From holding pizza parties for friends to opening his own hit restaurant, Paul Corrigan of I Knead Pizza tells us how he turned his side hustle into his main income
WHETHER it's down to job insecurity, rising living costs, or a determination to do something you enjoy with your time on Earth, the side hustle is on the rise.
A 2018 study by Henley Business School found that four in ten people in Britain run at least one business alongside their day job. And that figure is set to increase to half the population by 2030.
The food truck is a side hustle that's really taken off in the last ten years, coinciding with the growth of street food and foodie-orientated markets. But what does it take to get one up and running and bringing in an extra income?
I met a man who had a master's degree in Neapolitan Pizza. He schooled me, showed me the real way to make pizza. It was like a Yoda and Luke situation
We asked side hustle success story Paul Corrigan of I Knead Pizza to tell us how he went from a weekend baking course, to pop-up events, to opening his own restaurant.
Whether you're aiming to start the next food craze, brew your own beer, or launch your own line of hand-knitted leg-warmers, his is a journey you can learn from.
Going right back to the beginning, when did you first get interested in making your own pizza and why?
“It was after going on a bread-making course in Manchester. I loved the simple ingredients and how fresh the end-product was. It gave me a personal project; making pizza dough every week. And constant trial and error meant I needed willing guinea pigs to do taste-tests. My friends were more than happy to help with this.”
Was there a moment when you thought, I'm going to try to do this professionally?
“It kind of just happened. I’d been buying bits and bobs each week for a year; a pizza board here, a pizza cutter there. After a while I had all the equipment and decided to buy a wood-fired oven and start setting up on a Saturday on Stockport market.
“It was purely a hobby and I just loved the whole experience. I felt like I was on The Apprentice, running my own little business. When I was asked to cater larger events and parties, I could see it had real potential and gave it my full attention.”
Are you from a catering / hospitality background?
“I’ve never actually worked in catering or hospitality. I’ve always just winged it, learnt on the job. Made it up as I went along.”
Did any skills from your day job come in useful when setting up your pizza business?
“When I started my pizza thing, I worked for Barnardo’s dealing with businesses, organising tangible donations and logistics. I think it helped me with organising, event logistics and speaking to customers about our services.
How did you learn to make pizza?
“I started by watching YouTube videos and reading books to research ingredients and styles. The pizza I made at the beginning is nothing like the pizza I make now. I look back and cringe at the first pizzas, but it’s great to see the improvement over time.
“The turning point was when I put an ad out for someone to work on events with me. I met a man who had a master's degree in Neapolitan Pizza. He schooled me, showed me the real way to make pizza. It was like a Yoda and Luke situation. That was when I found a real appreciation for real pizza.”
What was your first big investment in your business?
“My first big investment was my pizza oven. It was brilliant, it was tiny, but I thought it looked great and the pizzas cooked perfectly in it. I purchased it with a credit card. Having been a student I was no stranger to debt and overdrafts. It turned out to be the best investment I’ve ever made.”
How hard was it to get bookings for your mobile pizza business at the start? Is there a lot of competition?
“It was a little slow to begin with. I just did Stockport Market to learn my trade initially. I wanted to get it right though. I knew I had to be professional and the food had to be spot-on if people were going to be spending good money.
“I let it grow organically, popping up at different events, giving out cards, word-of-mouth. People have been lovely over the years and really helped me progress with positive reviews and recommending us to friends and family.
“There’s always been plenty of competition since I started but even those ‘competitors’ have passed work on because we’re all independents who help each other.
“I remember emailing every event organiser in the north of England. I was always trying to get another event, trying to get on another waiting list. I don’t think I ever turned a job down; I knew it would lead to other jobs one way or another.”
What do you think makes I Knead Pizza stand out from the crowd?
“I think the style of our pizzas and the way they’re made is really important. People want that authentic taste of Italy and that’s what we give them. We’ve also made a name for ourselves with our large vegan pizza menu.”
