Wild plants and seaweed are hand-picked and turned into award-winning produce.
Jonathan Williams’ seafood adventure started behind a desk in Swindon. He had £2,000 savings, a 0% credit card and a burning desire to return home to West Wales. He ended up selling seaweed biscuits to Marks and Spencer!
“I was sitting in my air conditioned office wondering how on earth I had ended up there,” Jonathan said, “I was missing the sea and the beaches of Pembrokeshire and was thinking I needed to find a way to get back home. The next day I told my boss that I was going to work part-time so I could start a new mobile catering career using the best of West Wales produce from the sea and wild seashore plants and seaweeds.”
Jonathan started Cafe Môr (Môr is “Sea” in Welsh) in 2010, borrowing on his credit card. He sold seafood, crab, lobster and locally foraged seaweed products at weekend farmers markets, and festivals. “I had so much stuff, it took me hours to set up my stall. But I had such fun, met so many people, talked so much that my jaw was aching at the end of each day. After counting my takings for the day I worked out that I was on £1.42 and hour, but it still felt like the best day’s work I had ever done.” Jonathan said.
Continuing to work part-time in Swindon gave Jonathan time (and money to live on) while he finessed his business model. “The great thing about farmers markets is that you are selling to your end consumer straight away – you get an idea very quickly what they like and what sells.” After a year, Jonathan had gone full-time as a seafood entrepreneur in a beach shack at Freshwater West beach in Pembrokeshire.
In 2011, Cafe Môr, swept the board at the British Street Food Awards – the first of many - and in 2012 it was supplying its signature “SeaShore wraps” to the athletes’ village at the London Olympics. Cafe Môr became part of a new company called The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company, developing online sales, Food Service and Retail.
Different sea-foraged deli products were created to test the high-end food retail market - everything from Welshman’s Caviar (hand-picked laver seaweed, dried then toasted to bring out its flavour) to Laverbread Pesto (laver seaweed, walnuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil) and Ships Biscuits (savoury wheat crackers seasoned with Salt from Anglesey and Dulse and Laver Seaweed). Soon dozens of independent retailers were stocking them all over the UK including – for a time – M+S Food Halls.
While locally-sourced fresh fish and seafood are still served from the (now solar and wind-powered) beach trailer, added-value foods and herbs featuring hand-picked seaweeds have become the mainstay of the expanding business which now employs 4 full-time staff and up to 15 seasonal workers. Edible seaweeds are dried and packaged as flavourings or mixed with butter, turned into biscuits or even beer and sold online, individually or as hampers and though speciality shops.
Jonathan’s venture into the world of supermarkets was short-lived, though, because of the large amounts of product required from a natural resource. “Hand-picking seaweed and wild seashore plants is very time consuming. It is a free harvest in the same way that deep-sea fish are free – but both take an enormous amount of effort to bring them to the table. The energy used to harvest seaweed can put unit costs as high as £30-£50 per kilo. You can’t use boats to pick this seaweed like they do in wrack seaweed farms, it is literally plucked from the shoreline. It is also difficult to scale up and keep the quality without it getting contaminated with sand and debris.”
But Jonathan does believe that seaweed is a food resource of the future: “As long as it is managed carefully, seaweed has 3-4 times the nutritional value of any land-grown vegetable; it doesn’t require any land to grow it and requires no feeding or pesticides. Laver seaweed has been part of the Welsh culinary scene for generations and is used in Japanese Sushi – why not elsewhere, too.”
You can find out more at: www.beachfood.co.uk.