Ahead of the return of Hitchin's beloved Street Food Monthly, Comet reporter Dan Mountney takes an inside look at the town's thriving food scene, and the businesses that have made it such a success.

When you take a stroll around Hitchin, you'll notice a few things. Maybe it's the cobblestone streets in the town centre or the stunning historic buildings. But for many, it's the abundance of incredible street food restaurants.

It's a scene that started out as nothing, but has grown and thrived, providing incredible grub for not just the town's residents, but for food bloggers and hungry punters who come from across the UK to see what it's all about.

They say Rome wasn't built in a day, so how did Hitchin become the place to be for street food? It started with one man and a vision.

The start

Back in 2010, Matt Bean visited San Diego and fell in love with Mexican food. He wanted to serve up the cuisine as it should be done in the UK, and Cantina Carnitas was born.

The Comet: Cantina Carnitas owner Matt Bean.Cantina Carnitas owner Matt Bean. (Image: ©2019 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved)

Originally running a pop-up in Sun Street, the businesses was upgraded to a trailer that toured the country and provided food at events, before returning to Hitchin with a permanent home which opened in Bucklersbury in 2019.

As well as running Cantina, Matt had grander plans for street food in Hitchin. In 2017, he and former Victoria pub owner Victoria Kevans - who sadly passed away earlier this year - started Street Food Monthly.

The idea was a simple one. Gather street food vendors in Hitchin on the first Thursday of every month and feed the people of the town, and looking back on that first event brings a smile to Matt's face.

"I remember the very first Street Food Monthly down at the riverside and we were running off a generator and we lost a gazebo in the River Hiz," he told the Comet.

"We just didn’t know what we were doing and it was all quite comical."

The Comet: Street Food Monthly is one of the most popular events on the Hitchin calendar.Street Food Monthly is one of the most popular events on the Hitchin calendar. (Image: Street Food Monthly)

While Matt was getting inspired in San Diego, 2010 also saw the birth of another of Hitchin's beloved street food businesses.

Rowan and Hannah Patel opened Café 77 at 77 High Street in Codicote - hence the name - serving delicious burgers from an old second-hand food truck they had purchased.

By 2023, the business had won Best Burger at the British Street Food Awards, and set up a permanent home in Hitchin.

Café 77 was among the first vendors to pitch up at Street Food Monthly, with Hannah and Rowan describing it as "massively important" to their success.

"We’re proud to have been part of it since the early days," they said. 

"Way before we had a shop in the town it gave us the chance to showcase our food to the people of Hitchin and the surrounding areas – trying out new ideas and recipes and meeting other traders.

"We trade at bigger and bigger events now, but Hitchin Street Food Monthly remains an absolute staple in our calendar."

The Comet: Hannah and Rowan Patel of Café 77.Hannah and Rowan Patel of Café 77. (Image: Hannah Patel)


If Cantina Carnitas and Café 77 are the pioneers of Hitchin's street food scene, then Sam's Pizza is the new kid on the block.

Owner Danny Sharma started making pizzas at home during lockdown, and like many other businesses, he started with a gazebo at events and a pop-up in Bancroft, before moving across the street to a permanent home last year.

He cites the success of the businesses who came before him as a key inspiration, saying: "I think it’s been a knock-on effect of creativity.

"I’ve always had an interest in Neapolitan pizza, but seeing other businesses do well made me think I could do it myself. Seeing the opportunity helps drive the ambition.

"I started out with an oven in my back garden, then a gazebo and then a pop-up, but now I have my own place and Hitchin has allowed me to do that."

The Comet: Danny Sharma of Sam's Pizza.Danny Sharma of Sam's Pizza. (Image: Dan Mountney)

Sam's Pizza wasn't the only business to get started during lockdown either.

One the very day that lockdown was first announced, Charlie Wood-Jones had launched Cawsburger with a pop-up at The Groundworks.

Some would have viewed this a death blow for a new start-up, but it was a new beginning for Charlie.

"I worked in sales for a soft drinks company, but I was put on furlough," he explained.

"In that time, I did a lot of Pilates, watched Star Wars for the first time and started Cawsburger.

"Lockdown was obviously hard on all of us, but it gave people a chance to sit down and look at their lives, and then try something different. I don’t think we would be where we are right now if it wasn’t for lockdown."

The Comet: Charlie Wood-Jones of Cawsburger.Charlie Wood-Jones of Cawsburger. (Image: Dan Mountney)

Why Hitchin?

