In this new feature we're going to speak to the many street food vendors who work in and around Manchester, taking an in-depth look at where they started, their food and just why they do what they do.
First up is a Finest favourite, Alex Applegarth who started Big Grillie Style around 4 years ago. Initially serving up some deliciously dirty toasties in Levenshulme Market, he now operates out of Joshua Brooks, banging out some of the city’s best burgers, fries and fried chicken.
We went down to Joshua Brooks to chat to Alex and find out where exactly he started his journey. “I was teaching in a Primary School in Longsight and I thought, this is shit isn’t it?!” So, Alex sat down with a mate, and made the decision to move into street food. “It was something I’d always wanted to do for years but it’s really expensive, especially if you’re wanting bricks and mortar.”
Initially he decided to concentrate on the humble toastie – favourite snack of many a pissed-up idiot after a night at the pub. “Toasties were brilliant because essentially you can put anything you want inside them – they’re a blank canvas where you can be as creative or as weird as you want.”
And to be fair to Alex, he did get creative with them. One of my (and seemingly everyone else’s) favourite toastie from the ‘early days’ was undoubtedly the Grandmaster Flash – a grilled cheese butty filled with a shit load of BBQ Fajita Chicken, Chorizo and some Chilli Heatwave Doritos.
Once the toastie idea had been locked in, it was time to set up the brand, which is where the name Big Grillie Style came in. Alex was keen to give a clear identity to the food, and so his love of old school hip-hop (circa 93-2000 he has told me to say) was the perfect choice. “It was always important to make sure that everything was firing out the identity at all times, and I was determined to make it vibrant, fun and just not shit really“.
With his food and his brand sorted, he started out at Levenshulme market, while still doing his teaching during the week. In the beginning he admits that he just dived in with both feet first and didn’t really think about it; “I think I turned up at first and I had nothing – just a chafing dish and a griddle that I borrowed off a mate, and I was using (proper dangerous and probably illegal) patio gas to begin with – I didn’t have a fucking clue!”
But that first day was a success, “I came away with about £700 in one afternoon and I was dead proud of myself so I carried on doing Levvy Market and other little street food events that I could find, including a bit of Camp & Furnace in Liverpool.”
From there Alex managed to get his foot in the door at Manchester Markets and began operating in Piccadilly Gardens on a weekly basis, alongside participating in other street food events in the city and further afield. It’s here that he also began to diversify his menu to include fries, fried chicken, burgers and wraps.
While at the Manchester Markets, Alex was approached by the Events Coordinator of Joshua Brooks with the proposal to do a kitchen takeover of the venue, in order to provide some form of brand identity to the food there, something which it was sorely missing at the time.
“Joshua Brooks weren’t making much on the food, and it wasn’t really somewhere you would go to have a meal.” So he set up there under the name G Burger, “which was short lived – I decided it would be better to use the already established Big Grillie Style brand and it’s just gotten bigger and better since.”
A major focus of the menu now is burgers, with a range of delicious (and proper dirty) creations on offer. But in a time when there is perhaps an element of ‘Burger Saturation’ going on, what sets Big Grillie apart? “Well, one of the best things that’s come from this is that I’ve been able to properly research all of the elements of burger making and I’m certain that I’ve calculated the perfect way.”
Bold claims indeed, but a quick discussion with Alex unearths some serious science behind the menu. “Well there are so many ways to cook a burger, and I’ve tried them all and think the way we smash the (cold) patty straight on to griddle is the best. It caramelises the outside, making it slightly crispy and with it being cold, the inside stays perfectly juicy.”
“It’s the same with our Fried Chicken, I’ve experimented to make the perfect ratio of cornflour, flour and spices, as well as brining the chicken in pickle juice for 12 hours and coating it in buttermilk to keep it as moist as possible“. On top of this, Alex is also looking to launch a new menu towards the end of August, “and we’re adding some vegetarian and vegan dishes too because we know it’s dirty food, but there’s no reason they can’t enjoy that either.”
Asked about any advice for anyone who is looking to get into the Street Food game, Alex was keen to stress that planning is definitely one of the biggest factors; “I think people think it’s going to be easier than it actually is, when you start you don’t think about you GP’s (gross profit on each item), where you’re sourcing things from, costs… you basically need to take time to plan, plan your set up and don’t just dive into like I did!”
“Basically, don’t be a dick.” Good advice there.
Big Grillie Style serves food at Joshua Brooks from 12pm until 8pm every day.
Alex will also be bringing his burgers and his BBQ to the Summer in the City party at The Refuge on Saturday 28th July.
Joshua Brooks, 106 Princess St, Manchester M1 6NG
0161 273 7336