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JoJos

Complementing its takeaway premises with a mobile van is creating an additional revenue stream for JoJo’s as it takes its premium fish and chips to venues across the UK

With trade at JoJo’s in Stafford in the West Midlands growing month-on-month and constant requests from customers to open subsequent takeaways in and around the area, owner John Evans decided in 2021 to expand the business. But rather than open a second shop, he invested in a van, set his sights high, and aimed to be at the very top of the mobile catering business. 

 “When I bought the van I thought I just want to be the best in the country. I want to go to David Beckham’s party, I want to go backstage at Glastonbury and feed all the bands and support crew. I also wanted to be number one in the UK for corporate catering” says John. “That was my vision. And we’re almost there with multiple high profile and corporate clients signing up weekly. But it’s taken three years of hard, hard graft.”

Quality

John runs the van to the same high standards and principles as the takeaway, which he took ownership of in 2011 from in-laws John and Maria Charalambous. The focus of both has always been quality food, excellent customer service and top class cleanliness. 

 “If you think about those three things you can forget about price points because customers are going to keep coming back; they won’t be so focused on the price,” says John.

 Everything about the van is top spec from the three pan frying range to the CCTV system to the menus and till system. The food matches the surroundings with premium quality cod, scampi, sausages and halloumi as well as homemade cheese and onion fry its and pineapple fritters.  

Whilst the van can easily cope with 100 covers over two hours, perfect for staff appreciation days, birthdays, weddings and local events, JoJo’s is also geared up for catering for large venues, for example, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Attracting tens of thousands of people, John will build an onsite support kitchen that grows as the job grows and which can include multiple standalone fryers, work surfaces, washbasins, hobs and fridges. 

“We have runners that go between the van and the support kitchen and they’re filling up the hot box with piping hot chips all the time. It means all the meals can be cooked to order and are served hot and tasty, and the customer gets all the theatre. They get to see this wonderful van with trained staff, delivering a great product.” 

It’s a big investment and one that involves hiring additional vans to carry the weighty equipment, as well as multiple teams who are allotted specific duties, whether it’s to set up the van, cook and serve, or dismantle and clean down afterwards. With the volume of work involved, John carefully scrutinises every booking before accepting it. 

“Maintaining that balance of quality means you’ve got to have eyes on the shop and on the van all the time. My first consideration is will this impact the shop? Have I got the staff to cover that Saturday night and still make sure that the quality of food going through the shop is going to be the same?”

 The chips, for example, are prepped at the shop – a big demand when John is telling the potato lads he needs 80 bags of potatoes peeling for the next day, which could mean starting at 2am in the morning.  

 “It’s what sets us aside from a lot of mobile fish and chip operators that might just buy frozen chips from Booker’s, which is fine if you cover them in goo – no one notices – but we don’t. We still put out a proper chippy chip. It has an instant impact when you turn up to a big corporate customer and they can tell you’ve made them yourself.”

 Unlike a lot of operators, John puts his mobile catering prices on his website, which he says helps with the different perceptions customers can have about the costs of hiring a van.  

“Some think it’s going to be like Marks & Spencer’s sandwich money so the clear pricing structure does help to filter out a lot of the dreamers,” he remarks.

Rolling a dice

Catering for large events and festivals can feel like you’ve made it in the world of outside catering, but commanding big pitch fees they can also feel like you are rolling a dice, especially when you can never account for the weather, which John admits can kill trade. His preference is celebrations and corporate bookings. 

 “Weddings are a safe bet,” he says, “because it’s going to happen regardless of the weather. They have become a big target audience for us because everything has to be up there, so we’re basically saying that we’re bringing the best fish and chips.”

Whilst the van is great for revenue and it offers staff at the shop an element of escapism when all of a sudden they are being told they are catering for the likes of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, it is still the bricks and mortar business that is the mothership. And John knows he needs to invest in the takeaway soon to bring it up-to-date. It’s a move he says has the potential to double volume at the shop.  

“We’re desperate for a refurb,” he says. “We’re 25 years old and so is the fryer! With the refit will come new menu options and more variety to the menu so we can tap into the younger pound. I genuinely think getting the younger generation to spend is really important. If they want an Archie’s burger or a Five Guys burger, they will buy it, they won’t think about the cost.” 

In doing so, John’s vision is to bring in more consistently quality products cooked in the right way. 

 “I’m like a big believer in being diverse,” he says. “Still sell copious amounts of fish, but top it up with other stuff. We sell a lot of kebabs for example. Kebabs we can buy for around £5 a kilo and our cod can go as much as £20 a kilo yet we can command similar money for both over the counter, so why wouldn’t we sell kebabs too while still doing magnificent fish and chips of course!”

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