to make a record of any accidents so our members of staff are safe.”

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“We also have to factor in the weather – like today for example is a beautiful day but the other weekend it was really windy and the stall can move and blow around. We don’t want to cause any damage to anybody! We want everyone to have a good time. Working outdoors you do have the added or different dangers that you wouldn’t have in an indoor kitchen or restaurant.”

Do you think it’s definitely harder to be street trader?

“Well you are setting up your kitchen on a daily basis. You have to make sure you have all of the equipment there and ready whereas in a kitchen you wouldn’t think of bringing a fire extinguisher for example because you know it will be there already. It’s important we have an extinguisher in case such a thing occur.”

Have you had any accidents at the Roast of Sherwood?

“So far we’ve been lucky and haven’t had any big problems but it is important that we don’t have those problems and we reduce those risks. It’s not as easy to set up a food business as people think.”

Why is that?

“I think a lot of people don’t realise that most new businesses, regardless of it being street food, 70-80% of them in their first year fail. With lack of experience, things don’t go as they expected, lack of research and they haven’t put as much initial effort into it.”

Do you think certain people skip certain licenses?

“I think a lot of people don’t always comply to what they should be doing. There’s things that they let slip. It affects us all in the industry if a street food company cuts corners. For example there was one festival in Manchester where a gas explosion happened and that affects the whole street food industry. It makes people a bit more wary. Food hygiene as well, there was a festival where people came down with food poisoning (more than 50 people) and that was traced backed to a stall.  All of this information gets into the press and news. We are in a risky industry so we do need to make sure that as few people cut corners as possible.”

Why do you think people do cut corners with licensing?

“Obviously it’s a very costly thing to run a food business and get all of these licenses. Some people don’t have lots of money available. It is also an industry that helps chefs and aspiring young businesses. The low overheads for example which attract a lot of people which are the fact that it is a real growing industry at the moment – especially in London, there’s this huge boom in street food. There’s always a lot going on, there’s lots of street food. There are obviously collective such as KERB who do a wonderful job at promoting the industry and their own food vendors as well who are usually of a very high standard.”

Is it a bit like survival of the fittest?

“Yeah I think so. In this industry you get to know that festival organisers only want people who have everything in order – all of their documentations. It is important to be involved with bodies like NCASS. They text and email us a lot of work opportunities and events coming up in the City. Once you’ve worked a festival you get approached for private catering. We’ve done weddings such as ‘Don’t Tell The Bride’ for BBC3 last year which is exciting.”

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“This year we’ve got so much work coming up so we won’t have a lot of time off the next few months.”

Good thing we grabbed you for a chat now then?

“Haha yeah. For the next 3 months or so we are solidly booked. We’ve actually had to turn away work which is a shame but it’s definitely a good sign. It makes it easier now that we’ve got our logistics in order but experience brings efficiency. Efficiency brings trust from event organisers.

It’s been coming here to help myself and my family’s business so that if the street food scene bubble does burst we’ll have the backup of doing private catering and events. So it’s important that we get to the point where we can be thinking about setting up a restaurant. It’ll take time – we don’t have instant cash available and we don’t want to be borrowing money. We’d like to be self sufficient. We get a lot of people who do ask advice from ourselves. A lot of other traders people ask me personally about their accountancy.”

Do you think street food will reach a peak?

“I think everything that becomes popular has its peak. The people that do well and who make their standards high and who gather the right information and customer base. At the Roast of Sherwood, we have a really great customer base, a lot of them are repeat customers who come in day in and day out. It’s quite amazing, they go back to the office and tell their friends. It is usually word of mouth. For the 6 years, our company has grown year on year.”

Keeping London's hungry punters well-fed ain't an easy job

“Whitecross Street, being a council run street doesn’t get as much publicity, but it still does extremely well – it’s like a hidden gem. A lot of people who work in the area and stumble upon it. A lot of street food vendors aim to get into the papers and want to grow into restaurants so it’s a great stepping stone. You also get the opposite – with the recession you had a lot of people who ran restaurants and couldn’t afford to anymore i.e. high rates and rent in London forcing people out and they are forced to head to the market and rebuilding what they enjoy doing here on the street.

Fortunately it’s going both ways. The street food scene growing and I believe the demand for it in the entire country is growing.”

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Look out for Lee and the little bird of The Roast of Sherwood this summer at Whitecross Street AND at our official City Pantry Summer Food Festival which you can find more about here (we’re very excited about this!). In case you missed last week’s post where we interviewed Mark from NCASS make sure to catch up here. Next week, we’ll be discussing opening up your own deli, restaurant or shop with Rosie Lovell from Rosie’s Deli Cafe in Brixton.

(Photos and interview by Kelsi Farrington)

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