CURIOUSLY, for a couple who have made a thriving business out of burritos and cashed in on the chilli-hot dishes south of the border down Mexico way, Abi and Richard Golland have never, ever been there.
“We have just been too busy but I think we should set a target to go to Mexico,” says Abi, nibbling away at her chorizo hash in their Street Food Chef burrito bar on Arundel Street, Sheffield. Richard pours agave syrup on his breakfast pancakes and shrugs. They have recently introduced a new breakfast menu and have asked me along to try it.
Well, as it says on their website, you don’t need to go all the way to Acapulco to taste the food and I’m enjoying the huevos rancheros from their new breakfast menu. The last time I ate this was in a Tex-Mex joint in Texas and the chillies blew my head off while I burped all the way round The Alamo. (The Mexicans are still besieging it, although now from food stalls outside.)
The Street Food Chef’s version is milder – I shall not be burping in the Winter Garden, my next stop – but I love the tender black beans and chipotle sauce.
Abi tempts me to a nugget or two home Mexican-style chorizo. It’s gentler and unsmoked compared to the Spanish version, made from local Moss Valley pork. They make the chorizo, mole sauce (chocolate and chilli), black beans and even the small tortillas themselves. “We decided from the start on never buying stuff in,” she says.
Street Food Chef has been around since 2010, the couple rather longer. They met in Oxford. “Richard was living on a boat on the river making gargoyles to sell to tourists. I was teaching,” she says. As Richard was from Sheffield they decided to make their home here in 2006 but needed a business idea they could both get involved in.
They thought of food but Richard had had his fingers burned while running a restaurant and wasn’t keen, at that point, to plough their money into property. So they decided to go on the streets with a trailer. But what would it be?
“We thought about ideas such as (selling) soup, porridge or hot dogs but as the council issued the licence they wanted something healthy. It was Richard’s dad in Toronto who kept sending us pictures of burrito bars,” adds Abi.
It was pretty good timing. Mexican food was just coming into fashion in the UK and Sheffield is notoriously always half a decade behind in food trends. There was not much Mexican food in Sheffield so they went to London to taste it there. “It was winter and I remember tramping the streets and thinking it was going to be cold selling here!”
They did well at markets, fairs and events – it’s a quick learning process and you either sink or swim. They learned a lot. But when they went to the council for a permanent pitch the following year they were persuaded to take “four square metres” in an empty building on Pinstone Street, in 2011.
The young business started winning awards but now they needed to get into bricks and mortar. Arundel Street opened in 2012 and there is another branch on Sharrowvale Road (one on Glossop Road, proved to be the wrong place).
Their clientele in the city centre tends to be local business and university lecturers and staff. I’d have thought students but perhaps the average spend here of around £8.50 puts them off. But the couple make no claims that their bright, very red and yellow cantina is a destination place. “You come here on your way to somewhere else, the theatre or the Showroom,” says Abi.
With the enthusiastic assistance of chef Rob Cater-Whitham, who ensures even the queso fresco (fresh cheese) is made in-house, the couple have been able to fend off corporate Pedro-come-latelys in the Mexican market.
Customers may have drifted off to sample the likes of Taco Bell and the introduction of a KFC Mexican menu but “they’ve come back with their tails between their legs,” laughs Abi. In fact, the new arrivals put sales up.
The menu offers the usual mix of burritos, tacos and quesadillas although as Abi points out the former is more a Californian thing. Mexicans always go for tacos.” Mexicans in Sheffield, they say, have responded favourably and particularly like the corn tortillas. You could say Abi and Richard have been given a cheerful Mexican wave.
So have their three children, Billi (23), Alfie (19) and Phoebe (16), all of whom have helped in the business and given their parents candid criticism. “The best people to test your food on is not your friends – they say ‘that’s very nice’ – but your children,” their mother says.
Richard, whom his wife describes as a serial entrepreneur, is already thinking up his next one. “We’re going to focus on pop-ups,” he says, describing the sizes of the carts they have. And perhaps go back to the idea of US-style hot dogs.
Who knows? Perhaps one day they’ll even find themselves down Mexico way?
*The breakfast menu is available until 10.30am on weekdays and until noon at Arundel Street, weekends only at Sharrowvale. Web: http://www.streetfoodchef.co.uk