Local focus: food trucks in Hawke’s Bay on the rise
A small business like a food truck can be easier to manage, but can also be filled with uncertainty.
The arrival of the summer sun brings a boom in business for Hawke’s Bay food truck owners.
In recent years, more and more food trucks have been popping up all over the Bay, offering a varied cuisine.
There are 61 mobile food businesses registered with Hastings District Council and 46 with Napier City Council.
The calendar of events, concerts and markets is good news for foodies and food shop owners.
“Hawkes Bay is an amazing place to have a food truck with everything going on in the warmer months,” says Shani Ehlers, owner of Shani’s Rib Trucks.
“There weren’t that many when we started our food trucks five years ago. But now it’s very common to see a new one open every two months.”
Tresna Wood is one of the new food truck owners. She opened her Flamingo Food Cart two months ago in Napier, and the setup cost around $55,000.
“I just wanted to be my own boss and do my own thing, and I love food,” Wood said. “So it was an opportunity to put some of my food there.”
Starting a mobile restaurant business is easier than opening a new restaurant. There is less investment required and more flexible schedules. Additionally, the business can move to a different location each week.
Ehlers owns a restaurant and three food trucks. She discovered that the catering business would die during the summer months.
“We tried to find a way to bring our food and services to people instead of always waiting for them to come to us.”
Ehlers realized that just having a restaurant is risky. Especially in times of uncertainty.
“When Covid hit, we discovered that the food trucks were classified as take-out, so we could still operate in level 3 while the restaurant couldn’t.”
A small business like a food truck may be easier to manage, but it’s also full of uncertainties.
James Owen has his Silver Bullet Food site on Marine Parade, Napier. He says the activity is very seasonal and unpredictable.
“If the weather is nice at the weekend, it will always be crowded. But if it’s raining or windy, it can be very calm.”
The business fluctuates from day to day, making it difficult to generate a sustainable income. Learning how to survive the colder, calmer months is essential.
Like restaurants, the mobile catering industry also requires a lot of time investment – from preparing ingredients to serving food, applying for permits and accounting.
And the long, erratic hours at work can be difficult to juggle with life at home.
Kerry Mackay was a chef for more than ten years, before launching Vagabond Jack’s food truck in 2016 and quickly building up a loyal following. But it had to close temporarily in January this year.
“I was getting annoyed that the business was invading family life. I was always answering the phone, preparing the food and doing the dishes. It took a lot of time for not a lot of money.”
Mackay decided to part ways with the business. He found a job cooking for students at Iona College, which has regular hours and vacations.
“I don’t wake up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘Do I have enough chips? “Do I have enough meat? And I have Saturday and Sunday off, which I haven’t had in over 30 years.”
Due to hospitality staff shortages and supply chain issues, those still operating are facing unprecedented challenges.
For Shani’s Rib Truck, the biggest challenge is staffing.
“We are desperately looking for leaders, and it seems really hard to find.”
Kassie Kanthavong started running her parents’ Asian Food Truck. She says the profit is not as good as before.
“Because inflation is going up. Everything is just going up. It’s not as much as my parents were making. But we’re still going on.”
Owen is also worried about ingredients and prices.
“There is always something out of stock. There is a shortage of chicken nuggets in the country.
“Prices just go up all the time, sometimes in big jumps. Oil is up about 300%. Dairy and milk are up about 30%. And this year alone.”
Like in other businesses, there are good days and bad days. But people in this industry remain positive.
“The most important thing is to try to grow your customer base, to keep your food and service as consistent as possible so that customers come back to you again and again.”