For approximately 14 years I’ve wanted to start a food business. Why the stupidly-long wait? Well, I’ve always been so hell-bent on defining the perfect idea that I never felt ‘ready’. Never mind, because…
Bam: here it is. The Smug Grub Club is my way of getting the ball rolling with something small, that I can experiment with and iterate accordingly. A pilot if you will. And I decided to do it with autumnal salads at Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market. It’s not my ‘big idea’. But it’s where I’ve chosen to start.
Now, the thing with this particular market is that it comes with certain restrictions. Restrictions that I wholeheartedly buy into and admire. But restrictions that make for a lot of work for someone only just starting out…
The deal is, you have to buy at least 70% of your ingredients from farmers who sell produce at the market – all organic, locally grown and so on. Any ingredients you source elsewhere also have to be organic – as the market is 100% organic – whether that’s from health food shops, supermarkets or wherever. So you end up spending your week trying to source the ingredients you need from numerous different suppliers, then collecting them from numerous locations. But it’s a really great little market, so it’s worth it. And it’s been good practise – if I do go on to scale things up, the logistics will be a hell of a lot more complicated, I’m sure.
Anyway, here’s how it went…
Attempt 1: An eye-opener
I ran my first stall in early October, and it was an eye opener. If you’d asked me a few years ago what I predicted I’d be doing on the evening of Friday 10 October, I don’t think I would’ve said ‘making s**tloads of salad til 2am listening to techno on Radio 6′. It really did feel quite surreal.
There wasn’t a pot, piece of Tupperware or other receptacle that wasn’t put to use. It didn’t feel as if the preparation phase would ever end. And that was after a week of trying to source ingredients from numerous producers who sell at the market (tricky), find just the right type of salad boxes (nice and sustainable looking, without breaking the bank), and hundreds of other bits and pieces, not to mention my new set of wheels:
And things didn’t exactly go to plan. In the run-up to the first stall, I knew that to make the salads look appealing, they’d have to be heaped in bountiful piles, on big, beautiful plates, Ottolenghi-style (at least that’s what I like to think). But I couldn’t find large serving plates anywhere. Not within my weight and budget restrictions anyway (dictated by my somewhat limiting method of transport).
So, with silly little plates (see photos) and lacking the eye of a visual merchandiser, the stall looked more like an odd art installation/competitive eating contest in which I and my assistant would devour the salads in front of onlookers. Or something.
So far, so bad.
And that wasn’t the only hiccup. But let’s just say I learned A LOT that day.
Attempt 2: Progress
By the time my second stall came around, I’d managed to source some pretty huge serving plates, which made the salads look a lot more appealing. AND they were in the sale at Debenhams, costing me a mere £10 for the three (Rocha by John Rocha too) – win!
Things went a lot better as a result and I doubled sales on the previous attempt. Progress indeed.
Attempt 3: It’s a sellout!
By my third outing I’d got into a bit of a stride (that’s not to say it became easy, mind) and managed to sell out an hour and a half before the market finished. So my problem this time was that I hadn’t made enough. But there’s only so much you can do in a small home kitchen, so it’s not something that’s easily rectified any time soon.
This beetroot and carrot dish with an asian dressing seemed to catch the eye of passers by…
But it was my unusual brainchild of roasted carrot/squash/pumpkin (it varied each week) with black venus rice, chick peas and cranberries that sold out first every time. Seems the good people of Stoke Newington have a penchant for unusual ingredients…
Attempt 4: A slow but valuable lesson
As you can see in the photo above, it was a damp and dreary day, and this was reflected in custom, which was a bit slow.
It wasn’t terrible by any means – but it took a lot longer to sell the amount I sold the previous time. A valuable lesson.
On the plus side, I did break even (just) across the four stalls – whoop whoop!
Time to ponder next moves
So, it’s been pretty much everything I’ve read and heard it would be. Time consuming? Tick. Stressful? Tick. Based on guesswork? Tick! Have I broken even? Err, just about. I think.
But it feels really quite brilliant to have finally started something, even if it is a shadow of its future self (still not sure what that is, but I have LOTS of ideas).
The Smug Grub Club will be more than a salad stall. In future it may not feature a salad stall at all. But this is a start.
I’m taking a break from it over Christmas – what with salads being distinctly un-Christmassy – and will take the time to plan next steps. I’m thinking some sort of residency with an achingly hip establishment serving the same clientele that buy into the ethos of The Smug Grub Club – healthy, ethical, tasty, fun, on-trend etc. A dance studio maybe. Or curated fashion boutique. Suggestions will be welcomed with open arms.
Whatever happens, I’ll use the break wisely. I know ‘him indoors’ won’t miss the fortnightly kitchen takeover, early Saturday start and heavy slog to the market…
Follow my greeneats profile on twitter for updates. And, if you have any feedback or suggestions – please do comment below, I’m all ears (especially if you’re a hip establishment looking to introduce a sideline of tasty, ethical, healthy food)!