How much space does it take to cater a wedding, festival or party? A van called ‘Twelve Feet of Loveliness’ will do for Ruth Tidd.
Her catering company, the Flying Ducks, travels the South East of England and South West to all sorts of events. “I try to stick within a 40- to 50-mile radius of Surrey so I can get there and back in a day,” she says. As she has converted her two caravans into kitchens, this means that they can’t be used for overnighting.
“Twelve Feet of Loveliness is a full working kitchen, and Little Ray of Sunshine serves drinks, ice cream and cakes,” Ruth explains.
“Smaller events are the best to do; they’re more fun and non-commercial so they aren’t overloaded with other traders. At bigger festivals, there are only so many people that you can feed from a caravan and there’s fierce competition, so you struggle to make any money above the festival’s massive charges.”
After a difficult divorce that left her with a choice of struggling to get another mortgage or investing in something she really wanted, Ruth bought her first van for just £400 on eBay. She and her sister borrowed a car with a towbar and drove to Kent to pick it up.
“It was the first time either of us had towed, and it was scary,” she recalls, “but we made it back unscathed. Since then, I’ve towed down some extremely narrow places. Generally I think that if the car can make it, so can the van. But I still have a phobia of towing through barriers.”
After a couple of weeks of deliberation, Ruth designed the interior layout. Tracy Chantry, of St Georges Coachworks in Camberley, designed the exterior and carried out the work.
“We had to rip everything out and start from scratch to use the space,” Ruth says. “There’s a lot of maintenance, such as relining the roof. You’ve got to look after it. We’re on our fourth jockey wheel now, and because the van is heavy with equipment, we have to jack it up every time we change it.”
This will be the third year of trading for the Flying Ducks, and the trend for quirky food retail is still growing. Have there been any pitfalls? Ruth shakes her head.
“It’s a whirlwind every day,” she says. “We’re always so busy. It is hard work, with a lot of lifting; sometimes I wish there was a man around to carry the heavy boxes, hitch up and get the van in place, but it’s still good fun. You can go wherever you like and still serve up great food.”
Ruth trained as a chef at South East London Catering College, and has worked in the industry ever since. It’s no surprise, then, that her street food with an English twist is so popular. “The gourmet fish-finger sandwiches with tartare sauce have become favourites. It’s all about creating different hand-held foods that are simple and fit with the retro theme.”
Her most recent acquisition, ‘Little Ray of Sunshine’, is an ex-chicken coop 1958 Bluebird Europa and it continues the vintage theme, serving ‘beautiful beverages and iced delights’ at events.
“People love soda floats,” she says. “The taste makes them reminisce.”
Visiting so many events must be fun, but Ruth’s weekends are chock-a-block. “I did Barnes Summer Fair this year for the first time; it was great! Everyone is really interested in the caravan. I find that anywhere you get classic cars is friendly and interesting. You get to see these beautiful cars while you work. My favourite event so far was a retro vintage-car festival at Fawley Hill: Lord and Lady McAlpine’s place. It was so much fun because everyone dressed up and got into the theme.
“If I had more money and time I’d love to renovate more caravans,” Ruth says. “I’m thinking about writing a book about converting the caravans, including recipes. Perhaps when I have more time in the winter, I’ll get to work!”
If you've ever dreamed of restoring caravans or starting your own business in one, read more 'Me and my caravan' features. We meet the proud owners of a hand-made Holivan, which they use as a vintage shop on wheels, a young nail artist having fun a restored 1982 CI Cadet 10, and Historic Caravan Club member Mike Wye, whose pride and joy is a 1954 Paladin Mercury, which he restored himself.