When Matthew Carver wanted to shine a light on British cheeses, he decided the best way to reach people was through their stomachs. So he set about creating the tastiest toasted cheese sandwich possible. Today, more than six years since The Cheese Truck rolled into south London’s Maltby Street Market, Matthew and his partner Taylor are still just as intent on raising awareness.
“There is so much more to British cheese than people realise. If you take a bit of time to get to know what’s going on you’ll find so many incredible producers – people in the countryside, people in cities – all making really delicious cheeses,” Taylor tells us.
From street food to restaurant
Having made a name for themselves at London’s food markets and with the street-food truck popping up at music festivals across the UK, the team turned their attention to opening a permanent site and launched a crowd-funding campaign.
“It turned out to be super successful, taking just six days to reach our target. We had a good following but we had no idea people would be so enthusiastic about investing in The Cheese Bar,” says Taylor, and the team knew that opening a flagship restaurant in Camden would be the perfect opportunity to raise the bar.
“A lot of street food stalls at the time were opening bricks-and-mortar places, but many weren’t changing their offering. When people eat at a restaurant they want something more – they are paying more so they want more of an experience. We were keen to ensure our offering in Camden was markedly different – we viewed it as The Cheese Truck’s older sibling.”
Alongside the stylish interior and a much bigger menu, the team’s elevated offer included events.
“Tastings and workshops are a really good way to achieve our mission, which is to promote British cheeses,” says Taylor.
“It means people can spend a bit more time with us or whoever is leading the event. We love to tell the stories of the producers whose cheese we sell, and there is no better way to do that than by having them standing in front of our customers and tell those stories themselves.”
Combining eating with education, past events have included a cheese and cider matching class and a workshop where participants learnt to curate the perfect after-dinner cheese board. Then there was the indulgently, meltingly bottomless raclette feast. Often, the team are introducing attendees to something new. “We held a tasting that showcased cheeses from the north of England, which aren’t usually for sale in London. So many people at the event were tasting theses cheese for the first time,” says Taylor.
When it comes to putting together a panel and inviting expert guests to speak, the pair’s contacts within the cheese industry have really come in useful. “It’s been so important to build good relationships,” says Taylor, “People who admire what we are doing, and we admire what they are doing likewise, so they are keen to collaborate on an event.”
Having access to a network of likeminded people led to The Cheese Bar’s first industry-focused event, which saw cheesemakers Mary Quicke and Jamie Montgomery share samples of identical cheeses that had been aged at their respective farms. “Both cheeses tasted completely different Yes, it’s quite a nerdy event but it was really interesting – we had loads of people from the cheese industry all over the UK attend.”
Taylor says it’s great to be earning a reputation for thought leadership events, but their focus is more firmly on informally educating the public – and this means getting the right balance. “A cheesemaker might not be used to doing much public-facing stuff, so we work with them to prepare beforehand or follow a question-and-answer format. Matthew’s there to lead the conversation and tease more information out of them and also to ensure they don’t get too in-depth for the audience who probably won’t share their level of specialist knowledge. They are so passionate about what they do, but there’s only so much information people can take in!”
A continual learning process
While attendees learn about cheeses, the team are busy learning how best to refine their approach to organising events. “People see us predominantly as a restaurant business, but we want to get to a place where we are also known for our events,” says Taylor. This means a lot of trial and error – finding out what’s best for your business and for your customer base.
“In Camden, it really depends on the time of year. We had a great event scheduled last year, but it was at the end of summer and people had spent money on holidays or had gone out a lot already, and it didn’t really take off. We are also still figuring out what the ideal day is. Running an event means closing the restaurant, so holding it on a Tuesday or a Wednesday is ideal for us but attendees might prefer to have their night out on a Thursday or a Friday.”
The team promote their food and drink events using both The Cheese Truck and The Cheese Bar’s social media accounts and, since refreshing their website at the start of the year, have been growing their subscriber base. “We can add to our mailing list from ticket sales via Eventbrite and also from Open Table, which lets people select whether they want to join the mailing list,” says Taylor.
Just as marketing your event effectively means knowing your audience, Taylor believes it’s also essential that you know your purpose from the outset.
“I think it’s important to know what you are aiming for with an event and that you communicating that to the people you want to buy tickets. Of course, it is another revenue stream but that’s not predominantly what we are focusing on.”
“We want to tell people about great British cheese. When you have a focus that isn’t just about making money it allows you to be more creative. It makes it more interesting for the people coming to the event and gives the people you want to participate in the event more of a reason to buy into it.”
Keeping on trucking
The popularity of their toasted cheese sandwiches means Matthew and Taylor know the street-food truck is still an important part of the business. “Every year we have people come back to the same festivals and come back to The Cheese Truck – and they might eat at the truck four or five times over a weekend. That’s what has made us keep going.”
This summer’s music festivals will keep their two trucks busy, as will a host of corporate events and weddings, and the team are also looking forward to running a number of events at The Big Feastival in Kingham. “We have a dedicated team who run the trucks, but it still takes a lot of time and focus. Some weekends each truck will attend two festivals.”
This means juggling a lot of logistics. As trucks travel between sites they call back into London to restock, so it’s important to ensure that everything is ready for them to collect and that any problems are quickly solved.
“If something goes wrong it’s frustrating, but you just have to accept it,” says Taylor. “Fridges break, orders might not arrive. That’s why it pays to have a Plan B and a Plan C, even if that means one of us doing a lot of driving! My advice? If other people ever need a favour, always help them out because you never know when you will need their help in return.”
Taylor firmly believes that the more events you do, the more confident you become.
“It can seem daunting when you are a few weeks out from an event and there is still so much to do, but you have to hold off and know you have done everything you can up to that point and the rest will come.”
It’s a philosophy she’ll be putting into practice over the coming weeks, as the unveiling of Pick & Cheese in Covent Garden draws increasingly closer. As the world’s first cheese conveyor belt restaurant, the team have grand event plans for the Seven Dials Market site, including cheesemonger talks and cheesemaker takeovers.
Looking for ways to promote your own food and drinks events? Check out our full guide, Hungry for Success: The Complete Guide to Successfully Promoting Food & Drinks Events.