From Crêpes to Cheques: How Chez Joel is taking on the world

Chez Joel has established a cult following among the students of Leeds. Gourmet burgers, handmade chips, famous original sauces and a viral food review video make this takeaway business one of the biggest, rising names in Leeds.

Joel has been selling burgers and crepes in the city centre since 2015, but he opened his permanent kitchen in March 2020. Since then, the business has been going from strength to strength and shows no signs of slowing down. 

The kitchen is located, charmingly, in the converted basement of a Hyde Park house, from which his customers regularly line up in queues reaching down the street.

The entrance to the takeaway is not hard to miss

It lies on Brudenell Grove and is very unassuming – if it weren’t for the vibrant smattering of Graffiti and wall art covering the outside wall. Joel’s menu hangs proudly on show at the entrance, displaying the ever-growing list of culinary options available for customers. 

There is a constant flow of customers and delivery drivers, who wait outside the kitchen door in anticipation of their orders. Inside the kitchen, it is fast-paced and busy – like any professional restaurant, with orders arriving on phones, tablets and tills. 

Humble beginnings

His story is endearingly humble; a Cameroonian-french man, with a deep love and a vast knowledge for food, visited Leeds and liked it so much that he returned to fulfil his dream of running his own restaurant. 

Joel’s love for food began as a child when he began to copy his mother’s cooking. 

“I started when I was very small. When my mum was cooking, I was copying her and trying to make the same things. She began to notice that I was doing it.

“When I was 6, she took me to the market, and at that age, she let me buy things. When I got to 10, I was going to the market on my own. She’d just write me a list and when I came home, I cooked the food.

“I went to school in Cameroon and I went to uni, but I stopped because I didn’t really like it. So, I decided to move to France so I could go to culinary school.”

Joel reveals that he was deported from the United Kingdom to France, as he did not have the relevant nationality status to live here legally at the time – nor could he start a business.

Joel seasons, mixes and marinades his food by hand

“I came to England for the first time in 2006, but they sent me back to France because they said I was illegal in this country.”

Joel seems to find the positive side of what happened, adding that his return to France allowed him to spend time honing in and perfecting his craft, making sure he was ready for his eventual return to the UK. 

“I’m actually grateful that I had to go back to France because it’s the time that I really sat down and learnt how to cook and got my skills together. My project was always to live in England and to own my own business. I needed to come to the UK first, to know how it was before I decided if I could live there.”

When he eventually returned to the UK in 2015, after gaining his French nationality, he visited his sister in Leeds for a short break. He warmed quickly to the spirit and friendliness of the city. 

“I said to myself; ‘The city is nice, the people are very nice. Also, opening a business here is a lot easier to do than in France.’

“I asked the council what I needed to do, to get the business running. So, I got a license from the council and I set it up with about 2 or 3 thousand pounds, selling crepes at a small stand in the city.”

Aside from his desire to start a business in Britain, Joel adds that many of his family live in the UK, a bonus for him. 

“All my family are here. There were just two people in my family who lived in France, but in London and Leeds we are 18, so it’s a big family.”

A growing business

In the years since his business started in 2015, Joel has added more and more options to his menu. He offers meat, vegetarian and vegan options for his burgers, as well as adding pasta dishes and street food options, such as chicken wings and fries. 

Chez Joel, at least in Hyde Park, is known primarily for its’ frankly fantastic burgers and fries.

Joel takes me to the back of the kitchen and shows the behind the scenes processes that go into his food. Piles of potatoes lay next to a large machine that cuts out his handmade fries, ready to be submerged in the frier. 

Handmade, golden fries are a hugely popular item on the menu

Lightly toasted brioche buns encase fresh vegetables and homemade coleslaw, along with melted cheese and an outstandingly fresh meat (or veggie) patty. Yet, all this couldn’t be complete without Joel’s signature, homemade burger sauce (the ingredients of which are kept a secret). 

The food comes at a similarly irresistible price (especially for students) at only £5. 

Jess, who runs the social media side of the business, explains how the burger sauces are so popular that Joel is looking for a way to sell them as stand alone products.

“Joel makes the sauces himself. We get so many people asking for extra sauces, especially extra burger sauce, so Joel is working to be able to sell them separately. In the same way you get Nando’s Peri Peri sauce, so he can sell them online,” Jess says. 

Chez Joel’s burger sauce has proved hugely popular among customers

He is also keen to show me the marination process, as he hand mixes his fresh ingredients to make the perfect burger patty, which goes straight to the grill. 

This emphasis on fresh, handmade food is evident at every stage of the cooking process, even at the point of collection, as Joel welcomes his waiting customers with a chat and a smile. 

