Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mia Tagg And Shelly Turner Are The Baltic's New Kids On The Block With pao! Streetfood

‘Pao means run in Mandarin Chinese, it’s a tenuous link to food but we just really liked the way it sounded. A bit like POW! As if you want to punch the air, so that’s why we picked it’, says Mia Tagg, Co-Founder and Head of Operations and Business Development at pao! – the hottest little spot in the ever expanding Baltic Triangle. 

But once you’ve eaten the food at pao!, the name makes total sense. The flavours are like a punch or a kick, strong, vibrant and colourful. The menu is full of lightness and energy and pao! is the word that sums it all up. pao!, a food truck located on the corner of Flint Street and New Bird Street in the Baltic Triangle and headed up by Mia and Head Chef and Co-Founder, Shelly Turner is a breath of fresh air to the lunch time scene of the Triangle. 

The menu which changes every day and is posted online at 11am is a mixture of street food calling from Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam and Cambodia and is Shelly’s passion. Mia says; ‘The way that Asian street food is served up is what we loved. They may only be cooking 2 or 3 things but they do them really well, and that’s what we wanted to do, to keep our food quite simple but make sure it’s refined and interesting, and that’s why the menu changes every day.’ 

Korean Kimchi Rice Balls, Xiaochi ‘Small Eats’, Dumplings, Rice Paper Tacos and Tempura pepper the menu and the staple Bento Box takes pride of place on the menu everyday as a staple which customers can build their lunch around, adding specials, the Xiaochi, which change daily. One day there might be pork rice paper tacos, and the next there might be tempura prawns with katsu curry mayonnaise or sesame, pumpkin and panko crusted tofu, and that’s what keeps the menu so interesting. 
Shelly and Mia have known each other for over 10 years, socialising but at separate ends of a large group of friends, then after Shelly returned from travelling last year and knew that she wanted to set up a business, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Shelly and Mia to start collaborating. The pair seems like the perfect team, both with wildly different and similar background and real areas of expertise and knowledge that work together. Mia’s career (after spending, by her own admission, a long time getting a ridiculous amount of degrees!), has always been centred on developing businesses for other people. ‘My first project was FACT, where I opened to Café, and then I moved down to London and set up a cocktail bar below jazz club, before moving back to Liverpool and working on dockside Delifonseca, before my biggest project, which was Homebaked, the community run bakery in Anfield. That was a brilliant project; it was really difficult but incredibly rewarding.’ 
And on separate but equally exciting trajectory, there is Shelly, who after studying European Studies moved to London to develop her photography career and ended up working as a chef. Mia says; (who we interviewed, if anyone was wondering why all the quotes are from one person!) ‘Cheffing down in London is really at a different level and Shelly ended up in high end restaurants and learnt a lot, running Look Mum No Hands and the canteen for the staff and volunteers at the 2012 London Olympics.’, Shelly then went travelling and when she returned, she knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to do her own thing and use everything that she had learnt.’ 

When Shelly came to Mia with the idea of pao!, they found Jane Casey and her spot District. pao! launched back in May and has been the word on everyone’s lips since. Mia says; ‘We’ve had a great response, more and more people and coming down and we’ve already got regulars.’, and the duo have recently introduced BBQ Thursdays at pao! and teamed up with their landlords at District, Beaten Tracks, The Bombed Out Church and are confirming line-ups for the following two events: a Thai BBQ on the 23rd of July and a Japanese Grill on the 30th of July. 

So how did The Women’s Organisation get to meet pao!? Shelly had previously worked with us back when we were known as Train 2000 and got back in touch for her new venture and the team were put in contact with Business Advisor; Claire Pedersen. Mia says; ‘At that point we were just flailing around! We knew something was wrong with our figures but we just couldn’t put our finger on what it was. Claire spotted it right away and put us firmly on the right tracks. Working with Claire was great; she was so generous with her time, her knowledge and her contacts.’

And the future of pao! is incredibly exciting now that they are truly on the right tracks. Although they’ve come to the realisations that the food truck is suitable for the summer months, it won’t work as well during the winter. ‘We will have built up a reputation and people will still come down in the cold and the rain, but really it’s hard for us to be there for 8 hours, it’s tough being out in the elements and I don’t think it will work for us, we want to progress and we want something more solid, so at the moment we are on the search for that.’ 

The Baltic will be the place that Shelly and Mia will want to stay, and they are vocal about their support and passion for the area; ‘The Baltic Triangle really reminds both of us of places we know from London and from travelling. It’s great because there are loads of very like-minded people doing a vast array of different things. What we like about it is, that it’s very mutually supportive and there’s a real sense of community, even the places that should be out competition like Coffee and Fandisha, The Baltic Social, Unit 51 and Constellations. It’s really friendly, and we all have our own place. Everyone wants each other to do well, because we’re all independents.’ 

And what advice do the women behind pao! have for other women who want to start up their own businesses? Mia is clear on this; ‘Don’t be scared to be bolshy! Don’t be scared to show that you’ve got balls! It’s not unfeminine to be strong minded and assertive.’ And people that think it is? Well that word isn’t for this interview! If you want to find out what they are, go and ask Mia yourself! Head down to pao! which is open Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm, grab some of their delicious food and have a chat to the girls. Because they’re not going anywhere fast! 

If you’ve been inspired by Shelly and Mia’s story, and would like some advice and support on starting up your own business, or growing the one that you’ve got already, then get in touch with us! You can email us on or ring us on 0151 706 8111.

pao! Contact Details


Photo Credits to Jane MacNeil and Pao!

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