Why Croydon street food chef isn't giving up despite losing £50k during lockdown

A street food business duo from South London lost GBP50,000 worth of business in lockdown, but managed to transform their business into a fast-selling restaurant. James Timmins from Croydon, and Julia Jefferis from Wimbledon, both 26, met while working as a chef and manager in the competitors and players restaurants at Wimbledon Tennis Championships. “We became best mates,” James said, “and we always used to talk about how we’d love to do it on our own.”

They came up with the concept for ‘Utter Waffle’ while travelling South America, inspired by the Colombian savoury crepe culture. For more news and features from in and around London directly to your inbox sign up to our newsletter here . James continued: “We thought it was simply fresh food, and we wanted to bring something similar back.

“We thought, ‘let’s try and do something a little bit different’. “I’d be lying if I said they tasted good from the beginning, but we eventually got to a place where they were really good!” The pair launched their business in January 2019, selling fresh, light and crispy savoury waffles from what was to be crowned the best looking food truck in the UK – their 1975 Ford transit van.

The award-winning vintage van where it all startedThe award-winning vintage van where it all started

And 2019 continued as an “experimental” year for the business, with James and Julia driving the Waffle Wagon (a.k.a.

Reggie) across the UK for private event hire and street food stalls. But a short year later, coronavirus hit.

Read More
Related Articles
Read More
Related Articles

‘Honestly terrifying’

James said: “Like for many of us, it took a while for the penny to drop that this was serious, and it wasn’t going away anytime soon. “It was only when clients started ringing up cancelling that we realised we were in trouble.

“It was just honestly terrifying. “Every single email I got, every phone call I got, my stomach just stopped. “We just didn’t know what we were going to do.”

They picked up three of seven awards at the British Street Food Awards 2019, competing with over 4,000 vendorsThe business had a good start, picking up three of seven awards at the British Street Food Awards 2019, while competing with over 4,000 vendors

Utter Waffle had GBP50,000 to GBP60,000 worth of events cancelled over a two to three month period.

James said: “We’d worked so hard and we had those events in the pipe line, and it had really felt like our hard work was going to eventually start paying off. “As a young business, we hadn’t been paying ourselves, we hadn’t been making much money. “It was really tough, it’s been incredibly disheartening.”

No funding

And because of Utter Waffle’s recent start to life, the business was not eligible for any funding from the Government.

“I’m not bitter about that,” James said, “as a new business we couldn’t prove we were going to make any money or be profitable at any point. “But it was quite a hard pill to swallow at the beginning, when I realised none of that help applied to us.” The pair realised they were in trouble, and had to act fast to avoid losing their business completely.

The Prince

“We wanted one of those sort of venues that has the street food vibe where people go to eat.

“As lockdown hit, me and Jules said well look, we can’t run Deliveroo from our van, that’s not allowed. We need a location, we need a kitchen. So we just reached out to them.

“I knew that two of their units were free at The Prince – it’s someone that we’d had our eye on before lockdown. “We said it could be a collaboration and help us both potentially… and they said yes!” The managers of the West London pub kindly let James and Julia use the unit free of charge, allowing them to sell via deliveries.

And while they only sold two or three waffles on some days, the pair used the extra time to pivot the business, launching a range of their homemade condiments and DIY waffle kits to remotely send to customers.

The originality of the idea caught the attention of manyThe originality of the idea has caught the attention of many

Risky business

Rather than a sigh of relief, James saw this as more a moment of “potential.” He said: “We were very conscious not to put too much money into setting it all up because a lot of the rumours were ‘takeaway won’t be allowed to run’. “It was a big risk, but the other option was to sit at home and do nothing.

“I know lots of people did that, and I’m not criticising that at all – it’s hard to be motivated at a time like this. “But they’ve watched their business kind of disappear, and that must be horrible. “So we definitely made the right decision to keep pushing and working.”

Read More
Related Articles
Read More
Related Articles

After convincing The Prince management to let them keep waffles permanently on the menu (simply by giving them a taste) James and Julia had just twelve days to transform the former pizza parlour – redecorating the entire space, curating and launching a new menu, and hiring a whole team of staff.

Needless to say, “It was a pretty hectic few weeks.”

Their new menu offers a unique variety of waffle toppingsTheir new menu offers a unique variety of waffle dishes

Utter Waffle officially opened its doors at The Prince in West Brompton on July 4, and the now team of nine sold over 800 of their battered delicacies in just two days. Brand new additions to the menu include ‘The Wafflin’ Chicken’ and ‘The Vatican’ (pesto and mozzarella) as well as ‘The Utter Waffle’ (biscoff, apple and cinammon) – winner of best dessert in the UK. The pair worked over 100 consecutive days to transform their business, and the takeaway advice from James for other struggling businesses is simple: “You have to adapt.”

“It’s very difficult,” he said, “Everyone wants to stick to their business model and their product because they believe in it and they want to stick to their guns. “But it’s not a fail to adapt and change.

Read More
Related Articles
Read More
Related Articles

“We all come up with our best ideas when our back is against the ropes and when times are tough.” While James and Julia are enjoying the freedom of cooking in the kitchen, they have vowed not to give up their beloved transit, Reggie.

James added: “You just have to adapt and mould with everything that’s in front of you, and hopefully when it’s all over you can either go back to your product the way it was, or you might find that there are better ways of doing things.” Utter Waffle has signed up to the Government’s Eat Out Help Out scheme, and you can eat half price throughout August by visiting The Prince on Lillie Road, West Brompton. Got a story?

Get in touch on april.curtin@reachplc.com

You may also like...