One of my favorite things to do in London is let my feet and feelings take me to new neighborhoods and eateries. On a recent day of exploring and eating, my friend Olga and I found ourselves at Seven Dials Market. The indoor market has more than 20 different food vendors, but a conveyor belt circulating copious amounts of cheese caught our eye.
The 40-meter-long conveyor belongs to Pick & Cheese, a restaurant showcasing British cheeses and accompaniments like charcuterie, jams, pickles, and wine.
Pick & Cheese itself is a part of The Cheese Bar, a collection of restaurants and retail stores that was initially launched in 2014 by Mathew Carver as a mobile food venue called The Cheese Truck.
Mathew’s entry into the food scene was done with lots of planning and thought, complete with a trip to the United States to learn more about the street food scene.
“The research trip was really trying to gain insight into food trends, especially with street food and food trucks,” Mathew explains. “At the time, in London, our street food culture was just taking shape. So the idea was to go to the States and see what was happening there, because the industry was maybe a few years further down the road.”
Noticing a gap within the London food scene for cheese-centric eateries, Mathew decided to highlight local cheese producers through a food truck. But financing proved to be a hurdle, so he pivoted to testing out the idea on a smaller scale.
“We started with a market stall, fairly low financial startup costs—I think somewhere in the region of a few hundred pounds—to buy a griddle to cook the sandwiches on and some Tupperwares and basic kitchen equipment,” says Mathew.
Once the concept was validated at food markets and Mathew had enough savings, the team purchased an old ice cream truck to drive the idea further. Sticking to the dairy theme, the vehicle was converted into The Cheese Truck, and the team grew the business even more by operating at concerts, festivals, and events.
“I think we were really lucky at the time that we were in the right industry at the right time,” Mathew says. “Street food in 2014 in London was just kicking off. So there were lots of opportunities, and most corporate events wanted street food businesses to come and do the food.”
Building on the momentum, The Cheese Truck turned into The Cheese Bar in 2017, when the team built its first restaurant in Camden Market. From one location to three, the business grew each year until 2020, when doors had to shut due to COVID.
“Overnight we closed the restaurants. Helen and Taylor, who works with me, very quickly found Shopify,” shares Mathew. “[We] found it pretty quick and easy to set up an online site.”
The COVID pivot moved The Cheese Bar online by offering wine-and-cheese subscriptions under the moniker Funk, which helped the business survive past lockdown-induced restaurant closures. Once things opened again, Funk also took up a physical retail location to service the community in person. Similar to the initial challenge of purchasing a truck, Mathew and his team adapted and turned a challenge into a chance to grow the business.
Now closing in on a decade in business, Mathew is setting his sights on bigger plans to expand beyond London to even more locations.
The twists and turns of building The Cheese Bar are just one of the topics Mathew shared on the show. Tune in to the full episode of Shopify Masters to hear about Mathew’s fundraising journey and advice for fellow food entrepreneurs when expanding.