As you will have seen we have a new catering outlet at Top Field and there is no doubt that the Canary Kitchen has already proved to be a resounding success. Reaction from supporters has been overwhelmingly positive and the quality of the food and the professional service being offered has moved our catering to a new level.
I thought it would be interesting to introduce the couple behind the Canary Kitchen and give their background story. Paul and Kirsty Foster are the husband and wife who are behind this new venture for the club. I met Paul to hear how he and his wife got in to the catering business and how they ended up at Top Field in September.
Paul and Kirsty both went to Priory School in Hitchin where they started their relationship before going to separate universities. The relationship continued with Paul leaving his university after one year while Kirsty stayed for three years. Paul decided to join a firm of accountants in Hitchin but soon decided it was not the career he wanted, He was also working some shifts at the Cricketers pub in Ickleford selling food and decided to try toasties. This proved popular with the customers and Paul found he was increasing footfall. He decided he would like to open a takeaway in Hitchin but found the rents too prohibitive. However the idea of a career in the catering world had taken hold and he left his accountancy job. He and Kirsty were regular visitors to music festivals and they thought they saw an opening for providing catering at these events.
They took advice and decided to invest in a catering van using their savings and bank start up loans to finance the project. It was a gamble and they then had to find pitches to operate from. In the summer of 2013 they attended their first event which was the Beachy Head Marathon. The pitch cost them £150 for three days and it proved successful. They also did a number of firework events and up to May 2014 did various county shows and flower shows. It proved competitive to get better pitches. Paul decided to go for a big event and applied to get a pitch at the Isle of Wight music festival. The fee quoted was £5,000 which was much higher than they had ever paid before but both Paul and Kirsty were very keen so went along with it. It was make or break time but it proved to be a highly profitable experience for Paul and Kirsty.
Later that summer, they traded at Sonisphere at Knebworth which proved even more successful than the Isle of Wight. It encouraged them to go for bigger events and they went to the Reading Festival. An event like this would involve Paul and Kirsty working up to 20 hours a day and they were helped out by part time staff including family members. Winter months would be spent getting ready for the summer festival season.
In 2015 Paul and Kirsty managed to get a pitch at the biggest festival of all—Glastonbury. The pitch fee was no less than £4,000 but it proved a worthwhile exercise and it led to the purchase of a second van, a 1973 Citroen HY Van, which also had a greater output than the original one. A second van opened up more opportunities for Paul and Kirsty and in 2016 both were used at Glastonbury. In 2017 they started to plan the use of the vans more carefully to ensure journeys were more sensibly worked out. Their units operated under the names of The Toast Office and Notorious PIG.
The British Street Food Awards asked Paul and Kirsty to enter their second van in the ‘’Best Looking Mobiler’’ competition. There were 300 entries and they were delighted to get down to the last 10, then the last 6 before making the final 3. While they did not win it was great publicity and they found that rather than applying for pitches they were being approached themselves. Freeman Event Partners provide catering for the really big events and they arranged a meeting with Paul and Kirsty. As a result they were given a pitch at the Grand National in 2018 while they also achieved regular concessions at Twickenham, Silverstone, Wembley, London Stadium and Harlequins Rugby Club. Another prestigious event was the Ryder Cup in Paris and Paul said this was the best event they had ever done.
2019 saw all the usual events being covered and they achieved a third pitch at Glastonbury. As further expansion Paul and Kirsty bought a 20′ shipping container which, with the help of Hitchin based Colin Hill Bar & Catering, they converted to a food outlet and they decided to do all types of takeaway food rather than just toasties. This is the unit that has become the Canary Kitchen. It had been offered a permanent pitch at Craven Cottage and the London Stadium but it would have been necessary to convert it to electric rather than gas so Paul and Kirsty turned these opportunities down..
In 2020 venues included Twickenham, Harlequins, Crufts, and the Cheltenham festival. Another toastie trailer was purchased late in 2019 and there were three pop up units as well. Everything was going so well until disaster struck in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic and overnight Paul and Kirsty lost every income stream and to make matters worse they had paid advance pitch fees they may never recover. It was a disaster so when Paul saw Hitchin Town FC were looking for new caterers he was very keen to get involved. Paul had been to watch Hitchin on a regular basis in his younger years, so was familiar with the set-up at Top Field.
Their pitch impressed Kate Deller who was involved in finding a new caterer for the club. She said it was more about the food, the packaging, the service and the Hitchin Town brand than money which impressed her. They also offered a five star hygiene rating with all staff coming from Hitchin and holding level 2 food hygiene certificates. As demonstrated above their experience at big sporting and entertainment events was second to none. They also offered an eco friendly solution as they recycle everything and only use biodegradable packaging.
It proved an easy decision to take Paul and Kirsty on and as I said in the introduction they have been warmly welcomed by our supporters. Let us hope it is a long term relationship and that they can return to the rest of their normal business as soon as possible.
BY ROY IZZARD