What advice would you give to your 14-year old self?
I wish that I understood that drink was there to be enjoyed! I’d tell myself to stop drinking Thunderbird & Southern Comfort and get on to a good whiskey or rum instead!
What one moment in your career defined your future?
At the age of 20 the nightclub I was managing got taken over by gangsters. It was pretty full on for a young lad, so my mum convinced me to get a ‘normal’ job and I ended up organizing training courses for Kensington & Chelsea council. The big thing I took out of my time there was the extent to which some employers invest in and develop their staff. This wasn’t something I’d come across previously working in early 90s London rave culture. I ended up leaving there to work at the seminal London nightclub The End, before eventually being part of the management team that launched the superclub Home. The defining point here for me was that while this was a business built on underground dance music culture, Home were also an Investors In People company. I spent months before the venue opened on training courses, before eventually learning how to train my staff. Today as I progress in my career, supporting and developing the team around me is incredibly important.
What was the opportunity that you saw that inspired you to set up StreetFeast?
In 2010 street food was a niche, underground concept. I wanted to significantly raise awareness of it whilst taking care to retain that underground street feel and not make it commercial. I started by going anywhere you could find a street food trader in London and filming the people behind the food. It also occurred to me that night food markets didn’t exist London like they did in other parts of the world, which seemed pretty crazy to me considering our mix of cultures. I decided to create a London version of what I’d be seen in Zanzibar and Barbados; a ‘market’ that didn’t just open for one night, but that was open every single week so it would eventually become part of the fabric of the city.
Which people and places are exciting you about the hospitality industry right now?
I’ve just got back from LA. There is more and more happening there and Downtown in particular reminded me of East London 10-15 years ago, with the art and fashion crowd taking over disused buildings. Over there chef Roy Choi is really setting the pace. He caused a stir a few years back launching his Kogi food truck selling Korean Tacos for just $2 in less than trendy neighborhoods. He’s got a social conscious, is heavily involved in his community, has built Kogi into a significant brand with a truck even in LAX airport, and is behind some of the best food in restaurants across LA particularly the Line Hotel on Wilshire.
Back here at home I’m also loving James Low’s Lyle’s and Issac McHale’s The Clove Club. Though they cut their teeth at the wonderful St Johns they also took a non-traditional route with their Young Turks supper clubs. Right now I’m particularly excited about the launch of our newest concept Dinerama opening soon. Whilst retaining the feeling of Street Feast, it will be built around six street food traders we’ve chosen to create a more expansive menus, serving to 20-30 covers within their own micro diner.
What do you think it takes to be a leader in the food & drink industry?
I’d say a respect and understanding of the wider industry. The industry is split, with most of us enjoying a range of great food and the different ways to experience it, whether that’s on the streets or in a wonderful restaurant. However there are some in the established food industry including some well known critics who have a real snobbery about street food, which is a shame, because how can you say you’re a lover of food when you’re ignorant of what is becoming a very influential part of the industry, not least because there is some truly excellent food coming out of this area too.