It’s easy to see why younger entrepreneurs are tempted into starting the business of the moment–trendy food trucks invading our city footpaths and obsessing every foodie in town–yes, I do mean one of those ubiquitous retro-style vans airbrushed with edgy graphics in the style of artist Damien Hirst and peddling an eyebrow-raising menu with items like ‘kimchi-angus falafels'(ok I made that one up, so don’t bother googling it).
With what’s imagined as ‘lower start-up costs’ and increasing connectivity, young people bursting with innovative ideas and hi-tech marketing accessibility can take the plunge easily while hordes of discerning diners get the convenience of fast, casual outdoor dining while enjoying quality, gourmet local produce. The same diners who are tech-savvy enough to stalk these food trucks via Twitter.
You can bet many of the same connected office executives eating out of the latest food trucks parked in our cities are dreaming of quitting their day jobs one day to start their own innovative food concepts. Especially after a day of hell at work!
So you want to be a wandering masterchef serving hungry hordes out of your stand-out gourmet food truck? While not disputing that it is an exciting and possibly lucrative venture if well-run and orchestrated (like most other successful food establishments), in this article we help to put things in perspective for you and also de-bunk the romanticised myths that the business of food trucks is an easy-peasy food and beverage business to bank your bucks on. Know what you’re getting into before you decide to commit. And most of all, try not to make the mistake many franchise buyers do–i.e. buying a job that works you harder than your previous employment!
Food trucks have become Australia’s most in-demand summer eating craze like the globalisation of fashion trends from beau monde cities like Los Angeles and New York. The surprise is gourmet quality, affordable international cuisines from anywhere around the world from Morocco to Mexico in areas where dining options have previously been limited, especially late evenings when tummies rumble for late night suppers.
Forget the dinghy stainless steel boxed truck pushing cheap ice popsicles at the suburban seasonal fairs, school fetes or the odd scanty old snack van poking with puffed fairy floss, chargrilled corn cobs or greasy, dreary-looking sausage buns from lacklustre glass displays.
Think of these new gourmet food trucks as show-stopping restaurants on wheels. They offer sophisticated menus with ritzy burgers you actually want to savour, not just eat on the run, like a soft shell crab burger from Hammer & Tong 412, or their lobster rolls with a classy luxe dessert to finish up like lavender yoghurt custard. Speaking of dessert—The Brûlée Cart offers mini pots of heavenly creme brûlées with exotic names like ‘chocCointreau’, salted caramel and lavender-honey, blowtorched to mouthwatering perfection.
Sydney’s CBD has also taken on a New York state of mind with produce-driven menus, promoting local growers and raising awareness for sustainable eating and living. An environmentally-conscious operator, Veggie Patch Van is one such notable true devotee of the sustainability consciousness. Serving up a cult-following heralded burger featuring a chickpea and zucchini fritter, beetroot relish, dill mayonnaise and roasted tomato ketchup, its whole food philosophy extends on the ‘paddock-to-plate’ movement. Offering a seasonally-sourced menu with minimally processed, full-flavoured cuisine aimed at reconnecting growers with diners, Veggie Patch Van is a collaborative effort between renowned vegetarian restaurant in Surry Hills and a Darlinghurst interactive design studio. Operating from a re-styled old Winnebago using recycled scrap material like stainless steel, sustainable plantation pine and recycled fencing that runs only on solar power and vegetable oil, it not only admirably preaches but clearly practices its organic and sustainable philosophy.
It seems consumer demand for hipster food trucks Like Veggie Patch Van are a burgeoning entrepreneur’s haven. The rise and rise of social media like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only help fuel the stalking of the hottest food trends on wheels favoured by steady city crowds. It seems the edgier the food and concept, the better. The best of them seem to offer what we won’t expect—like Round the Way Bagels with their french macarons and chicken marinated in spiced Cuban rum.
