Start Me Up: Tips from the Northwest's Best New Food Venues

Starting a food business? It seemed everyone was at it in 2014. We asked some of the winners in the Best Newcomer category what advice they'd give to any entrepreneurial readers who might be dreaming of their own little piece of the market

Feature by Jamie Faulkner | 07 Jan 2015

The statistics about failing startups have been repeated often enough that you’d think it’d put anyone off setting up a new business. But us human beings love a good challenge and there have been more than a handful of great success stories in the last year for both Liverpool and Manchester – judging by the voting – even if the owners themselves would surely agree that the hard work is far from, if ever, over.

Evil Eye Beer and Burrito Shack on Smithdown Road appear to have got Liverpudlians all hot and bothered; perhaps it’s their ‘ow burny hot’ salsas. From where we’re standing, it helps that they’re good on social media and have impressive menu artwork but here’s what co-owner Andy Scott had to say about what it takes to run a food business: 

“Just do the basics well, don’t over-stretch the menu; pick something and make it as tasty as possible, with the best ingredients you can get! We source as much of our food locally as we can, using a local greengrocers, locally farmed meat, and the cheese even comes from the Liverpool Cheese Company. We also try and make the menu as vegetarian friendly as it is meaty, with just as many options available for each.

“Also, be prepared to work your balls off every single day.” Dammit, we thought that might be the case.

The Splendid Sausage Company, who will be re-branding to the Splendid Kitchen in 2015, also came up trumps in the voting. It’s the superior dogs that no doubt won people over but we suspect those decadent Eggs Benedict fries might have swayed a few, as chip toppings so often do. Proprietor Mike Edge takes a non-dogmatic approach (yes, we know, that’s a very clever pun) and told us the key is to know when to compromise, listen to feedback and make changes if something’s not working:

“The biggest tip I can give as a new business in the city centre is to be adaptable and willing to grow with the market. We launched with a very limited hot dog-only menu but learned very quickly we were alienating a large portion of the market; some people wouldn’t even come through the door due to their – often outdated – perception of hot dogs, sausages and what goes in them. We were losing group bookings as one person in ten or more didn’t like sausage. 

“As well as letting people know in every way we could about the quality of the sausages (and all ingredients), we added burgers to the menu in the summer and for 2015 are adding Big Plates along with starters to the menu (something that has led to the name change to Splendid Kitchen). Two big changes, but along the way there have been innumerable tweaks and changes as we’ve grown and learned – something that will never stop.”

Elsewhere in the polls, Maray showed that everyone still loves falafel and cocktails; and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon, so there’s one more tip. One of their directors, James Bates, had some to-the-point advice: "Be dynamic. Don't get too attached to ideas. Be willing to change. Start with a small, manageable menu. It's much easier to add items in time than to downsize a menu because it's unmanageable. Research, research, research. What is your USP? Put yourself in your potential customers' shoes." Like our other best newcomers, opening in an already busy spot (Bold Street) evidently helps: El Capo and Superstore both proved that the Northern Quarter can happily handle more eateries, showing that location is still, as they say, everything. 

The Skinny Food and Drink Survey 2015:

• More advice for budding restauranteurs, from the Best New Place winners in Scotland

• From bars and beers to shops and special nights out, your favourite Northwest places in full