By : NASRIN MODAK SIDDIQI
At the Ferry Wharf in Mumbai, while waiting to hop on to the RoRo service for Alibaug, one can pick a quick sandwich or bite into a small pizza from a food truck called Cantina by Flamboyante. The open-air seating atop the food truck is its owner, Amrish Arora’s idea. “We wanted people to have an option for a quick, fuss-free snack and also to be able to sit and relax for a bit, time and weather permitting, of course,” says Arora who was extensively involved in the design and execution of decisions while working with the Foodtrucker team in Pune that brought Arora’s ideas to life.
Sachin Ugale, Founder and Co-owner, Foodtrucker Engineering LLP, is an enterprising man. A background in Hotel Management and Catering gives him the advantage in the field. He saw the scope for better product and customisation in the food truck space and jumped on the opportunity. So far, the company has worked on more than 200 food trucks - in different shapes and sizes. In fact, the company finds its roots in Ugale’s own search to customise his food truck. “We knew what we wanted, but there was no single point of contact to provide us with the expertise of building a food truck. So, I took things into my hands, started designing food trucks in 3D, got hold of around 10-12 service providers, and finally got the truck designed as per my liking. In 2012, this cost us around INR six lakh. When we sold the truck, we made a good profit. However, we also had tons of enquiries on making food trucks - that’s what prompted the shift from hotel management to automobile in the MSME sector in 2015 and a year later, the company was formed. We believe teamwork and a keen interest in problem-solving and adoption of new ideas and technology have played a huge role in our success,” says Ugale who already has bagged their first international order for designing a food truck. Foodtrucker’s latest feather in their cap is the food truck designed for Marriott International for their Marriott on Wheels campaign. The truck has already travelled to six cities - Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Lucknow, Madurai, Kochi, and Pune - crossing 7038 kms. The trucks are a testimony to the handwork of the team at Foodtrucker.
When Restauranter and auto enthusiast Ashesh Sajnani started a food truck in 2015 he was running five restaurants around the city and wanted to take a break from the brick and motor space to do something fun and innovate. “We had seen food trucks during our international travels and that was also the time when the movie Chef had released - it ignited the flame in us to start the Bombay Food Truck.” Sajnani also co-founded an umbrella body with some like-minded people with the idea of bringing together people who believed in the concept of food trucks and wanted to be a part of this journey. “If one has past experience in the F&B industry - in the kitchen and with menu design - then running a well-designed food truck, is a walk in the park,”says Sajnani.
Ugale tell us, “The key to a successful food truck business is good menu engineering - being clear about the menu and food type, right from the start is crucial in building a good food truck. This paves way into deciding the size of vehicle as that would also include decisions like the number of working people to be accommodated inside the food truck, the equipment sizes, etc. Having a decent sized truck is helpful to scale menu items, operations and sales. Next up is to do the budget planning - it is important to make a clear plan to allocate funds for vehicle, its customisation, and power requirements, etc.” Sajnani agrees. Before starting a food truck, the big checklist should include, “knowing your menu, working on equipment layout, understanding target audience and location, location, location,” he adds.
One of the best ways to learn about the food truck business is to check out the existing ones, talk to the owners for an insider view of the business and learn from their experiences. However, from the modification point of view, Ugale believes it is very crucial to understand the type of materials [that will be] used in your truck. “Factors such as interiors, exteriors, durability and safety helps one make the right choices. Food grade stainless steel is the recommended material for the food truck’s interiors because of its durability and safety factor, and also because it has a worldwide approval. From the operations point of view, fire safety, food safety, HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) practices are important. In addition, general electrical know-how is a boon and if you know equipment handling, especially operating minor tools it will save you time and money - you will eventually learn [this] in a few days,” he says.
A good graphic designer who can understand your concept can render your dream food truck graphically. Most food trucks prefer cherry reds, bright oranges, dark greens and jet blacks with fun typography to draw attention. Ugale says, “Making trucks and building a brand identity is crucial part of promotion and brand value in the long term. Having an attractive food truck helps it stand out and be noticed on the streets, thereby helping business. However, the most important thing is you have to take it as seriously as a restaurant. Make sure you have not just a good food consultant but also somebody with an automobile or mechanical engineering background on board as that is a huge advantage.”
Ratan Rajendra Khanna, owner Chalta Firta Dhaba, who has built several food trucks so far says having a robust team of financers, graphic designers, welders and mechanical engineers is the way to get the truck of your dreams. For instance, “when the vehicle is used as a stationary power supply, there will still be maintenance costs of the engine,” he says.
Buying or building a new food truck is a worthwhile investment that will help avoid costly repairs down the line. Besides, you can customize it to your specifications for that fresh, clean, and polished appearance. Also, with used food trucks, you may have trouble finding a vendor willing to customise it according to your specifications because they may not know about the changes that had been carried out by the previous owner.
The vehicle cost (new or used) constitutes 90 per cent of the total cost; add to that the actuals of customisation and power. “A small truck costs around four-five lakh for about 8x5 feet usable kitchen space. As the size increases, the cost too increases, however this is for a standard food truck. You can also opt for a minimalistic design if you’re on a tight budget.”
Khanna believes there is a lot that can be done in the food truck space and these small businesses when streamlined can be provide great opportunity for small vendors with big dreams and good products. “Before starting a food truck, one should not only know the menu, the locality, the people they are serving and whether their product will be in demand in that area but they also hey need to sort out the working space of the kitchen, electricity, water, and parking issues. As for the costs, the sky is the limit because everything depends on your creativity and imagination. Even a tempo could cost anywhere between INR one lakh to 50 lakh,” he says.
Sajnani says, “Bombay food truck cost us around INR 16.5 lakh. (Price of the truck included.) Understanding the fit and the layout of your kitchen equipment is key…we recommend using induction burners. There are a few across the country who’re in the business of modifying food trucks, and it really depends greatly on which part of the country you’re in, and how much you’re willing to spend on building that dream food truck of yours.”