Founders: Lucy Mee
'IT WAS MY CHANCE TO MAKE THE DREAM HAPPEN'
I first broke into street food with Bill Or Beak, a burger brand. It was a passion project I started with my boyfriend, but after two years of mobile markets I realised it was too intense. The whole brand was very prep-heavy – shredded duck and pork burgers took up a lot of time – and that meant I couldn’t step away from the stall to help the business grow.
INK was born from a love for squid and a desire to experiment with something more scalable. There was a simplicity to squid that really appealed to me – it didn’t need such heavy prep, so I could focus on strategising and speaking about the brand.
Whenever people see squid on a menu, they get it. It’s just one of those expensive luxuries you can’t resist. The squid at Dishoom always stood out to me – baby squid with an amazing coriander dressing. But too often it’s seen as a side dish, and I wanted to change that.
Colours were how I wanted to impose my personality on the brand. Pastels were crucial – when we started at Hawker House in 2017, feedback was amazing for our pink neon sign. I knew I always wanted to create a cute, Miami Vice-style brand doing one dish really well. It was my chance to make the dream happen.
The prettiness of our mayos has been huge for us. One of the chefs was making garlic mayo using wild garlic, and it turned this beautiful pastel green. I put it into a piping bag and onto a plate and it looked like an ice cream cone, really beautiful. Then we experimented more: beetroot powder made it pink, chilli made it orange, and squid ink turned it black.
A restaurant mentality has always informed everything I’ve done. I’m not a chef but I love the presentation of plates, and I wanted to create something that was accessible at £7 or £10, but retained an Instagram-friendly wow factor. You’d get it in a great restaurant, but you can also get it at Hawker House.
At first, I didn’t even look at the cost of things. I know that’s a bad way to run a business, but I was obsessed with delivering banging crispy squid. Street Feast put us into a Trader Academy workshop and it was so useful on the operational side. It taught me how to run a proper business at a time when I was essentially throwing a free dinner party every weekend.
Marinating in milk and lemon juice delivers the perfect softness. It makes all the difference when you bite into squid and it’s soft – nothing’s more important. I researched all the different marinating techniques – we contemplated orange juice for a while – and I got in a couple of chefs to help me with the development.
In a few years, I’d love to mentor 18 to 21-year-old girls who don’t know what they want to do. I felt the same at that age. We’ve had a couple of 18-year-olds working for us – I met one of their mums at the stall and she said “you’ve really given my daughter the chance to look at something different”, and was now talking about wanting her own business. It meant a lot to me.
It’s feels like a big time for women – they’re not letting anything get in their way. They’re taking it upon themselves to make things happen. I say to newcomers to the industry, don’t put yourself down because you’re a woman and feel you aren’t as good at negotiating. In fact, don’t put yourself down at all. Go and get what you want.
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