Mark Jankel, Co-founder, Street Kitchen, London

The Staff Canteen
Mark Jankel

Mark Jankel discusses his role as Co-founder at Street Kitchen and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Mark Jankel

Place of work: Street Kitchen

Role: Co-founder

So your first permanent location is opening soon, what has it been like getting ready to open?

It has been crazy, it was a really tight turnaround - we have built the site in three weeks from a shell. We have been trying to source as many reclaimed and sustainable materials as possible such as bespoke tables made from reclaimed pallet wood and seating made from recycled grain sacks which has taken extra time - they are still being built and we are opening next week so we are on the edge of our seats - literally.

With this being your first permanent shop, can you tell us a bit about what the business was doing before this?

We have been running a street food and event business for the last three years. The business has been growing gradually but the focal point has been developing a direct and robust food supply chain using farms and producers that operate in a natural and considered way. The livestock farms that we use are focused on traditional animal husbandry with attention to the highest animal welfare and we are trying to expand our supply of organic and sustainable produced fruit and vegetables. We now feel confident to grow the business on the foundation of this natural food supply chain and we champion our amazing suppliers.

Why did you decide to open Street Kitchen? 

As a chef, I was constantly frustrated by the lack of information relating to the provenance of the produce that I was buying but have never had the time to investigate. My response to this was to step out of my chefs shoes into a pair of Wellington boots to find out the facts by visiting and working on farms across the UK for 18 months.  It was here that I learnt about the issues associated with farming and supply chains, so set up The  Food Initiative, a guiding principal for operating a business on the foundation of sustainable farming practices. Then came Street Kitchen,  which was set up by Jun and me as a pilot for The Food Initiative in 2011.

Why did you decide to go down that route instead of opening a restaurant?

Originally I planned to open a restaurant but I realised that actually, a street food business is a really good way of testing out our supply chain – testing how we can set up a business using direct produce, as you can have a much smaller menu on a street food stand.  We found that it worked really well, people loved it so we bought a couple of vans, as well as doing catering for private events. Over the three years, we were always working towards getting into a permanent site. We were tweaking and evolving menus, building a brand, galvanising the supply chain and building a 'fast food' culture that would be the platform, springboard and foundation for multiple outlet businesses.

Was it a conscious decision to use organic farms and sustainable produce?

It was the raison d'etre for Street Kitchen - when I pick up a chicken leg or shoulder of lamb I can visualise the farm that it came from and I am confident to use it in our dishes because I know that it was produced in a natural way with amazing animal welfare. Having reached this point it is really difficult to go back and I treasure the relationships that we have built up with the farms that supply us. We are by no means perfect, there are parts of our food supply chain that I am not happy with and that need a lot of work but we are on a journey to become better and more sustainable as we grow. As our resources build and we consume larger volumes of produce we will be able to have more influence on the supplier that we use and the way that they farm.

If someone was looking to follow in your footsteps, what would you advise?

The street food business is a lot less glamorous than it is made out to be, it can be really hard. I advise going to work with other street food businesses to see the less glamorous parts before you jump into the deep end.

Would you advise getting experience at different types of establishments?

Our chef backgrounds definitely helped us in terms of cooking methods, speed of service and minimising wastage so yes, I would advise working in efficient and professional restaurants as well as with the top street food operators before jumping in.

With the amount of competition in London would you recommend opening there?

 Yes definitely, if you make an amazing and exceptional product, you sell it at the right price and you give amazing service I believe that anyone can be successful.

How easy was it for you to find staff? 

Really hard but we have an amazing team who we have built and nurtured over the three years. I really love everyone in the team and I feel privileged that they choose to work with us. It is critical that we maintain our 'family culture' as we grow so that new team members feel part of a business that is doing something special.

What were you looking for when you were recruiting? 

Personality, great attitude and love for food.

And finally, what would you say your top five tips are for aspiring food service professionals?

  • Be consistent - product and service
  • Get a good bookkeeper
  • Build a vision for the business
  • Follow your gut
  • When you are awake at night stressing about a number of things you need to do, email yourself with to-do's - it will help you get back to sleep!

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Editor 18th May 2017

Mark Jankel, Co-founder, Street Kitchen, London