Having established itself as a continent popular for ‘street eating’ where its people have no qualms standing or sitting by the alleyway to enjoy their local delicacies; it would only be a matter of time before the modified food trucks enter the fray. With a larger capital and better understanding of commercial kitchen equipment, truck design as well as marketing and advertising strategies, these entrepreneurs are opening up their community to global flavours and new eating experiences. We tracked down some food trucks in Malaysia and spoke to different trucks from our neighbouring countries to find out more.
Italian flavours at Pizza Aroy
When pizza in a cosy “mom-and-pop” joint or any jazzed up chain pizza restaurant is the norm, this is one truck that takes the heat outdoors by selling wood-fired pizzas from their truck. Willy Schranz, the advisor considers themselves as street food vendors offering upscale, international and freshly prepared food at a good price. Although pizzerias are likely to be profitable in most places, Pizza Aroy declined to invest in property it has no ownership over due to short term rental contracts, high taxation and rental it had to contend with. Coming from the food and beverage service background, Willy thought about traditional ways to captivate the audience and the wood fired oven is surely doing a good job. Operating from a truck fixed at a home base, Pizza Aroy travels only when clients engages it for an event. Modifying a standard utility truck, the owners welded an imported wood-fired pizza oven to the surface while a spot-welded oven exhaust system taller than the truck completes the operation side of things. Pizzas are baked upon order, the team spends 4 hours on preparing sauces, toppings and the pizza dough in its separate kitchen before heading out for an 8-hour service. With the exterior decorated with Italian flags, a truck that stands out, one will definitely not miss sighting the truck for a taste of Italy in the Land of Smiles.
The scent of seafood on the charcoal grill fills the air where the Summer Street truck is parked as patrons huddle around a charcoal with their choices of “grill-ityourself” seafood. Although none of them had experience in F&B, Kaab, V and Oil thought of starting a small hangout space near their office inspired by Japan’s izakaya culture of a casual establishment for after-work drinks and dining. It so happened that a som tum food stall owner next to their design studio wanted to cease operations; after some idea bouncing, spicy seafood was born particularly when seafood shops are rare in their area. Wanting the location but unable to obtain permission from the owner to build a permanent structure, the trio looked to mobile units and built their own truck using information and photos from the Internet. In terms of equipment, it is mostly storage space for seafood and cooking items like charcoal, grilling kit and hooking up to electricity and water supply. Kaab opines food truck is an extension of Asian culture and another way to sell food with style; reflected strongly through SUMMERSTREET’s identity where the ambience, truck and menu designs are well thought out – we’re talking to creative designers after all! The fun of simple food, fuss-free cooking and relaxing with friends has made the street where a modified Citroen is parked, a sensation.
Western-Indon fusion at
Jakarta Food Truck
Coming from a family operating an international chain of Nasi Padang chain for almost 30 years, Anglia Go. Auwines’ understanding of the industry gave her the confidence to take it to the next level. As most of its outlets were opened in malls, the business had to contend with fluctuating rental costs which was calculated in USD -that meant constant adjustments to operational costs and she wanted a business that would not depend on currency exchanges. Observing that Indonesians were beginning to perceive food as a trend, the time was ripe to introduce the food truck experience. Offering mostly western and Asian food, it does not discount local favourites for the office crowd (main customers), tend to sway to that beat. Banking on quick service, work starts from a central kitchen where stocks are cooked and meats are marinated. Everything else is cooked on the truck. The truck was designed by Anglia as she could rely on her knowledge; saying that it is not too difficult if everything is calculated precisely. Although regulations remain vague, she is optimistic for the government is engaging operators to work towards a guide. One thing she emphasises is the importance of installing a water tank and fire safety equipment. We echo her sentiments because this will give the government and customers confidence in such endeavours and raise the visibility of the food truck collective.
JAKARTA FOOD TRUCK
Loco Mama’s Mexican Wave
Hitting the streets with a restored classic 1941 Chevrolet 1-ton pickup, Edwin said equipment vendors constantly reminded him about Slim, Simple and Compact thus the first thing was to create a menu that can be delivered and served out of a truck. Noticing the absence of a Mexican food truck at that point of time, and capitalising on Jakartans becoming more aware and curious of specific “western” cuisines, burritos and tacos soon became a hit. It only takes about 60 seconds to assemble a burrito as 50% of the preparation and cooking is done in a regular kitchen, therefore the truck is fitted with just a few stoves, rice cooker, bain maries and tables long enough for the assembly process. Customisation of burritos, tacos or bowls has encouraged fellow Indonesians to explore their creative side. Edwin says that although Mexican dishes are relatively new in Jakarta; it would not matter the origins of food sold as long as it tastes good and is priced accordingly. The mobility of a truck gives customers a new alternative where otherwise they would be stuck with whatever restaurants available around them. Like any food truck owner, he faces the challenge of weather, finding new spots,space and power constraints that limit innovation to the menu. Factors of success, in his opinion would include engagement through social media, efficient operations, innovative menu and a good network with local enforcers.
