Where it all began with our van

Posted: 08/19/2014

When it comes to street food the three most important things are the pitch, the product and what you trade out of…

To get things kicked off on the blog I want to talk about our van. If you’re reading this I hope that it means you’re about to click on where to find us, visit us and see it in action!

The initial idea

So the journey begins with an initial idea after reading about the explosion of street food in London, and its subsequent spread to other cities across the UK. Luckily for us, Birmingham has a great street food community with great events happening all the time. We even have Digbeth Dining Club, which was voted the best street food event at the British Street Food Awards last year! After checking out the local scene the next step was to get down to London to see what traders down there were doing. Stuffing ourselves until we barely fit onto the Underground, we saw as many traders as we could fit in. We have loved eating in places such as Pizza Pilgrims in Soho and Pizza East in Shoreditch, as well as the food markets on Leather Lane.

What should we trade out of?

One of the things we’ve noticed from going to see these events are that the options for a vessel to trade from go from a gazebo, to a trailer, all the way up to a van. So the question we had to ask ourselves was what was going to work best for us? We already knew we wanted to do pizzas so we had to think about the logistics of moving a 500kg oven around with us. This put the gazebo idea out the window straight away. A trailer, although more secure, would also present a few issues. First of all to maneuver the thing onto a pitch could easily go wrong, let alone the added time it would take to do a 500 point turn to get the thing into place. We knew it had to be a van. We could rock up to an event, jump into the back and start working on our prep and getting the oven to temperature straight away. But this still didn’t make it any easier for us! If you go to any street food event you are going to see a real mix of vintage vans which have been converted. We have seen everything from (the ever popular amongst street food traders) Citroen H Van to converted ambulances and fire engines. Because we had seen so many H Vans around our initial plan was to source one of these, restore it and then get it converted into a working pizza kitchen. This lead us to hours on eBay, H-Van world and lots of different forums trying to find a bargain and something that wouldn’t need too much work done on it so we could get up and running sooner. However, anyone reading this who has ever looked at buying a H Van will know that finding one of these vans that isn’t just a shell is going to mean selling your house and living in a tent to afford it.

credit: H Van World

credit: H Van World

We’ve got a van, but now we need a kitchen!

We decided at this point to go and see some coach fitters to ask for some advice on what works best from those who know best, and to look at what’s needed for a top notch conversion. This lead us to three trips to different fitters; Towability in Northampton, 4sure Trailers (also in Northampton) and Tudor Trailers in Western-Super-Mare. We saw some stunning vans and some great work from all three companies, but after just one meeting we just knew we wanted to work with Tudor trailers. They are a family-run business, originally founded by a Father and now ran by his four Sons – a company ethos which perfectly matches our own. Ashley Tudor talked us through all the pro’s and con’s of going for a H Van over a more modern van and even though we loved the look of the H Van, the cons quickly far outweighed the pros. First of all old H Vans aren’t that powerful and only have three gears. Because of the size and weight of our oven, as well as everything we wanted to put in it, it would make it very unpractical to drive. This is – of course – if the engine starts. Citroen stopped producing H Vans in 1981. So even if we got a van that was the very last to come off the production line we would be looking at an engine that’s over thirty year old. We had heard too many horror stories through our research of people going out to a booking and the engine giving up, making them very late or not able to attend at all. We couldn’t have that for our business. What if we had a booking at a wedding? We felt like we couldn’t run the risk of letting people down like that so we decided we definitely needed a modern van.

citron-vanAfter even more research into what van we wanted we finally decided on a long wheel based, high-roof Citroen Relay. This would give us plenty of space to move around in, and most importantly, get us where we needed to go without any issues! After trawling the Internet we found the perfect van in Swindon – one with only 4500 miles on the clock for about half the price of a Citroen H Van.

To help us in the design and fitting of the van we had a lot of help from pizza oven guru, Jay Emery. Jay owns Dingley Dell Ovens, which produces beautifully handmade ovens in Kidderminster. If you want to get into the street food world and pizza is your thing, you need a Dingley Dell oven. Jay has been in this industry for 15 years now and is an absolute fountain of knowledge on everything you could ever need to know when you are setting up your own street food business. Between Jay at Dingley Dell and Ashley at Tudor Trailers we were almost there. After a couple more visits to go over the design and fine-tune it to our own specifications and style, we had it nailed and were good to go. The guys at Tudor Trailers are doing a roaring trade, which isn’t surprising considering the high standard of their work, so we had to wait six weeks before any work could start on the van. However they are so good at what they do, that what they said would take 14 days only took 10. If you were lucky enough to try our pizzas at our recent launch event I’m sure you’ll agree with us in saying that the van is looking splendid – even if we do say so ourselves!





In the next blog post I will talk through the process of building our brand and the next step in the making of the Bare Bones Pizza van – getting our van vinyl wrapped. Until then, check out the find us section and come try one our pizzas.