23 July 2019, 14:27 PM
  • As head of markets at KERB, Ian Dodds has seen first-hand the influence street food is having on the wider food industry
What we can learn from the street food boom

KERB is an incubator and accelerator of the most promising street food businesses. We currently support 90 fully certified member businesses who trade across several markets, and benefit from an excellent KERB Caters arm that focuses on big private catering gigs. We run workshops and have built an online skills development platform called the KERB Vault. We put 15 promising new businesses through our inKERBator incubator scheme every three months, and all full members trade across our spread of markets and events several times per week.

Nurturing talent is key to what we do – keeping the street food industry fresh, relevant and delicious, and truly reflective of the diversity of today’s London. Right now we’re focusing on how to give businesses lasting roots, with our first permanent seven day- a-week indoor home Seven Dials Market due to launch in September supporting 26 independent food businesses in the heart of Covent Garden. There’s so much still to do. We launched our Pact Lunch scheme last month to great praise – encouraging customers to bring their own lunchbox in exchange for 50p off their dish in order to cut on packaging waste.

Over the seven years of KERB, we’ve seen the wider food industry in London up its game massively. Street food in 2012 led the charge for so much of the experience-led, quality fast casual restaurants we now see across London. Some of these operators started on the streets – Pizza Pilgrims, Bao, Bleecker were all part of the KERB crew in 2012-2013 – and other restaurant operators have since learned from the basic principles of street food’s success – competitive price point, independent spirit, strong branding and social media. London as a whole was tired of crap food, and a lot of indie businesses and creative types benefited from the clear gap in the market left by faceless chains and repetitive, uninspired ideas. Today we’ve a massive range of incredible options, buoyed by the power of social media, to cheaply and effectively promote your business directly and through the number of bloggers, influencers etc, that now make up the restaurant ecosystem. Street food plays a key role in informalising and making accessible food from all over the world, in a cheap, democratic, unstuffy way – in doing so proving that customers want a premium burger, bao or burrito rather than the same old sandwich.

A mix of things are behind the street food boom – cheap, under utilised land, often ex-industrial, offering low risk semi-permanent pop-up opportunities, and visionary estate owners such as Argent at King’s Cross (our first home) seeing the value of street food as a way of bringing people together and bringing public interest to a location. London needs to continue to be an open, supportive place for businesses to flourish. Landlords need to look at their rental demands and be more supportive of fledgling operators, and councils need to work more flexibly and apply greater vision in order to not get left behind.

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