In-bus dining at
Climb up a bus and go on a gastronomic adventure is what team Hungry Rover aspires for customers. Where usually you buy from a food truck and stand around to eat, this old mini tourist bus doubles up as a dining area. Founder, Romeo shared that they were looking for a small truck but found this bus to be a cheaper option and since their menu is currently compact and with extra space, they felt it made good sense to add seats to protect customers from sudden downpours. Marketing itself as a local food outfit with western fusion, the route chosen was to offer customers familiarity through local food, making decisions easier while the western twist is their aim to serve something unconventional. A menu comprising rice, nachos or fries topped with meat alongside sides of salsa, cheese and corn chips allows the team to prepare everything ala minute although they do pre-order bread, tacos and nacho chips. Why food truck? Romeo said his experience of running a food stall in a weekend night market was enjoyable but the ingress and egress of equipment was a bigger hassle than actual operations and found that a truck would eliminate that problem although it brings limitations of location. Hence, he finds that private events, festivals, weekend markets where the organiser takes care of everything to be good opportunities on top of their daily operations.
A marriage of car and
food in Mexikombi
One love soon led to another in the case for Mexikombi as the owners were very fond of Volkswagens as well as Mexican cuisine. Therefore, combining both only seemed natural. Of course, a Volkswagen wasn’t exactly made for food truck-ing but through trial and error, working closely with fabricators, it soon became the place for classic Mexican burritos and tacos amongst the Filipinos. Customers expect food from trucks to be served fast therefore all meats are cooked before operations and kept in food warmers at the appropriate temperatures. An order would average about 2.5 minutes as items like rice, special sauces and salsas are on hand for assembly. Going into the industry with only experience of selling small amounts of snacks to neighbours and friends, the team found that although there are laws at large regarding F&B industry, the government was not exactly clear on drawing the line on how to operate a food truck in terms of safety fixtures, licensing or vehicle requirements and especially logistics for the everyday business as concerts, bazaars or events
do not happen on high frequencies. However, it works closely with the Philippine Mobile Food Truck Association that helps the community come together, specifically for events. Team Mexikombi is positive that the buzz will continue in the country to bring up their profile.
Mexican by the curb – Curbside Cantina
Describing herself as an “interior organiser”, Noreen comes across as the ideal person to run a food truck. We are talking about the know-how of maximising space to work efficiently. It was surprising when Noreen said that space in a food truck is actually a luxury! This is because they also run a niche catering service for private events and work in all sort of spaces, once even at the backstage pantry of an event which was tiny and lacked the equipment but they improvised. Thus, instead of equipment, she opines her team is actually the “modular” one. Often located in Bangsar or Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur, Curbside Cantina’s market attracts working adults and families hence they found these two neighbourhoods to be their “safe spots”. The menu comprises true-blue Mexican food like nachos, tacos, chilli beef and while they do want to introduce new items, customers always return for the core. She opines that customer-initiative is a big part in driving business because Curbside Cantina only markets via Instagram, posting very minimally yet it has a good following. Admittedly, guidelines are still unclear but from the many discussions she has had with local councils; she realised that the uncertainty of classifying such businesses is causing the snag in licensing and regulations to be put in place but she hopes that with the segment mushrooming the authorities would see the importance and expand their efforts.
Kuala Lumpur welcomes the Cowboys
Residents of a certain housing estate might have noticed a wooden box emitting light smoke that smell of something edible. Well, they could have chanced upon Nizar of Cowboys Food Truck overseeing a wooden box that holds its now famous Texan styled beef brisket. Seven hours of smoking using a mixture of woodchips for added flavour, it is then loaded into the truck which is driven to various location for operations. Since its inception a couple of months ago, people have given favourable reviews for fried chicken wings, seasoned fries, po boy sandwiches and obviously, the beef. Popularity does not come without setbacks as the truck has been ordered to shut down in the middle of operations and impounded for a few days. Co-founder, Christopher says that unless regulations for them are in place, it is a challenge they will have to put up with but they are still able to maintain healthy profit margins with catering gigs and participation in food truck events where they can reach more people. He also shared the importance of layout because they received a truck that was not 100% the way they envisioned but eventually learnt to work around it. To minimise work and confusion, a simple POS system is employed where orders are punched in via an iPad and order tickets printed out via bluetooth connectivity. Currently a meat haven, Christopher says seafood is a possibility as they would not need new equipment for that and will attract a wider market.
