Now with two* cookbooks and over 250,000 Instagram followers, Mob Kitchen has become an ever-growing success. We sat down with Ben Lebus, founder of Mob Kitchen, delving into his music tastes, his journey so far and discussing what’s in store for the Mob in 2020.

For the benefit of our readers, could you briefly summarise what Mob Kitchen is.

Mob Kitchen is an online food platform where we create food videos, all affordable, accessible and delicious recipes. Our target audience is students and young professionals wanting to cook good, healthy food on a budget.

You’re currently working on your latest project, Mob Blends. What was the inspiration behind this?

Oh yeah. Absolute fucking failure. We’ve got such a big audience now and our primary business model at the moment is branded content, meaning we work with all types of brands; Sainsburys, Coop, Unilever brands, Heinz etc. They all pay us to appear in our food videos so we can create videos around their products. So we thought why not also create our own products that we can market through our videos and our platform and hopefully get into retail and that kind of thing. It’s just been a real struggle getting something into retail and I think potentially we went for it a little bit early. It might have been a better idea to have done it when we had a little bit more capacity – so for instance having a couple of people working specifically on the blends. Yeah, it’s just been very difficult getting them into retail.

So are you completely cancelling it?

I don’t think cancelling it…taking our learnings about creating products and what retail are after and the key questions they ask when you go to meet them. So hopefully we’ll come back to it slightly further down the line.

Cooking is a huge part of your career. Does this stop you from enjoying it in your down time?

Yes I think it probably does actually. Although the way that I like to cook has never really changed…I hate getting home and spending more than half an hour cooking; so homemade lasagnes, parmigianas, as much as we preach about them on Mob, they aren’t something that I have personally loved doing. I love the idea of quick recipes that you can rustle up and I do still enjoy that. Definitely when I’ve got mates over or for my girlfriend I like spending time in the kitchen creating something, but when I’m on my own and I’m just having a quick dinner, the idea of standing in the kitchen is hellish.

When I’m on my own and I’m just having a quick dinner, the idea of standing in the kitchen is hellish.

Do you have a signature dish you cook at home?

The one that everyone is obsessed with now that I’ve been cooking a lot is the Vodka Penne. It’s so good and so easy and just an overall great recipe.

Music has a central role within Mob Kitchen – what do you listen to most whilst cooking?

 We listen to a lot of Jazz, upbeat Afro/House kind of stuff. All positive music I think.

So a real mixture?

Yeah but definitely up-beat stuff. I think when I go to a restaurant and in the background they’ve got Coldplay – Fix You, it has such a power to kill the vibe so for us its always upbeat, happy and positive music.

Anything festive at the moment?

 Yeah, we’ve been banging it out since mid-November. All the Bublé.

Do you have any favourite genres of music?

God its hard. I love Jazz, artists like Miles Davis. Afro-Jazzy/House kind of stuff…bit of De Frank Professionals. Techno. I like Techno a lot – maybe not in the kitchen but…luckily we’ve all got fairly similar music tastes. I love a bit of Patrice Bäumel. Felix is more into his kind of Hip-Hop…(Trap, as Michael calls it).

What was the inspiration behind your choice to combine food & music?

Well at the beginning of Mob I blindly had this idea that I had to create a video that looked and sounded exactly like the Tasty videos. I paid a guy with who I was mates with at uni to make 20 tracks for the first 20 videos that were all kind of…not so much elevator music but music where you’d listen to it and be like “oh my god who’s that track by”. I actually ran out of money and he could only make 10 tracks for me, so there were still 10 videos that were music-less and so yeah, I just had the idea to speak to my mates who were in bands and ask them if I could use their music. Some of the bands were great and so the videos with that music on looked AND sounded amazing, there was a real kind of energy behind it and the reception when they got uploaded was really great. So yeah, from that it just became the process that we’d approach a new band or musician when uploading a new video.

Yeah, I like the way with each recipe in your cookbooks you have a song that you associate with that particular recipe.

Obviously that’s in the first two books and we’ve just finished shooting our third book where the concept and the look of the third is going to be very different…but the music thing is going to remain the same.

Your cookbooks have been a huge success – are there any more on the way and which was your favourite to write?

Yeah they have both done really well – the veggie one has done really well which has been really satisfying. The first book was like “let’s get the Mob concept into a book” but the second was more of a kind of business approach – how can we replicate the success of the first book, what trends are doing well at the moment, what are people after etc. So Veggie Mob has done incredibly well. Our third is going to be called ‘Speedy Mob’ and every recipe is going to be able to be completed in under 12 minutes. So beating Jamie by 3 minutes! It’s not going to be so closely stuck to feeding four for under a tenner, even though all the recipes will still be very affordable and accessible, but it’s all about the super speed.

12 minutes. That is really quick!

Yeah, it’s not going to be a relaxed cooking process, you’ve got to be head down gunning it. But every recipe has been tested and developed three or four times and someone has done every recipe in under 12 minutes.

I mean, I have no idea how recipe writing works or the process behind it…

I didn’t write any of the recipes in the third book. But we got an amazingly talented chef called Sophie Godwin to write them for us.

I think when I go to a restaurant and in the background they’ve got Coldplay – Fix You, it has such a power to kill the vibe

What would you say has been the greatest success of Mob Kitchen so far?

Greatest success of Mob Kitchen so far…I think getting to where we are now feels like a huge success for me. I mean, having started in just Mum & Dad’s kitchen…

How long ago was it that you started?

