Transitioning to a Completely Gluten-Free Business: Challenges and Rewards

We launched our Indian take on our favourite British Classic, the humble Fish and Chips, in January 2016, to be more competitive on the street food scene.  Our original menu of Kati Rolls were delicious and sold well, but we realised quite early on, that street food is an unpredictable numbers game and this type of offer would not cut it.

After several days of deep thinking, we somehow stumbled upon the idea that our other favourite fast food, Fish and Chips, was crying out to be catapulted into the 21st century and given some well-deserved Indian flavoured oomph!! 

The pennies started to slowly drop and the realisation that this fusion could be something quite special, resulted in an immediate dash to the supermarket for the raw ingredients, and that night we feasted on what we thought was the best fish and chips we’d EVER tasted……and we’d tasted A LOT!  We longed every day after that initial taste to eat it every night, but thought better of it, and instead invited friends and family over for the all-important scrutiny.

How had this not been done before?

Just think about it……

White Fish, Batter, Potatoes, Peas, Curry Sauce – these all screamed at us to be married with beautiful, delicate and warm Indian herbs and spices and so our Indian Style Fish & Chips was born!

This transformed our business and we soon became one of the most sought after street food operators in Birmingham. 

What we didn’t realise at the time, back in Jan 2016, was that our entire menu had very little gluten.  In fact, there was only a very small amount in the Curry sauce.

At this time, we didn’t know what a gluten or wheat intolerance was, or that there was such a thing as ‘Coeliac Disease’.  Once we did become aware, it was sensible to amend the curry sauce recipe and remove the gluten so everyone could experience everything on our menu.

By 2018, we started hearing customers say things like ‘wish we’d known you were gluten free, our friend could have eaten here too’ ‘you should make your Gluten Free sign much bigger’ etc.  We’d overlooked and not realised that being totally Gluten free was slowly becoming one of our unique selling points.  It made complete sense to me that we should be shouting about this fact much louder than we were.  I proposed to my business partner about the change I thought we needed to the signage, to get this message across, but was met with a strong reluctance.

My business partner was concerned that this ‘large signage’ could deter people that weren’t gluten intolerant, because at the time, the products we’d tried, that were free from gluten, were not particularly pleasant in comparison to what we were used to, so he had a valid point.  We were afraid to try to appeal to all, in fear of putting people off.  Street food is a very competitive arena, and it can be make or break a business at some of these big music festivals (somewhere we finding ourselves at a lot at the height of summer).

However, these comments continued to increase and the products we were trying ourselves also started to improve.  It’s taken a while, but we’ve gradually gained the confidence to make a point, that our menu’s are completely gluten free.  We’ve spoken to customers and listened to their feedback, and this, alongside the increased awareness and diagnosis of gluten intolerances, has made it easier for us to promote this as a unique selling point.

As the business has grown, the transition to remain completely gluten free, is a challenge, texture, taste and shelf life play such an important role in food production and the quality we must deliver.  But, we now work with some incredible suppliers, and can honestly say you wouldn’t a clue that any of the food we produce is gluten free.  We believe there is absolutely no compromise on flavour or texture, and in fact know, that the lack of gluten in our batter makes it lighter and less likely to sit heavy, like some batter can.

Our new chicken burgers, that we serve from our unit in Lichfield, are a massive hit, the original breading, popadom and brioche bun recipes all had to be amended, proving particularly tough, but perseverance got us through, and we did it, and our customers are delighted.

We now have people that travel hundreds of miles and turn up to nearly every public event that we do, just because our menu is entirely gluten free.  Companies are choosing us over our competitors because our menu is so safe, removing their own anxieties about allergies.

So, becoming Gluten Free, for us, has not only enhanced our business but made us all think differently, about everybody with any allergen, we have real empathy for those that must consider each and every decision they make about what they can or cannot eat, of which personally, I would find frustrating and difficult.  Our menus are not only Gluten, but Egg, Nut and Beer free, with only a small amount of Dairy in one menu item, making our menus available to all.

One of the most rewarding things we hear at nearly every event we do is that how ‘grateful’ people are that they can eat with us.  That their entire family can now all eat at the same place rather than having to find an ‘alternative’ for ‘Abbie’ who’s coeliac.  To us, these comments are enough to make all the hard work, worth every minute.