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Entrepreneurial Chef Fights Furlough Let-Down with Tasty Teesside Business

A chef who was left out of work when coronavirus struck has found the right ingredients to launch a new business, with support from Tees Valley Business, which has left Teessiders licking their lips.

Chef James Tulley, 41, was unable to be furloughed after starting a new job just as the lockdown came into force, but the resourceful foodie-turned-entrepreneur has tucked into his savings and started a food truck bringing restaurant quality food direct to doorsteps, with an extra slice of help from the Tees Valley Mayor’s Welcome Back Fund.

Tees Valley Business was launched earlier this year by Mayor Ben Houchen to provide easy to access advice, support, grants and loans to help businesses such as James’s start up and grow. It is a £35million programme to create jobs and grow local businesses, including a £20million investment fund. The Welcome Back Fund was established by Mayor Houchen to support businesses through their coronavirus recovery, to promote reopening and help to ensure they meet the “We’re Good To Go” national standards and adapt to the new realities of doing business.

Mayor Houchen said: “It was fantastic to meet James and sample some of his amazing food. I’m delighted that Tees Valley Business and the Welcome Back Fund are providing the precise help that businesses like his need to thrive and grow in our region. Small and medium-sized enterprises are the lifeblood of our economy and I’d urge the people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool that need advice, support or finance to help their ideas and innovations succeed to get in touch.

“James really represents many of the things people admire in Teesside’s entrepreneurs – being hard working, resourceful and ready to step up to the challenge. Independent businesses like Deja Food Truck will play such an important role in our area’s recovery following coronavirus. I’m behind them all the way.”

Each week Deja Food Truck sees James serve up cuisine from a different part of the world – drawing on his experience working overseas in a variety of eateries, and closer to home in the Michelin-starred Black Swan at Oldstead, which has recently been named the UK’s best restaurant by TripAdvisor.

Mr Tulley said: “When coronavirus happened I realised very quickly that I needed to use my skills to do something else and protect my income in order to look after my family.

“Deja Food Truck was born out of that need. I realised there was a gap in the local market for high-quality, fresh cooking – the type of stuff I love to eat as a chef but also what I know my friends and family enjoy.

“Mental health, food and fitness are incredibly important for me, so I knew I wanted to pursue that passion by offering fresh, interesting and high-quality food to local people. We’ve already had rave reviews for a broad range of meals inspired by Portuguese, Italian and South American tastes, among many others.”

And it’s keeping dad James very busy – working together with his family bubble to manage food preparation, orders, deliveries and advertising. He’s now eyeing up new premises, branding for the Deja Food Truck and collaborations with other regional food and drink businesses.

Zara Ford, growth consultant at Tees Valley Business said: “James’s story is really inspiring – he didn’t let a worrying situation get him down and instead put his entrepreneurial determination to use, quite literally road testing a business idea using his own skills and finance.

“The Deja Food Truck has proven itself to be a success and now it’s time to strengthen the business, equipping it with the means to grow and flourish. Using Tees Valley Business’ wide network of support and finance streams we’re getting James what he needs to realise the potential of his idea.”

Tees Valley Business is providing ongoing support and advice to James to help him grow his business and offer practical guidance on financial support that may be available. Deja Food have received a £1,500 grant from the Tees Valley Business Welcome Back Fund.