​Millers moves into street food

​Millers moves into street food

Posted by Emily on 14th Dec 2023

In the space of just two months, Nick Miller has launched two successful street food concepts, spin-offs of his third-generation, family-run, award-winning fish and chip shop Millers in Haxby.

nick miller and staff serving up at St Nicks

Offering the opportunity to expand the brand, reach new markets and trial trendy new food concepts, Street Food by Millers brings something different to the mix.

Located in the heart of York, Millers at Shambles Food Court is a permanent street food site that has the freedom to play with the classic fish and chips that have been served at its Haxby shop for the past 55 years.

Here an array of salts, hot sauces and premium dips transform dishes such as cod, fish bites and Millers’ signature chips, giving the thousands of tourists that flock here (think of the wonky timber-framed Diagon Alley in Harry Potter - it’s here where many of the scenes were filmed) a modern twist to the nation’s favourite dish all for around the £12 mark. And it’s something of a personal triumph for Nick, with the site located only a few yards from where his grandparents opened a fish stall back in 1940, setting the wheels in motion for Millers some 30 years later.

St Nicks Frites, meanwhile, is a pop-up nestled in a row of festive wood cabins that form part of York’s Christmas Market. With only five weeks for Millers to make its money, its focus is purely on chips generously loaded with toppings, homemade sauces and seasoning's which ring through the till at £11.50 a portion.

“I wanted to do something slightly different but that was in the same sort of vein as fish and chips, and we’ve been able to do that with the street food concepts,” says Nick. “And it’s a really nice feeling for me to get to a point where essentially another business has been created.”

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Street food versus bricks and mortar

Operating a street food business, whether a permanent site or a pop-up, is very different to having a bricks and mortar shop, says Nick. The lack of facilities - whether it’s to wash up, prep or hold stock - requires strict organisational skills and the ability to plan ahead. But even the best-laid plans don’t always pan out.

serving up at millers in the shambles

“I’ve heard loads of experiences, talking to people that have been doing street food for a long time, who all say the same thing: you can do the same event for five years and it's been crazy busy and then suddenly, one year, it might be totally dead,” says Nick. “There are so many different factors that can affect that. Obviously, the weather is a big one. The nature of street food is if it rains, then you're dead.”

When operating a pop-up for a short amount of time, making the hours you are open count is vital. A key factor in this, as Nick has come to learn, is placement - something not always realised until one or two events in.

“If you do an event like a food festival and you get put on the corner, that might be really good because that's where the traffic starts so you are the first one people see,” says Nick. “Or it could be really bad because you can be lost if everyone is in the middle looking at everything else.”

However, on the plus side, if it’s a pop-up and it doesn’t work, you chalk it down to experience and decide not to do it again.

Making sure the numbers stack up is also about catering for the maximum amount of customers possible, something Nick factored in when deciding to fry in vegetable oil for the street food ventures rather than beef dripping as is the case at Haxby. As a result of this decision, Nick has had to adapt the ingredients he uses at the Shambles site, switching to Ceres Yorkshire Batter Mix and adding in a coating of Ceres Pre Dust Number 2.

David Miller serving up at St Nicks

“We feel that beef dripping gives our fish a natural colour and natural flavour whereas when we're frying in vegetable oil it’s just not the same,” he says. “Ceres Yorkshire Batter Mix gives more flavour, more colour and a bit more crispness. The Pre Dust Number 2 also adds flavour to the product because, again, it lacks a little bit when frying in vegetable oil.”

At Nicks Frites, meanwhile, the opportunity has arisen to use Ceres Louisiana Seasoning, a product Nick wasn’t quite sure fitted with the traditional fish and chip shop offering.

He comments: “The Louisiana Seasoning is perfect for us here. As soon as the chips come out the fryer, we drop them into a colander and then we season well with the Louisiana Seasoning immediately. It just gives a really nice texture and really nice flavour to the chips, and the customers keep coming back for them.”

Nick also makes a special sauce with the Louisiana Seasoning. "It absolutely flies out and is really addictive. Luckily Ceres has next day delivery as we have been caught out a couple of times.”

Recruitment

An area many hospitality operators continue to struggle with is staffing but, strangely enough, Nick has not found this to be an issue when recruiting for the street food concepts.

"Working at a street food event, I feel like it's a more desirable position, it's more trendy than working in a fish and chip shop,” he says. “That’s not me saying that, it’s what we see from the applications that we receive. We get more people applying for the pop-ups and street food stalls than for positions at Haxby.”

With pop-ups generally located in high footfall, city centre locations, this can also work in favour of a business. In Nick’s case, he finds these are more easily accessible for staff than the shop, which is five miles out from the city centre.

“We often hire from out of town for Haxby but if a bus gets cancelled someone might end up being 15 minutes late to a shift,” he says. “It doesn’t sound like it's a big deal but it all adds up and those 15 minutes put you back and then, ultimately, the customer pays the price because we're not ready to rock when the doors are about to open.”

To have a presence at both the Shambles and York Christmas Market is a serious gamble for Nick. Pitch fees are in the thousands of pounds and once accepted - often after a lengthy and time-consuming tendering process - it’s generally payment upfront to secure the spot. It’s a lot to justify, especially when there is no guarantee that the footfall is there. But it’s paying off with both sites already surpassing the targets Nick initially had in mind.

“We are doing the numbers we do in Haxby - if not more - with four members of staff here compared to their 20. It's just nuts. I'm not saying that to brag because it is really hard work, but we are very busy.”

The fact that both of Nick’s street food stalls generate long queues isn’t down to chance; hours have been spent analysing his costs, setting the price point and weighing up whether it's cost-effective to attend.

“I work out all our costs literally to the tee,” he says. “So the greaseproof to the packaging, the ounce of chips to the sprinkle of spring onions to the sriracha mayonnaise, every single item that goes into that dish we've costed it out and plotted a graph and said, right, we need to sell this amount and that is based on this amount of staff, based on them getting paid X amount per hour. And then we say, well what if it is this criteria or that criteria, maybe we have only three staff on, then this is what it looks like. We go through every eventuality, you have to because it’s such a big gamble.”

Offering something different and believing in your product are also vital as is maximising every opportunity to make a sale. This is something Nick was quick to catch onto at the York Christmas Market pitch, where he’s added a breakfast item to the menu to drive sales during what he predicted could be its quietest period.

“The pitch is open 10-7pm, but I knew between 10 and 12 there would be little demand for fish and chips or loaded fries,” he explains. “I looked for an item to fill the gap so added a sausage sandwich on just for the morning - we take it off at 12 o'clock or whenever we think it's getting busy on the chip side of things. It helps us tick over because I figured out in my head that if you miss out on two hours of trade a day, times that by 37 days and that's 72 hours. That's three days of trade and three days of rent that I’ve paid for nothing in return.”

Seeing how quickly customers have taken to the Millers street food concepts has given Nick the motivation to push the brand forward in new directions. And even though he feels he’s slightly late to the street food scene, he still sees more possibilities to open further locations.

“We want to do as many street food events next year as we can, some with the fish and chips but also I really want to focus on doing more toppings, maybe some pulled pork or beef, possibly even tacos and something different for summer.”

st nicks calamari

Nick also has plans to maximise the Shambles site, possibly opening it as a dark kitchen in the evenings when the market closes.

“There is scope to literally close the hatches, and operate from a Deliveroo platform with minimal staff just banging out orders, not talking to any customers, just doing deliveries. We’re not quite there yet because we've got so much on at the moment, but it’s definitely something I’m considering for next year.”

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