What mistakes did you make when you were first starting out?
“I made so many mistakes but the biggest was buying cheap equipment. I bought a gazebo which bent in half the first day I used it. Spending more on quality saves hassle in the long-run. Even the gazebo weights – I've had sandbags and the plastic ones you fill up with water. Both made a massive mess. My advice would be to purchase the proper cast iron weights and you’ll have them for life.”
What's the best event you've done with your pizza trailer?
“I took the trailer to a pizza festival in Birmingham – that was a great event. I’d never seen so many pizza traders in one place. I felt like we were representing Manchester as all the other traders were from all over the country. We smashed out a fair few pizzas that day.
“Festa Italia in Manchester was another amazing event. We had no idea how busy it would be. We sold out three days in a row. It was immense, and being surrounded by all these other Italian-inspired businesses was brilliant.”
When did you decide to set up a restaurant – and was this always part of the plan?
“It’s always been a part of the plan. When I started I did it all because I wanted a pizza shop. I loved this one pizza place in Liverpool and wanted something similar, but things worked out differently. I believe it worked out the way it should have.
“I wanted a pizza shop straight away, but I was naive regarding the investment needed and the commitment and everything that goes with it. It’s been my dream for years and when my mate said he’d go in with me, it just made sense.
“I feel like I crawled during the street food years and now I can walk, running a restaurant. It’s a massive learning curve but it’s been an adventure.”
Why did you decide to open your restaurant in Reddish?
“We chose Reddish because that’s where we’re both from. It made sense for us to start small, somewhere the rent would be more affordable, and where there's a need for new eateries.
“Reddish has a strong sense of community and a lovely village feel. It’s got plenty of potential and we’re really happy it’s taken off so well since we opened.
How does running a restaurant compare to running a food truck?
“Lifting that shutter to open the shop is brilliant. I get a sense of pride every time. To have bricks and mortar and to say, 'That’s our place,' is very cool.
“Running the restaurant when it’s full is a challenge but an absolute buzz. We have table orders from bookings and walk-ins, takeaway orders and Uber Eats. It’s a juggling act which keeps you on your toes.
“The outside catering is bread and butter for the guys now. We know what we’re doing and it’s really efficient. The street food will always be hard work; loading up the vans, and setting up and maintaining the fire in the oven in all kinds of weather. But it doesn’t get boring when you’re catering for the happiest day of people's lives, and seeing your fellow food traders out and about.”
Has running your own business lived up to your expectations? How does it compare to working for someone else in terms of job satisfaction, freedom, income and so on.
“Yes, definitely. I expected long hard days with plenty of stress but that’s just part of it. It’s amazing when you’re in the swing of it and it’s great to be able to be creative with food and marketing.
“I can’t see myself working for anyone else now. Working for yourself gives you a great sense of achievement and boosts your confidence. You know that your life is in your control and if you want something, it’s up to you to get it.
“Freedom is a strange one; I said goodbye to my weekends a long time ago. But on the flip-side I can catch-up with family and friends during the day.
“I nearly moved out of my flat a few years ago because I couldn’t afford the rent. That was a turning point which gave me pure motivation. I knew I had to push it to the next level and basically sell more pizzas.”
5 tips for setting up your own food truck
Paul's advice if you're thinking of starting a foodie side hustle.
1) “Make sure you’re prepared to give up evenings and weekends. There’s no way around that in this business. There are a lot of early starts and late nights.”
2) “Make sure your product is the best it can be. Use the best ingredients you can find.”
3) “At the start, take every job you get and learn from each one. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.”
4) “Take advice from other traders and use Environmental Health. They’re there to help and advise. We’ve always had a good relationship with them and it definitely helps.”
5) “Give it 100% to make it a success. And when it comes to the point where you’re debating whether to leave your day job – do it. Make that leap of faith.”
I Knead Pizza has its restaurant at 52 Gorton Road, Stockport, and is available to hire for all outdoor events.