Alex Wibberley

Alex Wibberley

Eat Street……the story so far

Eat Street - Isle of Wight

Before this venture I was working happily for Cunard as the pastry development chef. I was travelling the world and training the crew online as well as leading the development of all things dessert onboard the vessels. I, like everyone else was oblivious to the pandemic and chaos that was about to ensue. I was very happy in my role and had aspirations of a bright future with the company. 

As the weeks and months progressed with Covid-19 I had gone from a position of comfort, knowing that Carnival was cash rich and could ‘ride the storm’ to being at risk of redundancy. This was a huge shock and I was given an opportunity to appeal the decision, however I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. Cunard were doing the right thing for the business and I couldn’t argue that. The redundancies that were made were for survival of the company and hopefully they will have paid off. Perhaps one day things would change and I would be able to do some work for them again. But for now………..

 

Alex Wibberley

So what are my options now? Join possibly thousands of others looking for a job? Work in a hotel again and go back to 17 hour days and no social life? Possibly have to move off the IOW again when I had only just come back and bought a house? 

Lot’s of things going through my mind but only one thing really stood out – I would need to start my own business. It was the only way I could really utilise the skills I had gained at Cunard and through my business training I had just passed. I had already worked as a chef on the IOW in hotels and restaurants and I had done everything I wanted to do. 

I started brainstorming and building a business plan. It was going to have to work in and out of lockdown as we had no way of knowing when things would change. It would need clear USPs (unique selling points) and it would have need to be good value for money. Quite quickly I started growing the idea of Eat Street – food van or trailer, contactless collection, food currently unavailable anywhere else etc. At Cunard sustainability and environment had been a huge factor and something I had been working on a lot. I knew it was not only important but also on trend. It became an early non negotiable priority. We would always strive to make better decisions for the environment that we inhabit. I started developing a tone of voice for the business, sometimes a ‘we’ and sometimes ‘I’ even though I was working alone. The ‘we’ was to bring a sense of inclusion to my future customers, belonging and a community feel. Eat Street was to be something that didn’t just belong to me, it would belong to the customer also. 

The plan for the food was that it was to be unique, modern twists on traditional food. I called on my travel experience as well as what I had learnt from working with some great chefs over the years, not least my former manager at Cunard, Gareth Bowen. He seems to know a little about every cuisine you can think of, and then a few more you can’t. I also picked up great management skills from him and my experience at Cunard. I grew more as a manager in that role than in the rest of my career years combined. 

I tested the Eat Street dishes, cooked everything and photographed it, building content for social media and the website. I held focus groups and did consumer research. The menu was created with overlaps for prep and opportunites to utilise ingredients before they would spoil. It was very important to have no wastage and so orders are made in advance and everything is prepared fresh daily. 

A 6 week planning process followed – research, competitor scoping, forecasting, product sourcing tendering, website building and of course trailer purchasing and kitchen building! It was an exciting and very stressful time. I was conscious of a limited time frame and budget but worked hard to keep costs low and do anything I could myself. I was starting to forge relationships with suppliers, networking contacts and making partnerships. We have continued that to this day with some amazing working relationships and friendships developing.

Fortunately I was on furlough and undergoing redundancy/notice with Cunard and so managed to keep the gap small between finishing there and starting Eat Street. In my naivety I had thought I would be able to draw a salary quickly and live on the profits of the business. Don’t get me wrong, it is a viable business and it does make money, the overheads are small and it is manageable………but I have had some big challenges. I have had expensive repairs and emergency welding, faulty generators, dead generators, car breakdowns, car tows, trailer tows, faulty dishwashers etc. All part of running a business of course but at the time it feels like someone is out to get you. I am fortunate that I am very hands on and have been able to carry out some repairs myself and have done all of the building in the trailer by hand. I had also thought I could manage doing my food prep in the trailer. That just wasn’t possible – the trailer is tiny and in the summer very hot, winter very cold! I realised early on and built a second kitchen in what would be my dining room. It was a fairly easy fix but disruptive and costly without being part of the plan. Luckily I could do it myself and next to my personal kitchen that I built from scratch last year, it was pretty straight forward. 

My new 'dining room'

My new kitchen, exclusive to Eat Street enables me to shut the door on the business at the end of the day and balance with my personal and private life. 

Laurel....

Just before lockdown my good friend Laurel moved in with me for ‘a few weeks’ following a break up. Little did we know a week later we would be locked down together for 3 months. Luckily we never fell out and got on famously, bonding over my Maine Coon kitten that we picked up on the first day of lockdown. We actually had a great time trapped in our bubble of three. Laurel also worked at Carnival and went through redundancy as I did. She got a new job in Swindon in July and moved back to her parents house. Just before she left we realised we had feelings for each other and we started a relationship, awful timing! To cut a long story short Laurel is now back on the Island where she belongs and has joined Eat Street full time so we are planning for the future together. 

 

The shop/s

The Autumn was an exciting time for us and saw the  arrival of Laurel into Eat Street as well as the launch of our online shop. This has been a huge success and we have big plans for the New Year so watch this space. We have weddings booked for 2021 and some really exciting ideas for the future. 

 

The support we have received has been overwhelming and there are so many people to thank – our parents, Laurel (as a friend and my partner), my good friend Dave who has made the website and continues to work for us on web projects, friends who believe in us and of course our amazing customers. I couldn’t have anticipated the support, the emails of thanks, the reviews, the notes left when ordering food, even the personalised paintings left for us next to the trailer!

Running a business is exciting, rewarding and fun. It is also hard work and I was personally getting really stressed about paying the mortgage. I have never paid myself from Eat Street and our profits remain in the business for growth of the company. With this in mind I now work in Sainsburys 5-9am, 5 days a week to pay the bills. I feel a huge weight lifted since this and can now really enjoy all aspects of this adventure! If you see me in the store be sure to say hi!

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