Gumbo Kitchen will feed your hunger for New Orleans-style Cajun food, while White Guy Cooks Thai has a simple menu of fresh, spicy Thai food. The Banh Mi Boys deal in crammed bread rolls and chargrill on the go, and Soul Kitchen Woodfired Pizza Truck brings the food truck edge to hipster suburbs like Melbourne’s famous St Kilda Road.
Melbourne, the trend-setting city where the craze and bevy of food trucks first rolled in, continues to take the lead in the feeding frenzy of our urban street food revolution. With its list of about 80 food trucks or so mapped out in apps like Where The Truck to help food truck sniffers pinpoint exactly where these armies of moveable feasts in their locale are headed or parked, the other estimated hundred or more are spread out throughout our other cities.
Brisbane is fast catching on too. The recent World Food Markets event at the Brisbane Powerhouse saw hordes of hungry, eager samplers of food truck-goers flocking for a bite of these delightful mobile meals that are changing our dining landscape. Brisbane’s Bun Mobile snapped up the 2014 Weekend Edition food awards with exotica like steamed white buns sandwiched with slow cooked black angus beef, grilled field mushrooms, crunchy lettuce, fresh horseradish cream topped with smoked black pepper.
Hunting down and sniffing the trail of food trucks is only half the fun. It’s a surefire way for diners to enjoy a social outdoor dining experience with a difference—much like how we love the energy and festivity of weekends enjoying seasonal market produce except it is also a new way to sample different gourmet cuisines in a casual atmosphere.
In Sydney the food truck scene has somewhat been dampened by strict council ruling either from pressure of competing local food businesses or the concern of rubbish disposal and littering. The shift in focus for Sydney food trucks is now centred on festivals and special events rather than daily street trading. The business of food trucks may seem prosperous yet the myths continue to smoke around. Not unlike tempting aromas wafting from some latest mobile dark-rum jerk chicken chargrilled with oregano sprigs and cider vinegar.
Is it a real cash cow for you to sink your teeth and life savings into, if you’re thinking of quitting your day job and jumping into the foray of food trucking?
Here’s the low down on starting a food truck business if you’re thinking of joining the army of meals on wheels—while it might seem like a low-stress, low-maintenance business model, that’s not necessarily the case. Like any other food business entity, the lack of rental doesn’t equate to savings or decreased operating costs. For example, food trucks usually run on 15 kVA generators needing to be fed with premium petrol that takes a tank every three hours.
Running costs for equipment and powering everything in a food truck isn’t minimal. Think bain maries, freezers, microwaves and under bench fridges. Food safety, after all, is a big concern for street food vendors. There are also warehousing (suppliers don’t deliver to mobile premises) costs, and more often than not, a physical master prep kitchen where on-premise ‘real cooking’ is actually done.
Fitting out a food truck or a converted caravan as a moveable restaurant premise with every precaution taken to ensure hygiene, food handling and storage, is no piece of cake either. It’s been said that you could take longer to fit one such truck than a 100-seat restaurant!
A simple reason is that it simply winds up essentially like fitting out a commercial kitchen, just on the back of a truck. Food truck business operators are still required by councils to abide by the same, often even more stringent standards. There are regulations in place to build a moveable prep kitchen on wheels to the criteria that any other food establishment would have to abide by. There are headaches to consider like exhaust fans and other similar technical issues of running a restaurant.
Another obvious downside is not having access to hot running water and needing to deal with disposal of waste water, in addition to a list of things that one wouldn’t naturally think of. Not when would-be entrepreneurs are meditating only on laughing all the way to the bank with their new food truck concept and dreaming of tossing gourmet taco after taco out of the windows of their spanking new money spinner along city footpaths, where hungry hordes gather to pour their wallets out.
While there is always a ready enthusiastic market for your next innovative food truck idea, these realities should form a crucial part to your planning if you wish to join the growing troupe of wandering chefs.
Kat Ngoi is a regular contributor to 360finance.com.au
This article was originally published as Wheely Good Gourmet Food and has been adapted for outofman.com