Bringing authentic South American flavours to the capital, the City Pantry team recently caught up with Boca Empanadas founder Will to chat about work, travel and, of course, food.
A type of baked or fried pasty made of pastry and delicious fillings, empanadas are a staple in Latin American cooking, and Boca Empanadas have brought these authentic Argentinian and Brazilian flavours to London. Prepared fresh every morning and baked to perfection, Boca Empanada offer a range of delicious fillings from the meaty to the veggie and vegan.
Boca's founder Will Sullivan recently caught up with the City Pantry team to chat about his challenges, growing the business and (of course) his favourite item on the menu!
City Pantry: What led you to set up the business?
Will: I became addicted to empanadas when living in South America as part of my languages degree. A different spot on each corner serving up hot, freshly made empanadas - so far, so delicious. But once back in the UK and working in the City I would spend each lunch hour searching out somewhere to get more than a run of the mill (and increasingly pricey!) sandwich. I would bore colleagues about how much we needed empanadas in London and while Latin flavours were becoming increasingly popular on the London food scene, empanadas were still underrepresented. You can guess what happened next!
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you set up shop?
Ha! Which one to choose?! I’d say taking the bull by the horns in the first place and then deciding on premises and shifting from a street food business to a bricks and mortar cafe. With a street food stall you have the obvious flexibility to go where the customers are, attend festivals and markets all over, but winters were cold and I knew that Boca could be bigger if it laid down roots. That required capital so we had lots to work out to make it happen.
Can you give us a brief summary of the history of the business?
After waving goodbye to financial services it was all reading, cooking, attending courses, eating, developing recipes, holding “tasting parties” and creating a menu that would one day adorn the walls of my cafe. My first job was catering a wedding – a slightly daunting start in the industry! To kick off life in street food, I entered the national First Pitch competition coordinated by the National Market Trader Federation and was thrilled to reach the finals and get a permanent pitch in Victoria. Boca was a regular face at street food events for 3 years and while we still love popping up when we can, we were excited to open actual doors in March 2017. And here we are!
How would you sum up your offering in one sentence?
Empanadas, sides, salsas, steaks and sweet treats; serving hearty, healthy bites with a Latin kick, Boca brings the flavours of Brazil and Argentina to London.
What’s your favourite item on the menu?
Customers always ask this! My favourite empanada is still our classic Argentinian-style beef; minced beef steak, green peppers, onions, raisins and green olives. My wife’s current fave is the vegetarian breakfast empanada (grilled mushrooms, spinach, scrambled egg and cheddar) and our 3 year old always goes for “the orange one” - sweet potato, feta and goat’s cheese.
Do you have any sustainability initiatives?
Absolutely. We no longer have any plastic packaging and for takeaway food and deliveries we use a mix of compostable packaging, recycled packaging, wooden cutlery and napkins made from recycled paper. We also reward customers with freebies for using their own eco cups and we are proud to have partnered with a couple of food waste apps (Too Good To Go and Karma) enabling us to reduce food waste to an absolute minimum. Similarly we choose our suppliers carefully for their eco credentials. Dingley Dell Pork produce welfare-friendly pork with outdoor provenance and we serve Alchemy Coffee whose Direct Trade programme greatly benefits the farmers with whom they work.
How has working with City Pantry helped to boost your business?
Since we partnered with City Pantry we’ve seen a real increase in sales, both through frequent orders and “real life” walk-ins, with people trying our food for the first time at their office and then coming back independently. We have been introduced to a whole new market for our food, being able to reach customers a little further away through deliveries and pop-ups - City Pantry has really helped us to spread the word! And the organised and efficient system means that we are able to carry out large deliveries while also continuing usual lunch service.
What have you learned about your business since working with City Pantry?
Working with City Pantry has confirmed that our food works really well for large scale deliveries, and that individuals and companies alike are always on the look-out for an interesting lunch! Also, offering choice to meet different tastes and dietary requirements is just as important for deliveries as it is in store.
How do you find the feedback you receive from customers?
Feedback is always useful - whatever it is - but it would be great if customers were encouraged to be more specific. Ticking box of key words is of course quick and appealing, but as vendors we love a detailed review! We really enjoy talking to customers at pop-ups as nothing is more useful than real life conversations.
What would be your advice to a vendor looking to join City Pantry?
Do it! But first… Work out what on your menu will work best for delivery and will stay in a good condition. Plan how your menu will work for large orders. And don’t overstretch yourself at the beginning; gradually increase your portions limit as you get used to making your meals in large numbers. You don’t want to disappoint anyone at the start.
Thanks Will for sitting down and chatting with us!
Check out Boca Empanadas' menu by clicking the link below and order direct to your office with City Pantry!
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