It has been a year since we put a proper post on the website and it has been a year of frustration, stress and generally lurching from one disaster/emergency/health scare/mechanical failure/money sucking event to another. ‘Living the dream’ is supposed to be hard, otherwise we would all do it, but man, this has been testing!
Anyway, back on topic, we have always been aware that in order for the farm to make money, we would have to sell directly to the public. All other channels will be better at driving down our prices than we are at driving them up. We thought that would be doing hog roasts and barbeque event catering and farmers markets and this remains the plan… just amended slightly.
So, in March my contract in Newcastle was coming to an end and I’d not seen any new contracts advertised since December so, with alot of unemployed contractors, and day rates dropping like a stone it was a worry. We decided that there were three options: find work in Cornwall (very scarce in my line of work), keep my fingers crossed a contract comes up before the limited savings run out, or bring a version of a later plan forwards to help the farm start making money.
As it happens, the Thursday before the end of the contract ended, I landed a new contract starting the following Monday, so we needn’t have worried.
But, not knowing this, we chose the third option. We bought a burger trailer and a 4 wheel drive to pull it, and got a licence to trade from the layby just down from the farm. That officially wiped us out for savings, we needed to be trading from the Monday I stopped work.
Now, I need to say, we looked at many trailers, and most were toe curlingly hideous, one in particular made Di gag as she walked in. The trailer we found looked perfect, clean, equipped and ready to go. The guy that sold it to us, I’ll call him George, explained the ways of making a good profit, like the Ginsters factory outlet where you can buy frozen sausage rolls for 10p and pasties for 29p. He had every cheap bit of knowledge there was (not that useful, but interesting to hear. Selling Ginsters sausage rolls isn’t anywhere in our plans), and in addition, he was from Yorkshire and you can trust Yorkshiremen to be straight talkers… we thought.
Anyway, it rained that weekend… the roof leaked and the walls, hatch and door.
Di, with help from our friend Gavin resealed the roof, which was badly bodged by the previous owner, filled the holes in the walls and sorted out the door and hatch.
The leaks made the griddle go rusty and, after all the usual remedies failed, we ended up sending the griddle off to a metal fabricator for a brand new work surface. When we repositioned the griddle, we found out the floor underneath was spongy and needed a new support beam.
The feet of the caravan were fine, except for the one that needed a complete rebuild, carried out most kindly by our lovely neighbour, Rob, who is an engineering genius.
As it turned out, the work surfaces were too thin and badly installed, so Di installed new work surfaces. The tea urn was electric, not gas so we needed a new one, the pie warmer was useless, so was replaced, the microwave was tiny so needed replacing, the till just didn’t work, the gas pipes were unsafe so Di installed a new gas system (checked and passed), the plugs were in all the wrong places, including an open plug socket exactly underneath all the water storage. The water heater didn’t work and there was no water pump, so we got them and Di installed them.
That’s OK then… oh the fridge conked out, making a load of meat unusable. The drinks fridge is no good for cans, it’s a wine fridge. The ceiling light needed rewiring and the other plug, that was shorting got rewired too.
The hatch didn’t rise properly or close properly so Di replaced the gas struts and latches.
So, it’s been something of a saga, next time we will buy a new empty unit, because as it turns out, Di is perfectly capable of fitting out a catering trailer from scratch, just how we want it!
Anyway, now it is as good as the trailer we thought we were buying. Di has also done every exam known to man, Levels Two and Three Food Hygiene, Gas Safety, First Aid, Fire Extinguisher, Health and Safety and HACCP exams.
There has been an elephant in the room the whole time though. We are relying on generator power, and with me back at work, how was Di to get the generator out of the car and back in. We bought the lowest Kwh generator we thought we could get away with, but it’s still 50kg. We looked at super strong drawer runners, a winch and ramp, none of which seemed ‘easy’ to sort out. In the end, we consulted with the Rob, our engineering genius and he has created an exhaust pipe, in the Steampunk style, that will mean the generator can remain in the boot of the car.
I’m not sure how many now… but Di has acquired a few more hats from the College of Necessity. It’s lovely seeing her pause for a moment and then seeing her confidence take hold and she takes on a new skill. The Gas and Electricity have both been properly tested and signed off, so her confidence is well placed.
I’ve been trying out various recipes for burgers and having settled on minced chuck steak, we then optimised the fat content (you need fat for moistness), starting at 25% fat and found a ratio between 5% and 10% worked well and our favourite butcher can provide this.
I also researched the various seasonings. I wanted pure chilli powders to use (Jalopeno, Habanero, Aji Amarillo,etc) rather than the blended kind you generally see in the shops – Chilli powder is a blend of the three most popular chilli’s used in Mexico, plus various herbs and spices. This makes it tricky to use as an ingredient because different suppliers have different recipes. It’s the same with paprika, in Hungary alone there are 7 types, then you get the Spanish and South American varieties and the shops generally supply a blended version. I wanted specific varieties.
We’ve carried out many taste tests ourselves and several with with friends, which was also to help me get used to using the trailer. Everyone seems positive… here’s a real life photo, which I hope does it some justice, at least you can see it isn’t a standard roadside burger.
Finally, this week, we agreed our own recipe Axe Head tea blend with our friends at West Country Tea Co.
And, now, we are ready to trade. Just have to tow it down to the layby… oh, yes, the car we bought for the towing? We had to scrap it. (Well, we sold it to the stock car racing place as a swap for some buttons). It was worse than the trailer.
Buying the trailer, we were green and got caught out in a way that wouldn’t occur if we weren’t first timers. The car we bought from someone who we feel was probably quite expert at this kind of thing, so while we kick ourselves, we know there’s not alot we can do. We suspect the MOT was dodgy, but can’t prove anything.
But, we took a decision to put these things behind us and although George is still the subject of occassional profanity as another piece of his handiwork becomes apparent, we are now more excited about trading than sad about the blood, sweat, tears and money that we have spent so far!
Wish us luck, and if you want a seriously good burger, you know where to come!