On a mission to bring the humble oyster - once a common meal in the days of Charles Dickens - to the attention of the public again, Ed and Ben have combined unique concepts and thrown them all into one great mix. Having had an idea that first started as a pub chat, they soon realised it could become a great business.
And so it begun. In 55 days, they were able to raise £22,393 on crowdfunding website ZEQUS and they haven’t looked back. On they went to kit out their London bus, branded The Bloody Oyster way, and they’re now serving oysters in all shapes and sizes for the rest of August.
But what makes Ed and Ben tick as entrepreneurs? While Ed begun his trade as a chef and spent time on the street food scene with Street Kitchen, Ben’s time at ZEQUS highlighted the benefits of crowdfunding.
We visited the duo in London, sat down on the top deck of The Bloody Oyster bus with a delicious Bloody Mary and talked business.
Ed: My background is as a chef. I trained when I was 18 although I worked for a couple of years, went to university and then I got a job in the city. After 18 months I got bored so I went back to cooking in 2012.
We wanted to do something different, we didn’t want to do another street food thing that has been done before like burgers. We had this idea about oysters but the big thing was finding out if it would work. For us, taking oysters away from the pretentious side and cooking them in various different ways was a promising prospect.
Ben: I’m not in this industry at all - I’ve had a really mixed background. Similar to Ed, I was at a desk job and wanted to do something a little bit more. I’ve always wanted to do something with a double decker bus weirdly - it’s just the idea of being able to go places and stop at one place.
Ben: When the idea came about, it was a pub chat around January 2013. At the time I was working for the Crowdfunding website ZEQUS. It’s a good way to test the market with no risk to yourself. You can put an idea out there having not put a lot of money into it and if people want to buy into it, then they can. You’re testing the market. It’s a great way to put yourself and your idea out there, and see if people are interested.
Ed: The advantages of crowdfunding is when launching you immediately have a group of people who support you and know about what you do. For the first couple of events, it was full of people who had crowdfunded us which obviously helps at the beginning. Through that they then tell their friends - especially the guys who have their names engraved on the bus. It quickly builds a network.
Ed: Doing something unique in different ways seems to have gone down well. By doing something on a bus and then doing something different things with oysters makes us unique. Because of that, it markets itself slightly. You don’t have to push it too hard because people are interested when they hear about the concept. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to love it but that initial reaction helps. We even get tourists walking past and taking pictures of the bus - it looks stunning.
Ben: The bus and getting it here at the Festival of Love was a real barrier. The annoying thing was we were doing everything right that we could but the one thing that was out of our control was the bus because it wasn’t on time. We had contractors doing it.
As much as we would have loved to do the work ourselves, we didn’t trust our carpentry skills! Hence why we had to get contractors to do the work. We had been in discussions for nearly a year. We started talking to them in April 2013 and put the deposit down in November.
The work was meant to finish in April and we ended up taking it out of the yard half finished come June. We missed our five day soft launch, we had an London Evening Standard exclusive lined up but we had to miss that. But I suppose you have that with any contract work! That was the main struggle.
Ed: If you look at oysters 100 years ago they were the most common food and eaten by everyone. Nowadays, the only real place you can get oysters are either pretentious or really expensive. So it was a case of giving people an opportunity to try oysters. We asked a lot of people why they hadn’t eaten oysters and most of them were either put off by the rawness and sliminess of them, or put off by the price.
So we’re trying to make them more accessible. One thing we do is cook a lot of oysters. We get a lot of people on the bus who haven’t eaten an oyster before but want to. We cook them in different ways, only very quickly, just to change the texture slightly. Plus a bus is quite a fun place to eat them!
Ben: For me, it’s too easy not to do something. Sometimes you’ve just go to do it. It may be a gamble but there’s only one way to find out if it’s worth it right? Yes, we’ve chucked ourselves in the deep end. Obviously it depends on the business and the financial aspects, there’s a lot of factors involved, but there’s always going to be hurdles.
Ed: First thing, make sure you realise how much work there is to do. When you start a business you always think of the practical side of things but you forget about all the business things which we have to learn about. But you’ve got to enjoy it.
No matter how much hard work there is or tired you are, at the end of the day you're much happier doing a job you love. I think about jobs I’ve done in the past where I had a lot more free time but ultimately I wasn’t happy. It’s great. Also we’re lucky that we have a really good team around us.
You can visit them at the Festival of Love until 31st August so make sure you check them out!