WenLin Soh, co-founder of Edible Experiences, discusses on-demand food delivery, ‘lunch al desko’ and what gets her to work in the morning
With a background in management consultancy and newspaper journalism, in 2011 Soh started Edible Experiences – a global community marketplace for foodie events and activities, cooking, baking and butchery classes, tasting sessions, food walking tours and alternative dining events – with co-founder Amir Shamsuddin. Last year, the pair facilitated almost 3,000 foodie events in London.
What are the main obstacles facing small food businesses and up-and-coming chefs and cooks?
WenLin Soh: There are two key things. One is finding suitable and affordable real estate, especially in London. And the second is knowing how to assemble a team with complementary skills to tackle business tasks, involving real estate, finances, marketing and so on.
How do you see the future of the eating out and restaurant scene changing going forward?
WS: It's a great time to be eating out in London. I believe mid-price, fun and casual eating options will continue to grow, as chefs can now test their concepts at street food markets and pop-up dining spaces before setting up full-scale restaurants – and along the way they may decide they don't actually want a traditional restaurant setup!
There will be more entrants, because the barriers to entry have been lowered, which means everyone has to work harder to get the attention of their audience. I think this means we're going to see more innovative concepts and cuisines, better ingredients and higher quality (although probably informal) service.
The ‘lunch al desko’ at work hasn't changed very much. If you have time to go out and stand in a queue at a street food stall during your lunch hour, options have opened up. But who really wants to spend their lunch hour queuing? So I think change is coming on that front. It'll be interesting to see which on-demand food delivery business manages to crack that nut convincingly.
What's the one thing that would make your job easier?
WS: That would be an army of clones, please! I have a startup, an amazing husband, and two children under the age of three. It's a fantastic, very full life, but I simply don't have enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do, at the pace I would ideally like. It's one way to keep me out of mischief, I suppose!
What's the best bit about your role?
WS: I get to work with a lot of up-and-coming chefs and foodie talent. They are all very creative and passionate about what they do. Together, we're building a more delicious and incr-Edibly adventurous city!
What are the main food trends you can see coming out of last year and into the 2015 food scene?
WS: The sharing spaces or pop ups is here to stay and will take an increasing number of guises. Cooking schools and pubs are increasingly sharing their space with freelance cooking instructors and pop-up chefs.
It all makes sense: the core tenants benefit from tapping into the various audiences that each freelancer brings in and the freelancer gets to test different locations without signing an onerous lease.
We're also seeing the rise of food spaces that operate very much like art galleries; the core team runs the bar, but food-wise there's a constantly changing calendar of events and menus. Examples of these include Brixton Cornercopia, Maida Hill Place, Community Café (near Old Street) and Carousel in Marylebone.
On-demand food delivery is also going to be an interesting trend to watch in 2015. Combining food and e-commerce and logistics can be very powerful, but difficult to execute.
In London, you can see Deliveroo and EatFirst experimenting with different food delivery business models. Overseas, the ones to watch are Munchery in the US and Sushi Beta in Brazil. It will be interesting to see how well all these new businesses and models do.