Hungry Henry’s: Erika Harman

Erika Harman makes a living out of the ultimate supply and demand industry: offering food to hungry people

Erika Harman makes a living out of the ultimate supply and demand industry: offering food to hungry people. Her mobile catering units, Hungry Henry’s, are fast becoming indispensable to the hard working population of Harman’s corner of East Yorkshire. Name: Erika Harman: Company: Hungry Henry’s Sector: Mobile catering Founded: August 2000

Erika Harman makes a living out of the ultimate supply and demand industry: offering food to hungry people. Her mobile catering units, Hungry Henry’s, are fast becoming indispensable to the hard working population of Harman’s corner of East Yorkshire.

“Customers come back all the time so we get to know them. I’ve one guy who comes eight or 10 miles out of his way. There are other places he could go but he comes back to us – we must be doing something right,” Erika laughs.

And others agree too. Harman was commended in the recent national finals of the Shell LiveWire awards. She has just opened a third outlet and a large part of why the business is proving so successful is because its founder genuinely loves her work.

She says, “I know people’s names, what they order, how they like their bacon. It’s really sociable, it’s great.”

Hungry Henry’s started life in August 2000. Erika had been made redundant just after the birth of her son and she needed to get back to work. A friend suggested there was a market for mobile catering units in her hometown of Brough.

Careful research into the area showed that a large building development would not be adequately served by nearby shops. The workers would want refreshments on the spot. Harman reasoned a trailer could best provide this.

Trial and error

As with all catering businesses, rules and regulations are stringent and Harman had to apply for permission from health and safety as well as environmental health. She also had to reach an agreement with the owners of the land for a licence to set up there.

After all this, naming the business was the easy part: “Hungry Henry’s after my little boy.”

Like most people setting up on their own, Harman learned by trial and error. “I’d cornered the local market and customers came immediately. I had to learn quickly. The first and most important lesson was to talk to the customers and find out what they wanted.”

“The builders wanted tea, coke, hot sandwiches, bacon butties rather than the cold sandwiches the local shops were offering, so that’s what I gave them. Keeping it simple is very important.”

This doesn’t mean the details aren’t important. Different customers might prefer Nescafé to a cheaper coffee or Daddies sauce to HP. But this is again where Harman says a sociable manner is crucial.

Harman has had to cope with her fair share of difficulties. At the time of the foot and mouth crisis, the lack of bacon caused real problems. “Bacon is by far the biggest seller so people started to be really funny when we didn’t have any.”

This was were knowing the customers became really important – persuading them that they would get what they wanted just as soon as prices came down. “We had to talk them round to sausage or egg butties instead,” she explains.

It was around Christmas 2000 that the need for expansion became apparent. At the time Harman had just one outlet and when the site closed for two weeks because of bad weather, Hungry Henry’s had to close too.

“We had to cope with it but it was very difficult and I realised I couldn’t be in that position again. By getting the second site in February, I immediately had something else to fall back on,” says Harman.

The second and third outlets are in a lorry park and industrial estate. Harman has gradually taken on and trained staff to work in them. Finding good people can be awkward but she largely relies on a gut feeling.

“I’m just about to take on a girl who’s done some catering in France. Basically, she just sounded like she knew her stuff and that she could handle the job. A good personality is important for handling some of the back chat.”

Harman is the first to admit that some of the clientele can be a bit boisterous – but that’s why she needs people with something to them. “You’ve got to be able to give back as good as you get. They’re cheeky – but in a good way and banter is part of the work.”

Harman plans to open 10 units in the next five years – and with three open in under a year, she’s more than on target. And although she claims she’s been lucky so far, her enthusiasm for the business has clearly more than played a part.

I had to learn quickly. The first and most important lesson was to talk to the customers and find out what they wanted.

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