How To Set Up A Food Truck
A Crosstown Doughnuts food truck. Photograph by Maz McEwan. Courtesy of Crosstown
Want to jump on the street-food bandwagon? We consult the pioneers of London’s kerb-side culinary scene to get a flavour of what to expect.
Coming hand-in-hand with the growth of food markets, increased desire for authenticity and no shortage of would-be entrepreneurs quitting their desk jobs to dish up far-flung recipes from vintage vans, the food-truck industry is set to be worth $2.7bn by next year in the US alone. And as the standards (and sales of Airstreams) soar, many of the first wave of street-food startups are now graduating to permanent residencies and restaurants, turning their Saturday trading spot into successful culinary careers. Fancy having a go yourself? Great, but before filing your resignation, read on – below, we’ve collected five key lessons from street-food pioneers on how to do it properly.
Tap into a new niche
Even more important than that killer pun trading name is the idea behind it. The co-founder of Crosstown Doughnuts, Mr JP Then, started selling handmade sourdough doughnuts from a market stall on Leather Lane in 2014, and advises opting for originality. “Find a food niche you can own and make sure yours is truly the best,” he says. His own creations, designed to be a high-end accompaniment to artisan coffees, proved so popular they are now available in a dedicated Soho store as well as in Selfridges, Whole Foods Market and a network of stalls across London. “Ensure it’s relevant and already in demand somewhere in the world. London is a melting pot of cultures and is very accepting of international food concepts – if you nail it, the hungry faces will follow.”
Crosstown's sourdough doughnuts. Photograph by Maz McEwan. Courtesy of Crosstown Doughnuts
Focus on location
“Our food has a very specific type of clientele and you can’t find them just anywhere in London,” says Ms Laetitia Carion, co-founder of Le Bao, which sells Taiwanese-with-a-twist steamed buns from two regular sites in east London as well as at touring festivals. Ms Carion claims their initial success came from experimentation. “It works well for for those curious about trying new food and who aren’t worried about how much they spend in relation to portion size.” she says. “Street food in London is challenging as the competition is high and pitch costs are skyrocketing. The important thing is to stick to the sites that work for you so customers know where to find you and keep coming back.”
Get creative with branding
Hawaiian-inspired Eat Poké offers what co-founder Ms Celia Farrar calls a “laid-back version of sushi”. Healthy, fresh and customisable, poké is a relatively new option for hungry office workers, and its vibrant branding has been instrumental in its success.“You need to grab somebody’s attention to convince them to give you a try,” says Ms Farrar, whose background is in design. “We’ve tried to get across our values with a colourful and playful aesthetic. Other than that, it has just been about getting out on the street and in front of people as much as possible; once people try poké, they usually love it.”
Share the load
According to Mr Tom Browne, the founder of Louisiana-inspired enterprise Decatur, spreading the workload will save your sanity. “It might be your food, your baby, your business name and concept, but find someone who cares about it as much as you do and work together,” says Mr Browne, whose menu staples include chargrilled oysters and gumbo. “As the only person running Decatur, I’ve often pined for someone to bounce ideas off and to share the stress with – there’s only so much a loving partner can take without having a mental breakdown. Business partners can also shoulder the load, and will allow you to expand more quickly.”
New Orleans-style chargrilled oysters at Decatur. Photograph courtesy of Decatur
Expect plenty of heat
“There’s this fallacy that street food is one massive ‘booze cruise’ – cook a few ribs, have a few pints type of deal,” says Smokestak’s founder Mr David Carter. He is no stranger to the true strain of running a start-up food truck, having putting in 18-hour days to get his barbecue business off the ground. “Lager quickly turned to coffee, and you realise you need to make each and every mistake to learn the ropes. We would have done a thousand things differently, from what kit we brought in to what meat we sourced, but we had to make these mistakes to better ourselves,” he says. Eat Poké’s Ms Celia Farrar agrees: “I don't think anything can prepare you for the physical graft – especially coming from a desk job,” she says. “But the best bit about this industry is definitely the people; there’s an incredible community of street-food traders.”