KERB‘s slogan is ‘making cities taste better’, something we probably all can agree with! They’re a street food collective, well known for the fantastic and tasty events they put on around London, but also are a hub for the many strands of the mobile food world. They aim to create spaces where ‘new businesses can start, communities grow, flavours are found, fun is had and a general blessed release from the buttoned-down, set in stone-ness that keeps us from being more mobile, more of the time.’ It’s exciting stuff. We spoke to founder Petra Barran to find out more.
What appeals to you about mobile food retailing?
I love being on the road. Being on the road is what I really love: doing my own thing and not being in the office, seeing different people and the changing sky. Although I am more office based now, equally it’s up to me what I do. But being on the road is what I really love, going to festivals, private parties – the sense of moving.
KERB is now in a number of different locations around the city, from King’s Cross to Canary Wharf. What different experiences do you get on each site?
Well, we try to go to places with a receptive customer base. The urban system of London is not set up to support the mobile: all space is accounted for, so we need to fit in spaces and try and operate between the lines. Some places are welcoming and free, and some spaces we just can’t go. We’re looking for a good place to express ourselves, so while it can be challenging and frustrating, it’s exciting to find an unexpected space to transform. We set up a market and stalls and music and suddenly it’s a very different space, attracting different people to an area, and that’s very exciting. But the politics, the spatial politics, can be frustrating. It’s all about who owns the right to the city.
We do a walking tour based around the regeneration of the King’s Cross area. Tell us a little about KERB’s history in the area.
We started in King’s Cross in October 2011 as eat.st, and it was basically us and St Martin’s. We were contacted about setting it up and we thought it was an amazing opportunity, brilliant. It was quieter then, less going on and felt more like a building site. But it was about playing the longer game. Caravan opened the following year and, trying to look at it from the outside, it feels like King’s Cross is more associated with food now and I think KERB, and eat.st before that, were definitely a driver for that. Events such as KERB Saturdays in Granary Place, with music and good and bars, really help bind everything together and give the space definition.
Do you get a sense of what’s happening globally too?
You get to hear what’s happening with traders and collectives around the country and the world. I heard from a man who is setting up a new wave food market in Cyprus who told me that Kerb changed in his life, and I was talking to someone in Berlin who had also been inspired by what we do. I was myself inspired by the Street Vendor market in New York five years ago. It is a community.
What do you see happening to these mobile retailers longer term?
The aim to retain the cultural capital we’ve created, and the value existing in the industry, but adding financial capital. It could go in any direction. One likelihood is that it will become more streamlined, and rolled-out and replicated, but something will be lost by doing that. My role is to resist that, but not the expense of success. The challenge is how to retain our cultural power and turn it into something commercial. I think the answer is to find a space to call our own and to bed into it properly. I love mobile: it’s our big strength, but also our big weakness. Some people start doing mobile trading and then move into a restaurant, others end up doing it forever, while some fall at the first hurdle. But there are always new people moving into it, and at the heart of it there’s that collective. It’s turning that collaboration and different way of working into a business.
That sounds challenging…
The biggest issue becomes the urban stuff and how to make the city more flexible. Unless we do that, there is no business. The first one to three years are very exciting, and then we are asked how make money. If we are able to guarantee space, that means more traders. We need to turn it into a proper part of the city. I don’t know where else it can go if not. So it is challenging, but it’s also really exciting!
All images courtesy of KERB.
Want to know more about what’s going on around King’s Cross? Take a look at our King’s Cross Regeneration and Innovation walking tour.