24 | Apr | 14

Richard Johnson

Imitation Is…

Everyone is desperate to get in on the noise around street food. Which is why, just sometimes, ideas get ‘borrowed’. Ask the Ribman. Or Manjit. Or us. The latest to come over all indignant about intellectual property theft is Karen, the woman behind Bessie the Caravan. Here she sits us down and shares her gripes.

Starting my Bessie the Caravan business has been something of a whirlwind — from an idea that my friends and family thought was totally mad to something that attracts so much positive attention. I’m asked on an almost daily basis ‘Why did you start? What gave you the idea?’ However, what has amazed me more is the volume of people who ask me how to start a business – similar or indeed exactly the same – using a vintage caravan. At events, photographs are taken and questions are asked – sometimes the tape measure comes out. I’m always happy to oblige and flattered that people are so taken with my idea they wish to experience it first hand for themselves. However, such free advice to potential competitors could be seen as risky or foolhardy. I have frequent requests for information via Facebook and I have had many direct phone calls with numerous questions fired at me. They often introduce themselves as someone starting up but say ‘It’s ok – I’m not in your area’. Bessie is on wheels and doesn’t therefore have ‘an area’. In all types of business there are risks and copying business ideas is not a new issue. What does seem odd in the street food world is the blatant copying of menus, vehicles and logos.

With my background in education, I believe that knowledge and experience shared is good for us all and probably why I am so willing to assist. The hard work, imagination, skill and commitment required in starting up a street food business is not for everyone and often people are shocked at the need to comply with insurance, food safety and HMRC demands and the associated costs. Will I continue to help people when they call? Yes of course – what often is misunderstood is that an idea is not enough – people buy from people. With street food comes the wide-ranging individuals that makes for such a quirky and interesting atmosphere. Surely part of that is developing your own unique style and following? So I say, ‘Yes I can help you but do think about what you are passionate about, follow your own dreams and don’t evolve in the shadow of someone else’. That said – I can’t blame anyone wanting to be part of it. It’s fab!