By The Captain - Jonathan Williams

Time flies when you are having fun, and children.

Yep, I got a bit carried away with the menu, as Hannah rightly told me at the time(!), and it took me around 39 hours to source and prep the ingredients, as well as setting up my fantastic stall, selling for the day, packing down and cleaning up.

I sold £155 of food that day, making my hourly rate around £4 (though I hadn’t included cost of ingredients, utilities or fuel), so looking back now it was a loss.

But I remember that day well, I remember being exhausted after shopping and cooking manically for 2 days on my mum’s coal fired ray burn. I remember the only customers I had were friends and family and two unsuspecting couples who came just to buy some apples from the shop. I remember my legs and jaw aching from talking all day. I remember trying to pack all the food and kit into my small little car like some large jigsaw puzzle, most of all I remember being 100% happy with my day’s work.

Looking back now in money terms it was a huge mistake, I was on a graduate salary of £25,000 for 37.5 flexi hours a week, no work on weekends, paid bank holidays and 30 days holiday a year with the option of having 45 days off with some buy back scheme. Lord knows what my former colleagues are on now £45,000, £50,000? But I took a day off this comfy job to test an idea and that idea has led to my dream business which has now been going 10 years.

I get a lot of enquiries about how to start a food business, which trailer or van to buy, which festivals to trade at. So, since I have been on lockdown and, unable to cook down Fresh Water West, it has given me time to reflect.

For me, the best way of starting a food business is to grab a tablecloth (preferably a 1970s one from your mum), borrow a kitchen and as many utensils as possible and let your imagination run riot.

Then head to your local market, fete, local shop (ask permission first) and just start cooking, talking, and selling, and see if you like it and see if your customers like it... Overheads are minimal and you can do the most important thing anyone can do when you have an idea, and that is START IT.

And when you start, you get to know how you feel about it, because, in short, you are going to have to love it. Because in money terms it is tight, always tight! Even 10 years in, the trade it is still tight.

You need to know deep down in your heart that this is the job for you, your passion is what will get you up before dawn and back to bed at midnight to earn less than minimum wage. Some days you might go to an event and lose money, can you imagine having to pay to work?

Imagine you spent all week last week in your office prepping, researching and developing this amazing report and then Monday morning your boss turns around says thanks for the work but we can’t pay you for last week, actually can you pay us £500 because it was raining and sales were down?

That is what happens when you run a food business, there will be days you will lose money and days you will pay to work.

To run your own business, you need to put in the hours, and they can be colossal, 100-hour weeks in the summer is the norm (karma for my beach bum days). This means you are going to be earning under minimum wage for you wage v hour ratio, I just cannot seem to get to £8.21 an hour, at the moment I am on £5.25 per hour. To run your own business, you need to take risks and, being such a seasonal business, I run out of money by January and February and so I take out 0% personal credit cards to loan to the business and hope to pay it back in the summer.

On paper, it simply does not stack up

That is why I am an unsuccessful money man, because on paper in doesn’t make sense, but what the paper doesn’t tell you is how much you love your work, how much you love working at the best beach in the world, sourcing the best ingredients you can, creating food that no one has done before, working with the best people and just simply cooking every day, I love it.

Of course it is not all dancing unicorns, fairy dust and rainbows, there will be days where you’re so tired you can barely utter a word, someone doesn’t show up to work, a delivery hasn’t arrived, the gas boiler has broken and the bins haven’t been collected. And you kinda want to grab hold of the business and strangle the little shitty monster that you created. But even then, deep down, you still love it. 

And maybe we will get through the next 12 months or maybe we won’t. But from day 1 on starting your business, the monthly paycheck is never guaranteed and 10 years later, it is still the same and you kinda just get use to that. All you can do is get up every morning and do the best you can.

So, for now, I am still here scratching away a living in this little corner in the world.

Notes from the unsuccessful businessman.

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life” – Alain de Botton