Meet the MD: Richard Golland of The Street Food Chef

"My first restaurant went bust, and I probably learned more from that experience than any other in my career", Richard Golland tells UMi. He now has two Mexican burrito bars, an outside catering service plus pop-ups, and advises others to never give up, be focused and keep learning. 

What is it the company does?

We operate Mexican burrito bars at two locations in Sheffield - Sharrowvale Road and Arundel Street - and stage pop-ups at events and festivals across South Yorkshire. We also run a Street Food Chef outside catering service. We pride ourselves on making street food from scratch using fresh and  - wherever possible - local ingredients.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

As the owner of a small business, I need to wear a lot of different hats!

I am MD of The Street Food Chef and my main role is to develop new ideas and get them started before I hand them to someone else in the team. I also take responsibility for menu development, food quality, food standards and our facilities, as well as the business finances and marketing.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I went to construction college when I left school, which led to an apprenticeship in the building trade.

Over the years, having a trade has been vital. It gave me something to fall back on in the lean times, and also meant I had hands-on skills when it came to opening and managing our premises.

My wife, Abi, calls me a ‘serial entrepreneur’, but actually I just love business.  As a young man, I always had an idea, whether it was making miniature gargoyles from local stone to sell to tourists in Oxford, to greetings cards, to website development.

I love the process of making an idea come to life. Having taught myself to cook and nurtured a passion for food, I opened the first vegetarian restaurant in Oxford, The Soundbite Cafe, in 1997. It taught me a lot about the catering trade.

About this time I did a diploma in interior design, which informed many of our design decisions at The Street Food Chef.

When I moved back to Sheffield 12 years ago, I stayed at home and looked after our three kids while Abi did a job that took her away from home - this gave me a renewed respect for stay-at-home parents!

We started The Street Food Chef together in 2010, and I found a business to pour all my experience and learning into.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

An ability to communicate with a variety of stakeholders, and honesty - being transparent is one of the values I insist on in my business.

Dealing with the 'broken windows' -  if a business leader walks past something that is not right without fixing it (the real or metaphorical broken window), they are subconsciously saying they are OK with that, and next time another ‘window’ is broken, the team will not bother to tell anyone it needs fixing.

A great leader must set the standards and then make sure the systems are in place to maintain them.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

The first few years were the toughest, starting from nothing with nothing, but we never let up. A startup requires lots of energy and passion, and a bit of luck!

Once we were in the growth phase, the biggest challenge was learning how to lead the shops without being the manager on the shop floor.  

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Cycling and walking the dog - living in Sheffield is great for both.

Abi and I try to get into the Peak District most weekends.

I was tempted to add watching football, but that seems to generate more stress. And no, I'm not going to say which team I support!

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A stuntman - I was inspired by stars of the seventies Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, and Evel Knievel. Perhaps the health and safety guys would have something to say about these heroes now. 

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I absolutely loathe poor service. Ensuring we offer great service, as well as great food, is key for us.

We learned very early on that the most important way to ensure both is to recruit the right people. Serving customers in a fast-paced, fast-service restaurant is tough, but customers have a right to receive the same high standards whether their visit is during a quiet lunchtime or at the end of the busiest Friday night.

Once we have recruited the right person, they attend a session with us where we explain our vision and values. Then they train while working alongside our experienced staff.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

Going from strength to strength. We are growing our outside catering provision, and I am really enjoying being back in the kitchen, on recipe development.

We launched a new breakfast menu at the end of last year, and we use our various pop-ups and event stalls to trial new sauces and recipes before we launch them in our shops.

It is a tough time for retail at the moment, particularly for food retail. But being relatively small means when we need to change things quickly, we can be nimble.

We are also passionate about the environment, and having recently removed all single-use plastic from our dining rooms, we are now looking to the next stage in our eco-evolution - removing all single-use plastic from the business.

I am very interested in how we might move to using sustainable food sources, too.  

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Start as early as you can.

Take action, and don't be afraid to fail.  My first restaurant went bust, and I probably learned more from that experience than any other in my career.

The first time we traded as The Street Food Chef was when the organisers of the 2010 Sheffield Continental Market rang us the day before to tell us there was a space because someone had dropped out.

Abi said we didn't have enough time to get ready, but I agreed to do it. We learned so much that first weekend - about our product, our customers, our pricing, our values.

We didn't make a penny in profit, but if we had stayed at home looking at spreadsheets we would not have moved the business on in the way we did from jumping at that opportunity.

Be focused. We always have a clear vision in place about what we want to achieve with the business, and also what the business looks like. This has really helped when we needed to make tough decisions.

There are always a million different ways you could go in, so having a plan to go back to keeps you focused. That is not to say you can't change your mind, but a clear focus is a good starting point to change it from!

Don't look at your hourly rate, you are in it for the long-run.

Focus on quality, deliver quality first and work out your costings around that. Our customers are very loyal and I believe this is because they trust us to deliver great quality food.

Never give up. I was 43 when we started The Street Food Chef. It felt like all the businesses I’d had previously had brought me to it. That, combined with the fact that I’m working alongside Abi, makes SFC what it is.

Keep learning. I learn things every day. From attending a one-day course in the history of mathematics, to interior design, to leadership skills... I have made sure I continually invest in myself.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
Share Article