The days when options for food during festivals and events were limited to lukewarm chips and barely cooked burgers are, thankfully, long gone. Street food has now evolved into an exciting and vibrant food offer which caters for a mobile customer who wants affordable and good quality food, in all weathers and all locations.
Street food really took off during the recession when people still wanted to eat out but more affordably. Since then, many formats have developed with pop-ups, roof tops, factories and even people’s front rooms all being put into action.
Eaten at markets, festivals, disused warehouses and now dedicated street food events, the vibrancy of the street food scene has been driven in part due to its accessibility, presenting great opportunities for food entrepreneurs with an original concept and culinary skills.
It’s also a great way for cities to develop their night-time economy, support local communities and create a tourist destination. Dublin’s Eatyard, open since 2016, has created a hip and vibrant hub at the less fashionable end of Camden Street, for example.
Street food has a particular appeal in urban centres where many people seek escapism from the daily grind of commuting and are busily planning their next foreign holiday. So while chowing down on a gyros in The Athenian isn’t quite the same as lounging on a beach in the Mediterranean, it’s as close as you can get on a cold January day.
In London the Boxpark concept was the first to formalize the street food concept into a modern shopping and dining experience. The first site – presented as the world’s first pop-up mall – opened in Shoreditch in 2011 and was constructed entirely out of refitted shipping containers. In 2016 the second Boxpark opened in Croydon, with version 2 focusing entirely on drinks, dining and events.
And now to Version 3 – Boxpark Wembley Park which opened in December 2018 with 27 food and beverage operators and a large events space, in an entirely indoor site located right beside the stadium. This location in what would have been previously regarded as an unfashionable part of North West London already hosts millions of visitors who come every year for world class sport, music and shopping, and there are plans for over 7,000 new homes, 500,000 sq ft of retail and leisure space and 630,000 sq ft of offices.
The food brands on offer in Boxpark Wembley are hip, cool and a bit quirky-different, including Kool Cha (North Indian cuisine), Hola Guacamole (Mexican), Ugly Dumpling (Chinese) and Zia Lucia (Italian).
The beauty of a street food concept in a location like this is that it caters for groups with diverse food tastes and wants. Most can relate to the experience of traipsing around restaurants after a gig with a bunch of friends examining menus and trying to find one that caters for the vegan, coeliac and meat lover in the group. Quick, minimum fuss and inexpensive.
Where the Wembley site is really a bit different though is in the “play” part of the Eat Drink Play offer. A leisure theme bar on-site called Playbox features a giant shuffle board unit, day-glo table tennis, pool and football tables. A bit like an adult playground, with the aim of course of keeping people in the facility as long as possible in this wonderfully immersive food, drink and entertainment experience.