And like Cantina Carnitas, Café 77, Chicken George and others, these new businesses are thriving. But what is it about Hitchin that allows street food to be so successful?

Danny had a pretty simple answer: "The people from Hitchin are the best."

That was a sentiment echoed by others. The community has been key.

"It has flourished because of the Hitchin community," said Rowan and Hannah.

"People here have an appetite for independence and want to support small businesses which means they show up when it matters – both week in, week out to eat in the local cafes and restaurants and also to larger events that are organised in the town.

"Come rain or shine, people come out and support, which is absolutely vital to growing the street food scene here, and putting Hitchin on the map in the county and beyond."

The Comet: The community in Hitchin has been key to the success of the street food scene.The community in Hitchin has been key to the success of the street food scene. (Image: Hitchin Street Food Monthly/Facebook)

Matt agreed, saying: "This is a traditional market town, so it all goes back to community and the people who live here. 

"The town is so central for everything that goes on in Hitchin, and people can see at ground level how hard all the street food businesses work to provide them with the good quality food they get.

"Look at Chris from Chicken George, for example. Their heritage goes back to the early 1980s in Luton. We started back in 2011, and people know the story of these businesses and they support that.

"It’s down to the people here because they understand us and what we’re trying to do. That’s why it works."

As well as the community, Matt believes the history and the make-up of the town was important to the success of Street Food Monthly too, continuing: "Seldom would you get a town with a beautiful square in its heart, a place which can bring everyone together.

"If you look back hundreds of years at Hitchin’s great history, people used to gather there just as we do now, so to have this place where people can get together and have a good time really is a beautiful thing."


That sense of community extends to the businesses themselves. Rather than viewing each other as competition, there is immense respect for the hard work put in, with support and advice passed on.

"Supporting each other is so important. All these businesses graft and we know that, so the camaraderie is so strong between all of us," said Matt.

Charlie agreed, adding: "Competition is good, but we don’t look at it like that.

"We are good friends with Matt from Cantina and Chris from Chicken George, and although there are some crossovers with our menus, there’s more than enough business for all of us.

"Having all that choice brings more people to Hitchin. We get a lot of food bloggers coming up from London, and they don’t just come for us, they come for all the businesses here."

The Comet: Matt Bean (right) with Chicken George's Cheah.Matt Bean (right) with Chicken George's Cheah. (Image: Archant)

Hannah and Rowan believe a common understanding of where each business has come from has brought them all closer together, and that even the little acts of support go a long way.

"Many of the street food businesses that have bricks and mortar spots in the town have been on the scene for a while, and started as street food traders in trucks, gazebos and trailers," they said.

"We definitely have a bond and support each other however we can – whether that’s sharing ideas, or loaning each other a pack of napkins or a till roll when we run out.

"We’re lucky to be surrounded by good people, and it makes the hard work fun."

Who are their favourites?

Every Hitchin resident has their favourite street food spot, but who are the favourites of the businesses themselves?

"When we’re not eating burgers, Cantina Carnitas is often where we go on a rare night off," said Hannah and Rowan. 

"Their flavours are outrageously good, and they’re true masters of their craft. When we get stationed next to them at a street food event we’re always pleased as it means tacos for dinner."

The Comet: Rowan serving up Café 77's incredible burgers.Rowan serving up Café 77's incredible burgers. (Image: Welwyn Garden City BID)

It's a mutual feeling, with Matt admitting: "Café 77’s black and blue burger is my favourite burger ever. I have dreams about that burger.

"Amani Kitchen and their lamb fries is always a go to, and I love Chicken George too."

Cantina's got plenty of love, with Danny saying: "I like a lot of spice, so I’ve got to go for Cantina. There are so many different flavour options and that’s what I like."

Charlie agreed, adding: "My favourites are the wings at Chicken George, Cantina’s quesadillas and The Vic’s pizzas."

What next?

The growth and success of Hitchin's street food scene shows no sign of slowing down.

This year's Street Food Monthly calendar - which starts in Market Place on May 2 - is bigger than ever, with every event set to have a minimum of 10 savoury traders and a desert trader, two bars, live music and a DJ.

For Matt, seeing his idea grow into not just an event loved by the community, but also launching a food scene that has put Hitchin on the map, stirs up plenty of emotions.

"It’s so awesome to think back to when we started, and we had this vision for street food in Hitchin," he reflected.

"But look at it now, we’re thriving and it’s going to be bigger and better than ever this year.

"To go from having an idea and loving street food, to what we’ve got now is really humbling."