So I launched the channel in October 2016, so just over three years. Now we’re in a studio with four of us working full time, we’ve got a part-time group of about three or four, it feels like there’s a team of us now in our space, in our own studio and set up. I absolutely don’t take for granted that every day we can come in and ultimately do whatever we want, film whatever we want and collaborate with whoever we want and that freedom for someone of my age is quite rare – for ALL of our ages quite rare and it’s a lovely thing.

We are currently loving your Guest Mob series. Has there been a particular guest you have enjoyed hosting the most?

Love to hear that! Always nice to hear the positivity. It’s a new format, really. The Guest Mob series and Street Mob series are both new formats and they’re the only two we’ve done outside of the overheads that have really worked. It’s been brilliant. My favourite Guest Mob episode has probably been José Pizarro – he’s a legend so it was really cool getting him into the studio.

So do you ask people to come in or do they reach out to you or is it a mix of the two?

Kind of a mix of the two. Tommi Miers, founder of Wahaca, her PR agency got in touch with us and said they’d love her to come in. With José Pizarro, I walked past him in Bermondsey, ran back to the studio grabbed one of the books, ran back and gave it to him and said, “We love you and your stuff, here’s my book would you like to come in and cook and episode with us” and he said yeah! So a little mix of the two really.

Any other favourites?

FelixLiam & Selasi – absolute bake off legends

Michael – I reckon mine would have to be Tom, who set up Fry Up Police

...that freedom for someone of my age is quite rare – for all of our ages quite rare and it’s a lovely thing.

Has there been a particularly tough part about your journey as of yet?

Mob Blends wasn’t tough…the first year was tough. Now we have constant stuff coming in, new work opportunities, emails, everything feels like we’re at the centre of it all. At the beginning that absolutely wasn’t the case. I mean, I was messaging and emailing everyone under the sun in the food world and no one would reply, no one would care.

I was shameless, I didn’t care so much about the fact they weren’t replying it was just the fact the overall feeling of you putting SO much out there and no one was giving you any attention or giving you anything in return and just having to stay resolutely certain inside yourself that what you were doing is right and going to work – because I wasn’t getting that gratification from anyone else. One of my best mates recently said, “I was just thinking back at that beginning period and how I was absolutely terrified it wasn’t going to work because you put so much out there and if it hadn’t of worked it was so public…”

So yeah, I guess that first year where you’re really struggling trying to make a name for yourself and push it and not really getting much in return was pretty difficult.

When did it first start picking up then?

There was never really a big viral moment. You know One Pound Meals? He went from 0-150,000 followers overnight. He says he was commenting a certain number of times on certain posts to trigger an algorithm, which I think is sack…he just got lucky and it went viral. Some people go viral and that’s amazing for them – we never had that so it really was just a gradual build. I think in the long run that’s done good things instead. You know when Chicken Connoisseur went viral, everyone was obsessed with him and now he’s nowhere really to be seen. I think a good thing about a slower build, even though it’s longer, is that people build a real connection with your brand. We had a few moments – we got a couple of big pieces of press in The Mail Online & The Evening Standard, which slightly put us on the map – that was around Feb 2017. I sent emails out to 500 journalists and those two both replied and said they’d do a piece and suddenly after that there were emails from literacy agencies and publishers, so that felt like a bit of a moment.

Ultimately… I was always praying for that viral moment to happen as it was slow and fairly excruciating at times. We spent so much money on Facebook Marketing to try and get our page out there and it would have been nice to have circumnavigated that cost but it’s all been worth it in the end.

What’s next in store for Mob Kitchen?

So we have a three-pronged approach for 2020:

Number 1; we have just bought and built out a food truck, the Mob truck. It looks amazing and it’s more of a marketing tool rather than us actually trying to make it as a food truck business. So we’re going to be able to go around freshers, festivals and our brands are going to be able to pay to sponsor the truck so it’s going to be a really great new revenue stream.

Second one; we’ve got a massive new website where the Mob are going to be able to make profiles on the website where they can save their favourite recipes. It’s got much better recipe searching tools and make little ‘menus’ in their own profiles – Vegan, Veggie etc. So we’ve got an amazing website coming.

The third; we’re developing an app that’s a slightly different idea, different brands, different name and it’s more about community recipe uploading…without giving toomuch away.

So that’s next year! We’re just locking in which agency we’re going to be working with for the app. I’m just so impatient…which can be great at times but also can be a bit of a downfall when trying to create a reliable and sturdy business. My dad runs the finances for Mob and he’s a VERY pragmatic man. He’s always like take your time, chill and relax.

But anyway, the truck, the website and the app and then we’ll see whatever 2020 holds. We’re actually potentially going to be working on another book too. The beautiful thing is about Mob is that there are constantly new ideas and we’re constantly looking at new things. Hopefully once we start building our team we might be able to look back at Mob Groceries and Mob Blends.

I was messaging and emailing everyone under the sun in the food world and no one would reply, no one would care.

Lastly, please may you recommend a favourite song you would  like to recommend to our readers via our playlist

We’re absolutely obsessed with Bare Jams in the studio, they’re just amazing. Our absolute favourite is Fish Bowl.

When I’m on holiday and I go on runs listening to this song I think about how in four years time we’re all going to be at the top of a massive media empire and have huge parties revelling in our success…

Both of Ben Lebus’ cookbooks can be found on their website. Published by Pavilion Books Group Ltd. #JOINTHEMOB 

About The Author

Connie Morphet

Connie Morphet

Connie grew up all over the world and spent her uni days in Manchester studying Social Anthropology. Now working as a Social Media Exec in London, she spends her free time eating out, going out and listening to music. All three of which highlight the foundation of EAT HEAR; music and food should be explored together!

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