6 minute read
This is the first in a series of interviews by Lucy Linford with food and drink business owners who have made things happen despite the odds.
Lucy Linford spoke with Matt and Steph; owners of vegan kebab business, Seitan's Kebab, about how their humble pop-up became so popular.
Lucy: A deep-dive of your socials made me mad hungry for your signature vegan shawarma and desperate to get my hands on one of those Madoner tees. But, I remain thirsty for goss on who you are and how it all started.
Matt: I was living with a mate in Withington and me and Steph had been out for a drink (or nine) and I was really craving a dirty kebab. But having gone veggie at the time, there wasn’t a fulfilling option.
We got to work and spent about a year on and off testing different cooking methods and recipes before bringing our creations to the public.
Lucy: Before you started making the best vegan kebab on the planet what were you doing?
Steph: I was training to be an astronaut and Matt was a lady of leisure. Funny how things work out. But seriously, we both had office jobs.
I was working at Sainsbury’s/Argos doing internal design and Matt worked for a marketing agency doing SEO.
Lucy: There are quite a lot of trader couples. Do you find it hard being both business and partner partners?
Steph: If Matt starts talking about compostable packaging after 8pm, I simply walk out of the room and he eventually calms down.
Lucy: Where was your first market and when was the moment you looked at each other and were like hey, this actually might be our job now?
Steph: Our first trade was at the end of August 2018 at GRUB when they were at the Mayfield Depot.
I vaguely remember packing my tiny Ford Fiesta with all our gear and turning up feeling like proper cowboys, Argos fryer in one hand and a biscuit tin full of change in the other.
It was a terrifying experience as we weren’t used to having to work so hard and fast, having spent most of our working life spinning around on office chairs.
Matt: We then went and traded the day after at Manchester Psych Fest.
We were shoved in a corner at Band on the Wall and got to work, a really memorable event and loads of really great feedback on the food which gave us a kick up the arse to get more bookings sorted.
The moment we knew we could try to make this our full-time job was when the University of Manchester offered us a permanent spot at The Market UoM.
We inquired about popping up on a Tuesday (as they used to have guest traders each week) and we quickly got a response basically saying that a space has become available and do we want it.
After a quick visit and a gorp at the fancy kitchen, we decided to go for it.
Lucy: There are traps, aren't there, signing-up with event organisers who exaggerate ticket sales and over-charge for pitches? Have you experienced this?
Steph: Unfortunately we have.
Street food is a huge learning curve and once you’ve done those kinds of events, you just need to value the experience it brought and remember not to fall into the “there will be a million hungry vegans” trap again.
Lucy: Sometimes I worry that by not taking the gamble and signing on to the big pitch fee events I’m not giving the business the chance to grow. Do you see Seitans Kebab at Glasto or do the £10k plus pitch fees put you off?
Matt: We have trader pals who have traded at big music festivals, and more often than not they advise us not to make the same mistake, unless we can afford to lose thousands.
Right now, we’re focussing on local music festivals which come with much less risk and we can be spooning in bed by eleven.
Lucy: Another route into making the mega bucks is to get your product on the shelves. Have you ever thought about getting your kebab produce in stores?
Matt: During lockdown it was one of our ideas but scaling up can be a scary thing.
The production process would change drastically, quality of product could be compromised, and finding a reasonably priced way to pack and ship the goods was a real headache.
So, I ordered a bottle of gin online instead which is the truth.
Lucy: What’s a good recommendation for street food venues in Greater Manchester that champion independent traders and refuse to rinse them in the process?
Matt: Stockport Foodie Friday is one we always really look forward to. John and Rosemary run a tight ship and welcomed us with open arms.
They champion local traders, charge a fair pitch fee and the people of Stockport always give us great feedback and are open-minded to trying our meat-free creations.
Lucy: Which trader's food has recently blown your socks off?
Steph: Most recently it would have to be Marley’s Pizza. Not only is he a cracking guy but his dough is heavenly. There’s a lot of love in the North West street food scene.
Lucy: When I went to my first event a trader neighbour showed me the best way to clean and pack down a deep fat fryer (cheers Brian). What's the best tip/support you ever got from another trader?
Matt: It would have to be John Wallace aka Wallace & Sons aka The Bao Boss.
Before we even started trading, we went to Chorlton Makers Market and chewed his ear off (bless him) and asked a million questions.
He was really helpful and gave us loads of sound advice. We will always be grateful to him for the helping hand.
Lucy: Despite the community spirit do you ever worry a new trader will come along doing the same thing you do?
Steph: Yep. Unfortunately, we’ve been ripped off a few times in the past but there’s not a lot we can do about it, it’s the same in all business I guess.
We just have to take it as a compliment, ideas aren’t worth copying unless they’re good ones.
Lucy: Can you think of any obstacles that have stood in your way that you’ve got around in order to keep Seitans Kebab going?
Steph: We used to rope friends and family into driving our setup to events but eventually realised we needed a van, so saved up and made the investment (we’re on our third van now, don’t ask).
Lucy: What advice would you give to a working class Joe who wants to start their own street food business?
Matt: If you’re passionate and have a unique idea, then go for it.
Do your research, speak to traders, go to markets and see for yourself. If you think you’ll regret not giving it a go, then give it a go!
Lucy: What’s the best thing about working for yourself?
Steph: Always being late and not being fired.
Matt: Eating all the time and passing it off as “research”.
Lucy: And finally, what can we expect to see from Seitan’s Kebab in the next year?
Steph: Nothing out of the ordinary so far, we’re gonna keep doing what we do best and serve up Manchester’s OG vegan kebabs for all to enjoy.
Matt: We might also get married at some point, if we can get the smell of chips out of our hair...
Follow Lucy Linford on Instagram - @desertislanddumplings
Read next: Seitan's Kebab: The Did It Anyway profiles
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