London plays host to dozens of street food markets every week. Last month, though, a small corner of south London welcomed a one-of-a-kind market that celebrated the next generation of street food traders. The nine start-up operators taking up residency at the one-day Streets Ahead Showcase Market all came from different backgrounds – they included Syrian refugees, second generation immigrants, and ex-offenders – but what brought them together is a shared gastronomic passion.
Taking place on an unseasonably sunny September Saturday at the Gipsy Hill Taproom, the market was the culmination of the first year of the Streets Ahead programme, created by McCain Foodservice Solutions in partnership with KERB+, the social enterprise founded by street food membership organisation KERB, to give individuals from less-advantaged backgrounds the opportunity to realise their dreams of becoming a street food entrepreneur. Reflecting an investment of £100,000 from McCain, the initiative initially saw more than 140 people sponsored to join the KERB classroom, an online food start-up course that helps take people’s food business ideas and make them a reality.
To ensure the programme reached those really in need of support, McCain worked with a range of UK charities including Food Behind Bars, a charity dedicated to improving food served in British Prisons, TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network), which supports refugees to become entrepreneurs, and the Westminster-based homeless charity Connections to find suitable candidates. Those who completed the course progressed to the next stage, where they attended an immersion day and were given the opportunity to hone their business idea. And from that pool, 12 participants successfully went on to pitch their idea for a street food brand earlier in the summer to a judging panel featuring representatives from both McCain and KERB, with each of them receiving an investment of between £3,000 and £10,000 to help their businesses grow.
"We have been blown away by the
dedication and talent of our participants,
who have made a success of the programme"
In the months since, McCain and KERB have continued to support the fledgling entrepreneurs by offering guidance on where to invest their money, and helping ensure their businesses are properly licensed, regulated and ready to trade. All of which brings us to the Streets Ahead Showcase Market.
“Here at McCain, we’re on a mission to build skills and create real opportunity within the foodservice industry,” explains Mark Hodge, McCain Foods GB marketing director. “Within the 15 months since the Streets Ahead programme launched, we have been blown away by the dedication and talent of our participants who have made a success of the programme. And we were committed to investing into the participants who demonstrated a clear business concept.
“The market allowed the traders to find their audience, gather feedback, learn, grow and experience everything it takes to run a street food business. It was an important addition to the programme in order to set up our newest traders for success while giving us the opportunity to celebrate their incredible journey.”
We arrive early to Gipsy Hill Taproom on the day of the Streets Ahead Showcase Market. A few early patrons take up the seats outside and sun themselves while the traders, positioned in stalls around them, hurriedly make last minute preparations ahead of the market opening. A mouth-watering medley of smells fill the air. There’s the rich brown chicken stew being served by Oz Sheikh, founder of fusion brand JamaiKorean; traditional manti dumplings from Turkmenistan made by Maral Nuriyeva of Homely Delish; fragrant mince that’s central to Bahaa Khdair’s Syrian toastie concept Sojok; and the alluring aromatics of Kemi Ogunlana’s jollof rice, which she serves with fried chicken and plantain as the hero dish of her eponymous Nigerian concept Kemi’s Kitchen.
For the majority of the operators here, this is their first hands-on experience of trading at a busy Saturday market. They include Akbar Majidov and his wife Sanobar, the founders of central Asian street food concept Samarkand Palav. The Majidovs were referred to the Streets Ahead programme by TERN after winning 'best dish' at a food competition hosted by the charity, and secured the maximum £10,000 investment available from McCain during the pitching process.
“From an early age we both liked cooking,” says Akbar, when asked about how they got involved with Streets Ahead. “We both used to make palav, and when we got involved with TERN we had the opportunity to see if we could turn it into a business. We wanted to introduce people to our culture.”
Samarkand Palav specialises in the cuisine of Samarkand and Bukhara. The menu majors in osh palav, a hearty dish that originates from Samarkand and is designated as the national dish of Uzbekistan. Once a staple for Silk Road merchants, the dish combines onion and garlic with rice, lamb, carrots, raisins, chickpeas, and aromatics including turmeric, cumin seeds and ground coriander. Cooked together in a single pot, the dish is then served with a selection of salads and a slice of Samarkand bread.
Following their success with the Streets Ahead programme, Akbar and Sanobar are now hoping to expand Samarkand Palav into markets across the capital and have already scored a weekly spot every Wednesday at KERB’s Cowcross Yards near Farringdon. “Later, we want to move into events too,” adds Akbar. “And hopefully, if people like it, we’ll be able to open our own café or restaurant at some point too. That’s our goal.”
"The idea is to create tiny utopian moments
around homestyle food that is authentic,
delicious, healthy and responsibly sourced"
Another trader who’s already looking to expand her business is Hind Danoun, founder of Syrian street food brand Utopia. Like the Majidovs, Danoun was referred to Streets Ahead by TERN and secured the full £10,000 investment from McCain. Drawing on her upbringing in Syria, the menu at Utopia features a range of wraps including the sujuk wrap with minced lamb that’s cooked with spices and served with pickles, garlic sauce and pomegranate molasses; and the makali wrap, a combination of fried aubergine, cauliflower and potato that’s served with tahini sauce, parsley, pomegranate and pickles.
“The idea behind my concept is to create tiny utopian moments around homestyle food that is authentic, delicious, healthy and responsibly sourced, while reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the cuisine,” says Danoun. “Streets Ahead has taught me a lot, and now I’m keen to grow my business.” To that end, Utopia has secured permanent spots across two of KERB’s London markets and is looking to establish further locations in the months to come.
In total, more than 250 tickets to the Streets Ahead Showcase Market were sold. Each ticket cost £10 and entitled visitors to two portions of food from the traders, meaning more than 500 portions of food were served in total. Every trader turned a profit on the day with Utopia being the standout, selling around 80 portions.
"We are already seeing incredible
concepts forming from our
year two participants"
“The market surpassed our expectations in every way,” says Hodge. “Each of the Streets Ahead traders turned up on the day ambitious and fully prepared for a busy market and demanding customers. A few weeks on, the buzz from the market for us and our traders remains.”
With the Showcase Market behind them, all nine of the traders are now taking their next steps as fully-fledged street food traders. “Having gained successful market trading experience, each of [our traders] is looking to the future armed with pitch decks to gain spots at markets in their local areas,” Hodge continues. “Four of them have already secured market spots across central London, and all of them are now building their social media followings and presence in the industry. We are so proud of what they have achieved and can’t wait to see what’s next for them.”
Streets Ahead enters its second year
With the first year of the Streets Ahead programme now complete, McCain is now looking ahead to the second year of the initiative. “As we enter year two, we are continuing to coach the next cohort of ambitious entrepreneurs,” says Hodge. “With our focus remaining on supporting those from less-advantaged backgrounds, we continue working alongside UK charities who can refer their clients that have a passion for street food, but who need some extra support to make their entrepreneurial dreams come true.”
The search for participants has already begun, with McCain FS on the hunt for people from less advantaged backgrounds who are driven and passionate about pursuing a career in setting up their very own street food business. Notably, McCain says it is seeing more uptake this year from its engagement with prisons across London. Streets Ahead provides young offenders access to its classroom course as they complete their sentences, allowing them to join the in-person programme upon release.
“Our hope for future participants is that they immerse themselves with the programme as much as possible, using this opportunity to gain hands-on experience and lean on the expertise of KERB who join us in powering this programme. We are already seeing incredible concepts forming from our year two participants.
“Keep your eyes peeled for the next generation of Street Food entrepreneurs via the McCain Streets Ahead programme.”