Innovation and enterprise blog

21 May 2020

Heart Street - the survival of a vegan street food business

Evie-May Ellis, founder of vegan street food business, Heart Street, who used BIPC Norfolk to help start-up her business, gives an honest insight into her business during lockdown...

Evie-May
Evie-May, founder of Heart Street

I never enjoyed cooking. Ever.

As part of my home education development, my Mum would often encourage me to take interest in ‘hands on’ activities but I was having none of it. I was never happier than when I was curled up with a notebook, planning a million and one random projects that I believed would be "the next big thing." One of my favourite projects was organising and leading garden tours around Mum's flower beds and our fishpond. The guest list usually included the local vicar and a myriad of elderly ladies with names straight out of the murder mystery programmes my Mum enjoyed watching in the afternoons.

I loved planning, but I never liked cooking.

Food dominated my upbringing, being a symbol of love and affection from both my Mum and my Grandparents. Sundays and special occasions were for incredible roasts laid on by my Nan, with the best cuts of meat and endless silver dishes filled with roasted spuds, Yorkshire puds and multi-coloured veg. When Mum went to work, and my sister and I would work on our studies (and multiple viewings of Sister Act), she would always fret about there being enough food in the house, despite the fact she had stock piled enough to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Skip forward 10 years and you will find me handing out dishfuls of homemade chilli, feeding the array of lovely customers that visit my street food stand, Heart Street, and spreading the message that food is one of the greatest joys in life. This is just one of the amazing privileges that have come my way since I launched the business in April 2019.

I always knew I wanted to run my own business. From the garden tours to my Open University Business Degree, I loved to organise and execute plans and to learn about the processes of ‘business’. Even during my, much misplaced, desire to be a performer I always knew what I really wanted was a cabaret club or a dance troupe. Something I created and that embodied my passions.

Working my way through a number of jobs (recently revealed during a Zoom quiz, that number is 25), I fell in love with hospitality and worked my way to management. During this time I became vegan and started triathlon training. This combination fuelled my love for food as I saw how it could make me stronger and fitter. Plus, vegan cooking is amazing!
With my passion for planning, my restlessness in employment, my love for and connection to food and my ability to cook pretty decent vegan fare, it was inevitable. The natural development was to quit my very well paying job, take all my savings and get into debt to launch a very niche street food business in rural Norfolk.

Heart Street menu

Although I run Heart Street by myself, I never would have been able to get this far without the amazing support of my friends and family and the resources available to me through organisations including NWES and BIPC. I had frequently attended NWES workshops with various business ideas, none of which were viable. But in 2018 I attended a one to one meeting and pitched the idea of Heart Street.

You know, this could work.”

Those words stayed with me, through putting together a wildly optimistic business plan and receiving my start up loan, and I knew I would finally achieve running my own business.

NWES helped support the entire start-up process and provided me with information on the BIPC and the amazing services they offered. There was a wealth of support and contacts to offer advice, and many courses available — I specifically participated in any social media focused training. The most beneficial interaction came from a one-on-one with an accountant during my first year of trading — without that meeting, which was completely free through BIPC, I would never have financially survived my first year, let alone ended with some sort of profit!

I was lucky enough to speak at the BIPC Kings Lynn Hub about my experience as a budding entrepreneur, a truly lovely experience and just one of the many amazing opportunities I have had over this last year. I cannot express enough the importance of organisations like this for hopeful entrepreneurs, especially in such rural areas!

All of that seems years ago now, the energy and excitement of setting up my business sits in stark contrast with the daily worry and feeling of loss that COVID-19 has brought looming over 2020.

This year was due to be big for Heart Street. I had doubled my bookings, reinvested profits to grow the stall and cemented several private events. My reputation was growing and there wasn’t a single weekend in the year I wasn’t due to be out on the stall.

Heart Street food stall

But like many other people across the country, and indeed the world, the pandemic brought everything to a smashing halt. Cancellations started dripping in and then flooded my inbox. Phone calls had to be made, accounts had to be looked at, ambitions and dreams had to be put to one side.

This was about survival.

Considering the horrendous occurrences that are appearing every day on our TVs, newsfeeds and radio stations it feels selfish to focus on what could seem such a minor inconvenience. But my business, as with many small business owners, has been a lifetime of dreaming, planning and hard work. It is the epitome of everything I care about, a culmination of love, kindness, childhood memories and my life experience rolled into something I am so incredibly proud of and I adore.

To have all of that teetering on the brink of collapse is incredibly hard.

But that is one of the risks of running your own business. And that’s when you have to dig really deep and remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. It won’t be the first time you have to do it, and it won’t be the last.

Heart Street food

Starting your own business is not something to be taken lightly, freak global pandemics aside there are so many hard times involved, far more than I ever imagined. Financial concerns seem more prominent, you will work harder than you ever have, and surveys show 58% of small business owners suffer with mental health issues caused by isolation.

It is incredibly hard, but one of the best things you will ever decide to do.

So, my advice to anyone wanting to set up their own business? Be realistic. Think long and hard about if you are willing to risk financial security and free time for a potential pipe dream that may not even work? What would you feel if you don’t go ahead? Disappointed? Relieved?

Talk to as many people as you can. Get advice from organisations such as BIPC and make the most of any classes, webinars or online information they can provide. Knowledge is power! Talk to those who run their own businesses, whether they are in your field or not. Business advice books only get you so far and they won’t be as brutally honest with you as an owner who is down to their last penny!

Most importantly, remember why you are doing this. To be your own boss isn’t enough. What really makes this part of who you are? What message do you care about spreading? Who do you want to be in this world? Because that is what will keep you focused and hopeful through the roughest of times.

As for me and Heart Street, well; COVID-19 has definitely done a good job of derailing us but we are getting back on track. Researching grants and schemes and doing a little bit at a time to try to survive this storm. Survival is the key term here! Many of my street food pals have launched into delivery services, and they are proving rather successful, but this hasn’t been an option for me at this stage.

As such a fledgling business, with less than a years’ trading under my belt, I need to focus on survival and that means being conscious of cash flow. At this moment in time even buying stock would be too much of a financial risk.

Heart Street food

So for now, I am just here, at my desk, in my little office, surrounded by newspaper cuttings, congratulation cards, recipe notes and a calendar full of black crosses.

And I’m doing what I’ve always done — planning.