Over a year ago, the traders of Soho’s Berwick Street Market launched a campaign to “keep Berwick Street Market independent” after hearing that Westminster City Council had decided to privatise the market with barely any consultation.
The market, with its traditional fruit & veg stalls as well as hot and cold street food, flowers, fabrics and fashions, has been independent for over 300 years.
As has been the case in other well-established London markets, traders started to see their licenses being terminated without warning and the horizon was looking bleak and expensive.
But this is no sob story!
Over time, the petition not only gained traction but the attention that came with it saw the ‘decades of neglect and mismanagement’ being remedied with the introduction of fresh talent on the market. Promising new traders are making waves and bringing a much-needed boost to this beautiful and historic street.
To celebrate this indy success story, we spoke with one of the market’s newest traders, a wing slinger serving spicy soul food to all of Soho: Lord of the Wings‘ Ben Perers Cook!
What do you love about market life?
I love popping down to different markets and chatting to traders. One thing that is unique to the street food industry is that, pretty much universally, everyone is passionate about what they are serving. Take a look at any market and you’ll find a bunch of traders that would happily talk about their food for hours. Being surrounded by this enthusiasm is such an amazing experience, and drives you onward. Big shout outs to Nick & Mike at Orange Buffalo who helped pave the way and also Lani at Daja Chicken who has been super helpful!
What’s special about Berwick Street Market?
Berwick Street Market is one of London’s oldest street markets, it’s slap bang in the centre of Soho, — London’s bohemian heart, and is occupied by a host of independent traders. It’s great how, thanks to the founding of the Berwick St Market traders association, chaired by Robin Smith of Soho Dairy, the market fought off the privatisation scheme with help of a petition signed by over 10,000 people. The independence of markets is of obvious importance to people and it should undoubtedly be listed as an asset of community value. Everyday at the market is like one big family barbecue, and everyone’s a part of it, traders & customers. It’s an unparalleled sense of community.
What’s the story behind your venture in particular?
Lord of the Wings started life as the brainchild of my old man, who married an American. Although me and my brother were brought up in London, we grew up on American food. We would visit the family over there and one standout dish was Buffalo Wings – beautiful fried chicken wings covered in a spicy and tangy cayenne pepper sauce. It was my Dad’s idea to maybe one day set up a wing-shack here in London. Since then I’ve fallen in love with the food and with the idea of sharing it. I got a job in a kitchen while I was at university to enhance my culinary skills, me and my Dad have been on a pilgrimage of New York State, trying wings at every dive or sports bar along the way, and spent years perfecting our Buffalo sauce. Luckily since leaving university, street food’s rising popularity gave us a low-cost platform to get straight into it.
What’s the most important part of running a street food stall for you?
When I started in food, the aim was making the best wings ever. That starts with using the best produce. The best produce should taste great but should be farmed in a humane way. My product isn’t the best product if the chickens live in a cage and never see the light of day. I have a platform and have a responsibility to use this platform to promote sustainability. Lord of the Wings should also cause minimal harm to the planet – we only use recycled and recyclable packaging and all the oil we use is recycled or covered into renewable energy; nothing goes to landfill. An important factor of running an ethical business is that it keeps us motivated. We are giving and not just taking and that makes it much more worthwhile to know that we aren’t the only ones benefitting from our business.
What’s important about eating local for you?
Local food is generally fresher, healthier and tastes better. It incurs less spoilage and loses fewer nutrients because it spends less time travelling from farm to plate. It also helps to build better-connected communities. Eating locally allows you to gain more awareness of what you are eating – the traders will have extensive knowledge on what they are serving you, and where it comes from. After months of going to butchers and wholesalers, I approached a farm directly and we’ve now built a fantastic relationship… Since we started on Berwick St, we’ve been getting our garnishes and chillies from the market. Both Jim and Jimma provide top quality fruit and veg and have done for generations.
What do you envision for the future of Lord of the Wings?
We’ve only just started in Soho. This is our first permanent spot and I’m really looking forward to creating a following and being part of the community there. We hope to establish this as where Lord of the Wings ‘lives’, and then we’ll go from there.
Photos by Gabe Owen & Kristen Perers