Armed with a love of American comfort food and a pimped out, 1986 GMC Vandura called Burt Reynolds, Anna Mae’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese has been melting hearts, minds and handfuls of fancy fromage up and down the UK since 2010
Essential Journal: How did it all start? Where did your idea for Anne Mae’s Mac n’ Cheese come from?
Anna Mae: It happened through a whim and a prayer. And then a lot of hard graft, blood, sweat and tears! When we started, American food was not a big thing beyond burgers and hotdogs in London. We had an idea and some knowledge of Southern food from travels in the States so decided to try out some ideas. And then the trend for American food went crazy! So luckily for us it was the right place, right time.
How difficult was it to get started?
Running a business is pretty all-consuming and stressful, and of course we are subject to the weather very often also. A whole event can be wiped out by rain or worse, wind, and if you’re relying on that job or have invested a lot of money in it, this can be huge pressure, especially when you’re starting out.
We started small with a table a pot and a burner and invested what we made into the next job, and improved things gradually which was the right decision for us. Within this industry as there are so many variables to consider. It’s wise to minimise risk as much as you can. You’re also learning on the job which can in some ways be a benefit but also at times you wish there was a rule book you could check to make sure you’re on the right track!
Not that we’re complaining, but why Mac and Cheese?
When we started out we were the only people specializing in mac ‘n’ cheese in the industry and it was really exciting doing something totally new. It’s an incredibly versatile dish and we love playing around with flavours and combinations – we had loads of fun recipe-testing for our book. To be excited about what you do is really important and we’ve always tried to keep this originality at the heart of Anna Mae’s.
Tell us a little about Burt Reynolds!
We found Burt in Croydon through Ebay and it was love at first sight, ite him being a little tatty. He had no brakes, 4 different wheels of completely different sizes, some pretty dodgy mood lighting and upholstery but we could really see the potential. Converting him was tricky but we’re really happy with how he turned out. We’ve put a lot of thought into not just how he works as a kitchen but in the design and branding, we wanted him to be a real asset to the events we do and people love seeing him. He’s even appeared in the odd celeb selfie!
If you could use Burt for anything other than Mac ‘n’ Cheese, what would it be?
When we converted the truck one of the things we had in the back of mind was that he would make a brilliant bar or DJ booth, so we kept things flexible so he could be multi-purpose. If you take out the pans and burners its a blank canvass. So I guess if I could make anything else it would be merriment!
Your food truck takes you all over the place; any favourite events or destinations over the years?
I love the festival circuit and we have built up a real following over the years where we have become part of people’s festival experience, and they come back year on year. I love that, chatting to the same faces and seeing how much people enjoy what we do is really rewarding. All of the festivals we do are lovely, but we also get to do some really quirky events that are loads of fun. Lambeth Country Show is probably one of the few places you can enjoy some jerk chicken whilst watching a sheep shearing competition or pig showing, so one of my faves!
What are the added challenges of running a food truck compared to, say, a bricks-and-mortar restaurant?
Any venture in the food industry is super challenging, but for us I guess the sheer amount of paperwork and red tape we have to do is enormous. It’s kind of like setting up a restaurant every time we trade and we have to satisfy the requirements of each council, event organiser, H&S consultant, local fire authority, landowner etc etc. It’s a huge part of what we do that people don’t realise when you’re out at an event trading, just how much work it takes to get there!
What advice would you give to people looking to tread a similar path?
There is real value in starting small – don’t put in a lot of investment into something you know nothing about. Research and understand your market/product/service before you throw in all your cash. It’s essential to be flexible and prepared to tinker with your idea if you find aspects of it don’t work, be prepared to change them and pay attention to what does. And most importantly just go for it!
Words by Will Halbert
Image Credits by Courtesy of Anna Mae