Risking it all: Why we took the plunge by starting a street food business

But what's it really been like for Gourmet Goat founders Nick and Nadia Stokes since taking the leap from solid professions?

When Greek-Cypriot lawyer Nadia Stokes introduced husband Nick to the delights of kid goat meat it was love at first bite. So much so that Nick couldn’t comprehend why the sustainable meat was not part of the UK’s staple diet.

It was the epiphany that led to the pair launching street food start-up Gourmet Goat in London’s Borough Market with a range of dishes inspired by Nadia’s upbringing in Cyprus such as East Med Stew and Kid Goat Meat Kofta in Greek Pita.

“I went over there and tried kid goat for the first time,” recalls Nick. “It was absolutely fantastic and I thought ‘why can we not get this in England?'”

Risking it all

So after 21 years as a physics teacher and Nadia by now keen to leave life as a City lawyer, they decided they were ready to take the plunge.

“We came back to England and an opportunity arose where we wanted to run our own business. Nadia has always wanted to go into catering. I have always wanted to run my own business. So we thought, why not have a go at using kid goat meat because no-one else is doing it.”

But why was kid goat meat such an ‘undiscovered’ market in the UK? The answer is entirely down to the fact young male goats are typically killed within hours of being born as ‘nanny goats’ (the ones that offer milk) are the ones that carry the value due to the huge rise in the consumption of goats milk and goats cheese.

Rather than slaughter the male goats at birth there is now a very small, but steadily growing market, for the previously unwanted animals. Admittedly, those bred for food consumption only have short lives – much like lambs – but rather than half of all goats born in the UK being disposed of immediately some are now being raised to live for six to nine months.

Moreover, the young goats also feed on food humans and other animals cannot eat, thus also reducing the environmental impact of food waste as well as ensuring valuable cereals are not needed to fatten the livestock. A highly popular and nutritious meat elsewhere in the world, Nick and Nadia’s Gourmet Goat is on a mission to see kid goat meat become a staple meat in more British diets.

“We work with some fantastic small dairy farmers and the response we’ve had for the products but also the dishes that go with it has been phenomenal,” says Nick. And in addition to sales of Nadia’s dishes and charcuterie in the market, Gourmet Goat also supplies Selfridges and has plans to expand its product range.

Keeping on top of cash

However, running a street food business in the market has come with some challenges. As a cash-based business, the Stokes are able to keep suppliers, particularly farmers, happy as they generate cash throughout the week and can pay them, which helps to build a good rapport.

But as yet Gourmet Goat doesn’t have a card machine, which has led to lost trade with customers unable to pay in cash. “By and large in terms of cashflow it’s been quite good. We have a large float and make sure we don’t run out of change. If a product is £6, the majority of the time people pay with a £10 note. You’re constantly having to use £1 coins. You don’t want to run out in the middle of the day particularly.”

Another issue for Gourmet Goat is the use of forgery bank notes. “We have quite a few that come through,” says Nick. “But we’re not getting to the position where we can feel for the embossed bit.”

Receipts too are crucial. “Because we’re a VAT-based business we’ve got a VAT return every three months so there’s no excuse you’ve got to get the receipts in because you’ve got to get your VAT bill in on time or you get a penalty.”

“I hate penalties but it’s actually a very good incentive to make sure you keep everything in order, particularly in a business like this which is majority hot food and therefore it’s 20% output and very little input. You’ve got to save those receipts that you’ve got some input tax on.”

A Sage One user Nick says Gourmet Goat is about to integrate with Sage Pay to manage the company’s payroll and solve its card problem, which means he can instead focus his ire on the government’s tax on hot food. “If I could eradicate one thing from the accounting system it would have to be the 20% VAT on hot food. I can see why they brought it in in terms of big take-aways, but for small businesses starting up to have 20% taken away with very little input tax on ingredients is a big issue.”

Enough to make him and Nadia reconsider their decision to start a street food business? “Would I go back to teaching? No. It’s a big jump, debts-wise they’re quite large, but vision-wise the potential I can see keeps us going.”

This film was produced in partnership with Sage One. For more business insight and tips to keep on top of cashflow and small business tax visit the Sage business blog http://uk.sageone.com/blog/.  

For a free trial of Sage One Start please visit http://uk.sageone.com/products/.

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