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Tom Goodhand finds out about a new group helping to promote street food in Leeds

Feature: Northern StrEats

It’s a cold and rainy Tuesday evening in January. We’re underneath a railway arch in Holbeck which borders onto empty units and scruffy garages. But inside we have a pastel pink camper van flogging gorgeous cake with premium teas and coffees and two huge pans cooking up enough paella to feed 80-odd hungry people. Guests include Leeds restaurateurs, food bloggers and Richard Johnson, food critic, founder of the British Street Food Awards and author of Street Food Revolution.

This was the launch of Northern StrEats, a new organisation aiming to promote street food up north. A few days later and we’re speaking with Andrew Critchett, co-founder of Northern StrEats and founder of high-end Leeds fish and chip van Fish&. "It’s really there to provide a focal point for the traders who are already trading, people who want to start trading, just as like a mutual support group really," explains. "It’s just a way of sharing information. Obviously I am already up and running, and I found on Tuesday quite a lot of people that had either started on a small scale or were thinking about it. I was able to share quite a lot of my experience, basically, which can help them and to give them confidence so it’s not such a daunting thing after all. When you look at anything with hindsight it probably is.

"Its kind of there to act as a focal point for the traders to help each other but then also the powerful thing is to collectively push themselves out to event organisers, be it public events, private events, corporate events or whatever. So what we’re going to be saying to event organisers is, you don’t have to trawl the internet and try and find lots of different people, you don’t have to go down the same old routes, which a lot do acknowledge but don’t necessarily get the best quality food and the best traders with an eye on sustainability and local sourcing. We’re going to be fairly self policing in that respect. So we’ll be able to pull together a group of traders doing different things, different types of food that all complement each other. They’ll all be happy to work with each other, then we can give a festival organiser, an event organiser, almost like a ready-made solution without them doing the legwork."

The idea of quality local traders at events and festivals certainly sounds preferable to the row-upon-row of burger and hotdog vans that tend to pop up at many such events (not that burgers and hotdogs can’t be high-quality, just that at such events they seldom are).

As well as events, just as exciting for the people of Leeds is the idea of a few street traders popping up in the city’s streets and selling good food for office workers or shoppers grabbing a bite to eat. Anyone who’s been on holiday to mainland Europe, the US or, well, just about anywhere abroad may well have looked on enviously at all the glorious street food available in every city centre. But outside of London, we don’t really have much of that in England, yet. Unless you want a Greggs.

Things are starting to look up in Leeds though, with the superb Fish& (currently on a brief winter break but due back before the end of February) trading on Commercial Street, selling sustainable, local fish and chips with a twist, and a number of quality cafes and coffee shops selling sarnies, soups and the like at a quality well above the predictable chains.

"I think from a consumer’s point of view what they’re increasingly looking for is a) good value and b) variety, and I think that when you run an operation like this you are very flexible in what you do, how you do it," explains Andrew. "It is literally you and maybe a few helpers trying stuff out so you can develop new ideas very quickly. I think to be honest there are some big chains out there doing great stuff but you know big chains make for homogenised city centres. And we’ve certainly found the support from Leeds City Council for us – who are doing something a little bit different, a little bit quirky and they really like what we’re doing. And the general public are responding very favourably to that."

If we can get quality food on our streets and make Leeds a more interesting place to wander around, then it sounds good to us.

Find out more on Twitter @NorthernStEats

Fish&, Commercial Street, 07799 063 841, www.fishand.co.uk, @NoFishyBusiness

Posted on Wednesday 8th February 2012

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Comments on Feature: Northern StrEats

Comment by Melina Ekaterini

Posted on Mon 13th Aug 12 9:56 pm

I am in the process of setting up my own street food business. I have been a chef for 20 years and fancy doing it for myself. would love to chat to anyone with great advice. Mel



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