Update June 2021: Since catching up with Leon at the start of 2020, his day-to-day has changed slightly.
The closure of food markets due to COVID saw him unable to trade from his food truck. But, never one to be brought down, Leon saw an opportunity and reimagined his business.
Once restrictions were eased and people could meet in groups of six, Leon started running a private dining experience in East London. Having a COVID-secure outdoor space meant groups of friends and families could celebrate special occasions. Leon could still cook his delicious food and keep his business running.
My love for cooking started at nine when my Aunt Cynthia taught me how to cook. She was amazing in the kitchen and showed me how good food can bring people together.
She would host extravagant dinner parties and prepare cuisine from all over the world. At Christmas, she had an open house policy where she would lay out an amazing spread. It was there that a close family friend, ‘Uncle Gilbert’ taught me how to make Caribbean curry chicken and the rest is history.
I was always the designated chef at family BBQs. These were a great way to get us all together. Cousins who hadn’t seen each other for years would make the effort to meet up in one place. We always left feeling so good to have spent time enjoying each other’s company.
It didn’t take long to realise that I could earn a living outside of the corporate world by monetising my passion. Cooking coupled with my experience catering for large numbers at family BBQs and functions, (backed up by my decade of experience in accountancy) I had little fear that I could make a living in the catering industry.
After a decade in the corporate world and my third redundancy, I decided to use the payment to finally invest in myself and run my own business.
The biggest payoff as a business owner is the compliments I get from my customers.
I thought it would be the money, but when a customer goes out of their way to tell me how much they liked the food. That’s the best bit hands down!
The first place I traded was a local market in West London. For the first few months, there weren’t many of us and business was really booming. When summer came, more traders appeared and sales really dropped – I was only breaking even.
I was stressed, to say the least. I worked hard to keep my head above water and resist the temptation of going back to a well paid corporate job. You see so many traders come and go in the street food industry. But when you get the formula right – great food and the right location, it can be really lucrative.
You need real mettle to ride the waves when seasonal markets cause a dip in sales or the competition gets really tough – most do not go the distance. Ultimately, I have great belief in myself and I knew I would make it work.
I’ve found that my biggest challenge to running my own business is cash flow. It takes pride to make a product that consumers will pay for so you can support your family.
The most memorable days for me are the corporate events that I’ve catered for. The Body Shop summer party was amazing. Good food has the ability to bring people together and that was on full display that day.
Lunch markets are amazing but nothing beats catering for a corporate event.
Find out more about Leon's Kitchen here.