Holyrood Secondary School in Glasgow grabbed headlines at the start of this month after becoming a little more like Hollywood with the installation of a US-style diner on-site.
It was designed and built by Falkirk-based Wheeliebox, which bills itself as the only bespoke catering trailer, kiosk and demountable kiosk manufacturer in Scotland, as well as the only UK maker of the “American Diner” unit. The latter was ordered on behalf of Glasgow City Council, offering a menu complying with Scottish Government nutritional legislation and aiming to encourage pupils to stay inside the school gates at break times.
It’s a case of so far, so good, according to Wheeliebox founder and owner Jonathan Peck, who says both the school and council are pleased with the result, and it has boosted the uptake of pupils staying on school grounds.
“We are very proud to be involved in what is a UK manufacturing first,” explains Peck, who calls the diner a “real labour of love”, six months in the making and involving in-depth work to make sure it met requirements by having no sharp edges, for example.
He adds: “I travelled extensively to track down suitable materials for the diner and ended up buying the majority of them right here in the UK.”
The unit has inevitably seen demand accelerate for the firm, which got off the ground after Peck retired from the oil industry, having started out aged 17 and working during the height of the North Sea boom in the 1970s.
I’m constantly looking to develop new ideasJonathan Peck
Despite initially finding it hard to settle on a new career, “eventually things just dropped into place and it just took off from there”.
At first he set up Edinburgh Trailers, developing and manufacturing basic catering trailers, but was inspired to start Wheeliebox as the market grew, spying the chance to expand and offer a wider range of services to the mobile catering industry.
It put to use skills he brought from his years as an underwater engineer, a profession he says requires knowledge of mechanical engineering, welding, gas and electrics, and employing these in remote locations around the world. “I’m taking that technology into what I’m doing now,” he says.
The extensive travel also helped develop Wheeliebox’s offering, “because I look at things in other places in the world and I think, ‘Well, we can build that or build it better…’ That’s basically how we started with the diner.”
Peck works with his stepson at the firm, with additional workers subcontracted “as and when we need them” to help out with, say, pipework, flooring or electricals. And the diner marked the biggest project to date by Wheeliebox, whose kiosk offering Peck describes as its “bread and butter”.
This is benefiting from the growing appeal of street food, a market with annual revenues in the UK of more than £600 million and growing by 20 per cent a year.
Among the company’s products are a kiosk resembling a coffee barrel that can be up to 20 feet long, while its customers include Gleneagles, the National Trust and Historic Scotland as well as various schools.
While the American Diner project has been taking up most of Peck’s time, he has also been looking at progressing the firm’s brand across Scotland and the UK, and has taken on a sales consultant.
As for what the future holds, Peck says the business is “always building different things. While we’ve been successful, I’m constantly looking to develop new ideas.”
Products in the pipeline include a “keg”, a kiosk that looks like a traditional whisky barrel that can serve food and drinks, while he is also preparing to build a diner decked out as a Flash Gordon-type rocket ship. “Somebody’ll buy one,” he says.
He expects the firm to again have a waiting list as it did before the recession, and says that this year “we’re probably going to be fully committed anyway”.
The business is also set to report a profit this year, while the diner has prompted enquiries from across the UK, mainly in Scotland, but also from as far afield as Tenerife and Malta.
More school projects are potentially on the cards, and overall north of the Border remains the focus, extending into the north of England. Peck also stresses that its products are not for temporary use. “We’ll build what people want and the only way we’ll build if it’s going to be long-term.”
Born: 1954, London
Education: Secondary school, college
First job: Working in a garage
Ambition while at school: Racing cars
What car do you drive? Aston Martin
Favourite mode of transport: Plane and sail boats
Kindle or book? Both
Reading material: Fiction
Can’t live without: Time out with good food and wine
What makes you angry? Incompetence in anything
What inspires you? Designing possiblities
Favourite place: Gozo
Best thing about your job: Ending up with your design liked by people
Best business advice you’ve ever been given? Work hard as there are no hand-outs in life and you will make it