COWBOYS FOOD TRUCK
THE LUNCH TRIO
The saying of “good things come in threes” are evidenced by three trucks who usually operate side-by-side. Operating in proximity of office towers most of the time, lunch can be a balance of fruit juices to go with your panini / toasties or pasta.
Where Malaysia is concerned, breads aren’t our thing for lunch. We might get buns for breakfast or as fillers but with a tagline of “bready to go” Wheeloaf’s freshly baked bread filled with tender pulled BBQ beef, cheese and pressed in the panini oven or a simple toastie holding surprises of rich pesto, chicken and melted cheese are amongst its crowd favourites. Its truck is equipped with a convection oven to bake the breads which have been knead and moulded in a central kitchen together with cooking of the fillings. Business Development Manager, Calvin Yeo said that bread offers expansion possibilities because they can think of a variety of fillngs and is versatile to be operated from a kitchen the size of a food truck. Also, they saw the opportunity where locals are beginning to see bread as
a wholesome meal option. Wheeloaf operates for lunch, usually targeting office spots and tends to head to residential areas for its night runs.
Oh My Fruit Juice! (OMFJ)
We can all agree that getting our recommended nutrients from fruits is not an easy task to accomplish everyday. Well, you could either do without or choose OMFJ’s eclectic mixes that also come with an affordable price tag. Founder Hanns used to work as a chef but always wanted business ownership and found food truck to be an ideal start-up avenue. Playing with a vast array of fruits, whether local or imported, all concoctions are personally tested by the team and Hanns said that some mixes have caused unsavoury reactions – citrus fruits should not go with milk or beancurd with honey. There is also method in the combinations that serve a bigger purpose above taste. Think power blends, cleansing, antioxidant boosters and so on. Depending on his time, Hanns might be tinker with pastry recipes to sell alongside the juices but they are not thinking of doing food at the moment. Parking itself with two food-oriented trucks serves to be a viable option, especially in targeting the corporate community who might recognise the importance of fruits but just lack the time to prepare them.
OH MY FRUIT JUICE!
In a 1-tonne size truck, one man feverishly fries up plates of spagetthi in an Asian wok and tops it up with either grilled chicken, fish, egg, spicy lamb and/or sausages alongside tomato-based or black pepper sauce. The portion is unabashly huge (possibly enough for two small eaters), reasonably priced and comes with the Asian twist of spicy kick and heat of a stir-fry; a sure hit for Malaysians who might liken it with their favourite plate of ‘mee goreng’ or ‘char kuey teow’. An expansion from an existing business, Spagme serves breakfast and lunch because they want to capture the office area where many people often lament the lack of food choices. When they are not part of the trio, Spagme can be found in other office-density areas.
COFFEE TO GO?
If you can bring food to the masses anywhere, why can’t you do the same for coffee? A company from United Kingdom, Coffee Latino is taking Italian Piaggio Ape vans and converting it into cafes by fitting in a full coffee machine system. This investment can even be scaled skinnier if you choose a handmade coffee bike. Coffee Latino has been commissioned by corporates or big players in the world of coffee like Caffe Nero to build them a coffee truck; as an extension of its brand. Founder Richard Allan told us that the company’ core business was actually mobile ice cream which was great in the summer but when winter hits, sales basically dropped and coffee became the idea for diversification because it was capable of sustaining as an all year business. This was especially so when “coffee shops like
Costa and Starbucks were trending in the UK and there was a coffee boom so we knew it was only going to grow and grow”, said Richard. The Piaggio Ape range comes in the traditional scooter van, one that opens on 3 sides and one that offers access from all areas for more space. Customers have been known to bring in all sorts of vehicles to be converted, which means you could very well own a one-of-a-kind mobile coffee cafe. By default, Coffee Latino can include a coffee machine in its package but as long as customers have access to electricity, they can fit in any machine of their choice; according to the space they have with appropriate ventilation. However, to be fully mobile, one would need a Dual Fuel coffee machine which leads to the company’s innovation of “self sufficiency without needing
water connection or power” – main power for the coffee machine is derived from the gas bottle / tank and electric power packs built into the mobile units. Not only a mobile unit saves landspace, Coffee Latino has also developed a clean, silent, energy-efficient inverter power system that is completely independent of the vehicle. Running on solar power and charge controller, the system produces low emissions and is devoid of the loud noise of a traditional generator. Although currently operating in the United Kingdom, there should be
no problem with the company shipping over your custom-built mobile coffee truck although it is looking for suitable distributors in this region to provide comprehensive services.