Mother Clucker has been around since the early days of the street food revolution, and have won a strong following dedicated to their amazing chicken. Whether at street food festivals or trading from their customised ambulance at the Old Truman Brewery, they're a leading fixture on London's foodie scene. Founder Ross Curnow talks to us about the startup journey.
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They say the best things in life happen by chance, but nobody ever said anything about starting a business from a joke…
Back in 2012, Brittney Bean and I were running a digital agency that specialised in social media and website design for bands. I’d recently finished touring playing drums for few bands and needed to pay the rent, so still working in music made sense. Brittney – now my business partner at Mother Clucker – is from New Orleans, so knows a thing or two about fried chicken. We’ve long shared the belief that the best cure for a hangover is good fried chicken – alas, in 2012 neither ‘Perfect Fried Chicken’ or ‘Sam’s’ in Dalston was cutting it.
For arguably selfish reasons (which she will of course deny) Brittney had recently bought her flatmate a fryer as a Secret Santa gift - so the stage was set for a six-month quest to create the perfect fried chicken hangover snack. I selflessly volunteered to be the guinea pig.
She spent every weekend frying up some birds. The end result was awesome, but I think you’ll all agree that battering and then shallow-frying chicken (after brining for 32 hours) in duck fat until par-cooked, chilling it and then deep frying in peanut oil (or whatever she was up to in the kitchen) wasn’t the simplest way to get the job done… so we refined the recipe and made it easier.
To cut a long story short, I said we should sell it, and she said “Go F$£* yourself - we don’t know anything about selling food.” I agreed, but I couldn’t let it go. I went away for a week, drew some pictures and me and some pals came up with some draft logos which we pushed under Brittney’s nose. “What if we called it Mother Clucker…?!” we said. She couldn’t say no. And here we are, four years later. Mother Clucker is an official company with 20 members of staff on payroll.
So... how did we turn a joke into reality?
We both have experience in marketing, so we started there with what we knew. We threw parties to test the product and find out if people were into it. We cut people into the business who knew about building a business – practically and through design – because equity doesn’t cost anything, and at that stage we had no cashflow.
We raised funds via a friend after feeding him in Brittney’s flat, and pitching him our business plan on the back of a napkin.
Next, we bought an ex-US military ambulance and set about converting it in to a food truck. While the truck was in the workshop we landed a pop-up gig at a rad pub in Soho (RIP The Endurance. Big up Kerry and Billy). This was somewhat of a baptism of fire. I regularly found myself at two in the morning butchering whole chickens, watching Gordon Ramsey tutorials... true story. Idiot.
We learned on the job how to find suppliers (relying on the shop round the corner just doesn’t work); how to hire staff; how to run a kitchen; and most importantly we learned just how hard launching and sustaining your own business was.
Our second pop-up in Dalston was less successful. The location was off the beaten track so with minimal customer foot fall and we lost money – nearly all of it – and were back to square one. But we learned hard lessons about cashflow.
Finally, the finished fully-branded truck arrived and it was awesome. I felt like the man driving it around (probably looked like a dick though, #Shoreditch). We catered a load of private parties with it and starting making more of a name for ourselves working with big brands like Adidas, Superdry and Billetto.
The truck kept breaking down. Again and again. Until it wouldn’t start. Luckily it broke down in the car park of the Truman Brewery in East London, where started trading and still trades from seven days a week.
Brittney and I worked really hard from the get-go and learned how to run a business. We managed to become affiliated with the super-rad street food collectives Street Feast and Kerb – HUGE thanks to them for having us around. They’ve been instrumental in us getting to the next stage.
Our long-term plan is to scale up. We’re now very experienced on a small scale with multiple market set ups and evening residencies, but now we’re ready (we think…!) to take it to the next stage – our very own chicken shop.
Mother Clucker: a bit less of a joke now, however it’s still just chicken. We don’t take life too seriously and love a laugh as much as the next person - we just prefer to do it with a crispy chicken strip in hand!