It’s not hard to understand why this place is such an undeniable hit with the local community. 

In the summer of 2020, Joel spent time handing out flyers on Woodhouse Moor and around Hyde Park, publicising his restaurant’s new and permanent location as well as the deals and offers available to customers.

Word of mouth quickly increased the notoriety of the business and soon, more and more people were enjoying takeaways from the restaurant. 

Before the restaurant was listed on deliveroo and Just Eat, Joel relied on Whatsapp, texts and telephone calls to receive his orders. Soon it became clear that using services such as Deliveroo was the fastest way to grow publicity and the business itself. 

His permanent kitchen opened in March 2020, before which he was cooking and selling his food from a truck in Leeds City Centre. The truck has become somewhat of a local celebrity in the last few weeks, with the help of social media and a certain internet-based food reviewer. 

A recent video uploaded to youtube by ‘Rate My Takeaway’, in which a man travels the country and unsurprisingly, eats and rates takeaways, features Joel’s french tacos from the commercial street truck. 

Demand has soared for Joel’s French tacos, following the viral review

So far, the video has gained over 400,000 views in the space of just under three weeks, sending demand for the tacos through the roof. 

Jess says “everybody’s been asking for the french tacos” since the review appeared. 

The power of social media means that independent businesses, such as Joel’s, can gain a huge amount of free publicity within a short time. This level of potential social outreach and marketing possibilities is not lost on Joel and his team.

Chez Joel has amassed over 2 and a half thousand followers on Instagram, to whom he showcases the best his menu has to offer, as well as his prizes and offers. His £5 student meal deal is unsurprisingly, highly popular. It’s also not uncommon to see Instagram stories featuring Joel and his team enjoying themselves in the kitchen. 

Pandemic worries

Although takeaway restaurants have had the opportunity to thrive during the pandemic, the first lockdown couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for the business.

“It [the pandemic] was horrible. Very horrible. I got this shop two weeks before lockdown started, so I had to pay the rent and everything.

As takeaway food services were deemed essential throughout the pandemic and were allowed to remain open, Joel could support the costs of the new kitchen by serving his customers at a time where many businesses were forced to cease trading. 

Like many takeaways, Chez Joel was able to deliver to customers throughout the pandemic

“In town, we had to close the truck because nobody was going into the city. But, here we have been doing takeaways throughout the pandemic, so it worked out ok.”

Although the pandemic has caused a huge financial burden for all businesses, small and large, Joel plans to take his business to new heights – and new cities. 

Big plans

Joel says how he wants to serve his own pizza in the near future, and he warns the moment his first slice is served, the days of Dominos in Leeds are numbered. 

“Don’t worry, when I open my own pizza place here, Domino’s will close in Leeds. 

Joel emphasises his ability to make pizza from scratch.

“I’ve worked in Italians, so I know how to make pizza from scratch. I make my dough, I make the sauce – but no pineapple. I’m sorry but in the UK, you guys eat the worst pizza, My God,” He jokes. “When I see the pizza from Greggs I think: Is that Pizza?! or is it something else?”

The restaurant has seen exceptional sales following the move to Hyde Park

With all jokes aside, Joel has set his eyes on Manchester, as the next place on the list of ever-expanding business plans. Boasting a massive student population and fantastic business opportunities, it seems the most logical step forward in the growth of Chez Joel. 

For now, Joel’s new crepe kiosk is opening in the city centre in Dortmund square. He is expecting it to be ready this July. 

Joel touches on his background in patisserie training, having trained at Gregoire Ferrandi, a renowned patisserie school in France. He hopes to open one in Leeds in the future. “I want to have a big patisserie! I’ve always got plans, man”, he explains. 

The student community

Joel beams about the kindness of his student customers in Hyde Park. However, he adds that while the majority of the students are honest, there are some individuals who take advantage of Joel’s goodwill.

“The students are very kind but some of them are a little rubbish – they cheat me sometimes. I trust the students, but sometimes they cheat when they don’t pay for the meal. Otherwise, they’re good.”

Frankly, it is shameful that people feel the need to not pay up for their meals. It’s an especially brazen act given the fact that student deals are already discounted to a fantastic value for money. Joel assures that these individuals are within the tiny minority of customers. 

There are no signs of slowing down for Joel and his business. High quality, handmade food at a fraction of the going rate, a reliable and convenient delivery partnership and a personable and lively personality at the helm make this restaurant one to watch over the next few years. 

Joel reads his orders; his restaurant continues to go from strength to strength

Chez Joel’s huge growth is proof of the often overused cliche, that ‘hard work pays off’. If a business can be tested during a pandemic and come out stronger than ever, then there seems to be nothing in the way of Chez Joel’s future success.