London Union, which officially launches on Thursday, is the brainchild of Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of healthy fast food chain Leon, and Jonathan Downey, the man behind street food brand Street Feast.
The Telegraph reports that the consortium of food enthusiasts, which also includes Wahaca’s Thomasina Miers and Russell Norman from the Polpo Group, has invested almost £1m in the start-up.
“This is like Avengers Assemble,” claimed Mr Downey.
The aim of London Union is to find areas across the capital that are economically inactive – often waiting for planning permission or for work to start on a new development – and build pop-up markets that create local jobs and provide opportunities for new, up-and-coming street food traders to establish themselves without requiring large amounts of capital.
“London is in danger of being hollowed out,” said Mr Dimbleby, who is using his experience growing Leon into a £18m-turnover chain to help the fledgling brand achieve scale.
“It is full of empty spaces that have been bought by investors awaiting planning to build flats. We want to take those spaces and use them to create something both profitable and positive for Londoners.”
According to Mr Downey, London Union will build 15 of these covered day and night markets within five years, and establish a permanent, flagship market in central London.
“There’s so much underused space in London, crying out for some activity, and we’ll pounce on anything,” he said.
After establishing a brand in London, the founders hope to export the concept to Los Angeles and Miami, before looking to grow regionally.
“My home town is Manchester and I’ve always wanted to do something like this there,” said Mr Downey.
The start-up will replicate Street Feast’s business model, whereby traders pay a nominal fee for a pitch and London Union runs bars in the market to generate revenue.
It will also charge a £3 entrance fee after 7pm.
There are currently three markets operating under the brand, at Model Market in Lewisham and Dalston Yard in E8 – which were formerly under the Street Feast brand – while Dinerama in Shoreditch opened on Friday.
“These places feel like little towns full of street vendors,” said Mr Dimbleby. “It’s a completely different way of going out to eat.”
These markets are expected to welcome 750,000 visitors in the next 12 months, and create more than 400 jobs.
There are currently 60 small traders involved, and the London Union founders forecast 150 in two years’ time. Half of the existing traders have also invested in the new business.
“We’ve made street food a sustainable business model for our vendors,” said Mr Downey. “Our markets aren’t weather dependent, and they know that with us they have a guaranteed income because we bring the crowd.
“It’s a hard life being a street food beginning. No one’s heard of you. Your gazebo blows away. It’s cold and windy and you’re sometimes left with lots of uneaten food. We’re the light at the end of the tunnel for these people.”
“London Union creates fantastic platforms for all this talent and enthusiasm to manifest themselves,” said founding adviser and investor Mr Ottolenghi. “It’s a privilege to support and take part in this great process.”