The Gryphon speaks to the Golden Balls team – co-founders Francesca Taylor and Rebecca Peartree and their business director and housemate, Louise Barton, all final years at the University of Leeds – about the street food industry and balancing their business alongside their studies.
Living in France on their year abroad, Cesca and Becky would never have thought that their dinner party food would become their life. But a year on and their street food business, Golden Balls, has made quite the name for itself – winning an enterprise scholarship with Leeds University’s SPARK initiative, securing gigs at the Belgrave feast and summer festivals. With street food becoming more and more popular, we sat down with the young foodie entrepreneurs to talk about their journey so far and what the future holds.
How did Golden Balls come about?
Cesca: Me and Becky know each other from first year, we lived in halls together, and then it so happened that we both had our year abroad in Montpellier. We are both quite strong veggies and we are both really into cooking, so we just started cooking loads together in our house – we had a really amazing kitchen –
Becky: Like a cute little French kitchen.
C: It just made you want to cook there. So we started getting really inventive.
B: ‘Cause you went on that trip to Italy and I had recently had Arancini, so we were just talking about it and we ended up trialling it.
C: It was for a dinner party and we invited all our friends round and all of them liked it – it’s so moreish and comforting and vegetarian.
B: And then we made it again – it was just so novel and something you don’t really get that much in the UK, aside from maybe as a starter in a fancy restaurant, but in Italy it’s more of a street food.
C: So we started experimenting – the fillings can change from season to season, as it’s basically just a shell and you can put whatever you want in it.
B: And we both knew we always wanted to work in the restaurant industry – we didn’t really go to France with the intention of starting anything but really it just became a way of spending our spare time. It’s weird thinking how far it’s come since then… it just sort of fell into our laps.
What’s been the most exciting part so far?
C: The launch party in mid October.
B: Yeah because that’s the moment when we knew this was going to work. We’d had all these ideas and then when we finished the launch party we just looked at each other and we were like, we could actually do this.
C: We served decent portions, no one was waiting, everyone was happy with it. These were our friends and family so we were asking for honest opinions, and they said they couldn’t fault it.
B: And we’d done so many test kitchens. We didn’t just make it one day, we’d tried all different flavours, different rice, different cheeses; everything to make sure it was a really good product and something that we could be proud of. That was so important to us. And so at the launch, that was the moment that we realised that this could be a really good thing.
C: The enterprise launch was really exciting too.
B: We got a big grant from uni.
Louise: £3000 and then £1000 in training and development. SPARK is amazing.
B: Yeah, I’d encourage anyone reading this who has a business idea to go to SPARK because they’ve helped so much and we’ve made so many contacts and met so many industry experts through them.
C: Yeah I met the guy that owns Taste Card – I was sat next to him at dinner. He’s a multimillionaire but he got the spark grant from Leeds uni too.
What have been the most challenging aspects?
C: Probably money and keeping records – that’s why Lou is helping us.
B: Yeah, the more challenging bit is definitely all the nitty gritty legal stuff. It’s all very well having an idea and the drive and the passion but there are so many little things you wouldn’t even think about – pat testing electrical equipment and food hygiene checks. It’s been challenging but at the same time so rewarding, like today we put so much into our food hygiene review and then we got a 5*. Sometimes when you’re scrubbing your cooker you wonder if it’s even worth it but the moment you hear a good review and see that customer satisfaction it just makes everything so worth it.
L: It’s all background stuff.
B: Everyone always thinks it’s just making arancini and frying it but they don’t see everything that’s gone on behind that.
C: Also, in a way what’s most challenging is getting people to take you seriously and getting gigs.
That leads nicely on to my next question. Do you ever feel as though you aren’t being taken seriously in the industry, as young, students and females as well?
B: We’ve had such a welcoming network. The people that are in the street food industry in Leeds, other people that are doing the same thing as us, have been so supportive – one guy offered to lend us his generator for an event, people have been answering any questions we’ve had, they’ve helped us get gigs.
C: Women-wise, Becky works for Noisette Bakehouse and I was doing some work for Bánh mì Booth and they’re both run by amazing street food women, who have only wanted to help us, and the whole street food community in Leeds is amazing.
B: There are so many strong women who have been really inspirational – Dim Sum Sue, and then Sarah [Lemanski of Noisette Bakehouse] won the Young British Foodies award and Manjit [of Manjit’s Kitchen] won the British Street Food award in 2012 – that’s our inspiration. I think it is becoming a level playing field.
C: And Katie and Kim [of Katie and Kim’s Kitchen] won the British Street Food award in 2013 and they’ve just opened an amazing restaurant in Bristol – they started as just two best friends with a vision as well. We also name all our arancini as strong female characters, like ‘The Green Goddess’, ‘The God Mamma’, and ‘The Angry Nanny’.
L: That’s the great thing about street food – everyone helps each other out, it’s not competitive at all.
How do you find balancing it alongside your uni life?
B: Ask me after I get my January exam results.
C: It’s kind of been fine, we try to balance things. We all live on the same floor in the house so we have a to-do list in our hall to keep track of what we need to do. We try to space our events out and do them when we have less on – so February and March we are trying to do as many events as possible, and then in April and May we won’t do as many.
L: With street food you can really do as much as you want to do at that time.
B: And everything kicks off in June, July, and August – that’s when a lot of the events are. It is a challenge sometimes.
C: But it keeps us more organised with our work in a way because we have to be so strict with our time.
Where do you see yourselves taking Golden Balls in the future?
C: So many ideas. We want to be doing festivals and we’re in talks with one for this year, which will be a really good foot in the door as that’s often where the big money is. For example, the bar next to the Glastonbury Pyramid stage is a million pounds for the pitch, so the money that they make is probably about ten times that. Further into the future, we’ve also been talking about little arancini bar franchises.
B: We want to do pop-ups in the future too. And we also want to keep building the product and testing the product and making different arancini and keep working on that because that’s why we started – because we love food! We want to reach more people because we really want to show people that you can have deep fried, comforting vegetarian food – it’s not just healthy salads.
L: I’m a meat-eater and I don’t even notice the lack of meat.
C: In the short term, we also want to make a vegan option and we’ve got gluten-free options available too.
B: We want it to be accessible to as many people as possible, because as vegetarians we’ve often been faced with menus that aren’t accessible to us.
Any advice for other student or young entrepreneurs?
B: It’s cheesy but just go for it. There’s not much to lose and we’ve met so many people through SPARK. Take as much help as you can, it’s hard enough as it is.
L: See who can help you. People get scared about asking for help but others are always happy to do it – so make the most of places like uni, because SPARK have been great.
C: Don’t be afraid to get others on board, don’t keep your idea for you and keep it a secret because there’s no point in that. You need other people, firstly to tell you that the idea is good and worthwhile, but secondly because they might be able to help you, whether financially or creatively or business-wise, like Lou has with us.
B: Listening to people is key. The launch was such a big learning curve for us – originally we were going to do two arancini balls but people said they were happy with one as a portion. You do need to stay true to your vision, but other people see things from a different angle and perspective and that is so helpful.
C: Feedback from the launch and test kitchens has been so important. Believe in what people tell you – that you’re good or that it needs to change.
If you want to try the Golden Balls themselves, you can catch the girls at Belgrave on February 13th. You can keep up-to-date with their future events here: https://www.facebook.com/goldenballskitchen/.
[Images: Francesca Taylor and Rebecca Peartree]