While the rest of the country may have a headstart over Mumbai as far as food trucks are concerned, the city is slowly catching up, with authorities wisening up to the concept and a food truck association in the works. Read on for the skinny on what it takes to roll out your very own meal on wheels:
Founders of the soon-to-launch Bombay Food Truck, Ashish Sajnani and Juspreet Singh Walia (the owners of PDT, Le Café and Eat Thai in Mumbai) knew that licences would be a stumbling block, but that didn’t stop them from trying. Having dealt with all the red-tape, they break it down for us. Here’s what you need to get started:
Shops & Establishment licence from the BMC
Approval from the Food & Drugs Administration (FDA)
NOC from the fire department
RTO permission for branding on your vehicle
How long does it typically take to acquire all of these? “There’s no hard and fast rule. It totally depends on the person processing your papers. We’ve got two so far in two months, but are still waiting on the others,” Ashish tells us. If you plan to do it under the radar, things could be tricky. “We’ve tempted cops with cookies when we’ve been in a sticky situation,” says Neha Sethi, who operated Sweetish House Mafia out of her Tata Nano a few years ago. “I usually parked inside the compounds of gig venues like Blue Frog and Sitara Studios. So many times, the authorities assumed I was part of the concert setup,” says Tavish Bhasin, from his experience of running The Hot Box, a weekend food truck from his Maruti Esteem.
Budget for a kitchen: Both Tavish and Neha used their home kitchens to run their food trucks and confess that it isn’t a sustainable option. “I was running five ovens for eight hours a day and it was exhausting, not to mention a strain on the resources at home,” says Neha. “My revenue was limited to how many patties and hot dogs I could prepare before I set out for the night. It’s best to operate with an extra set of hands, and at a location that is close to the kitchen you are operating out of,” cautions Tavish. Juspreet and Ashish plan to use their restaurant’s central kitchen for the same, and are also open to providing the space and resources for other people that will be starting similar ventures.
Be flexible, because you can: Changing menus at a restaurant involves updating menus, recalibrating inventory orders, and other processes. Running a food truck, however, will allow you to shuffle your menu to capitalise on seasonal, local produce. “If there’s a fresh, new summer vegetable that I want to introduce in the food, I have the freedom of whipping up a dish to incorporate it,” says Ashish.
Think smart: The fastest moving goods will always be dessert. The less involved, the better, says Neha. While people are starved for good non-vegetarian food in the city, you can’t ignore the vegetarian population of Mumbai. “There’s a reason pav bhaji does so well,” says Tavish.
Price it right: “Because it is still a ‘street food experience’, you can’t price your product too high, no matter how good your ingredients might be,” says Tavish, who incorporated Japanese hot dogs, Bacon relish dogs and chocolate chip cookies into his menus, all of which were priced at Rs150 apiece. “People will not pay beyond a certain point if they’re getting grub from someone in a truck on the street, so plan your menu keeping this in mind,” Ashish warns.
Customising the vehicle: When furbishing your vehicle, keep in mind that the equipment in your truck will decide your menu. Ashish and Juspreet bought a Force Motors truck which they fitted with a griller, double-basket fryer, an oven, refrigerator, hot plate, sinks, a 350-lt water tank and a cold bain marie. This works for the Bombay Food Truck, which will serve up a range of burgers, hot dogs and salads. The truck can cost anywhere between Rs10-11 lakhs and remodelling it will set you back by another couple of lakhs.
Design: “When you’re on the road, your vehicle is your only instrument of advertising, so the patterns must look clean, attractive and appealing,” says Neha. The Bombay Food Truck employed Huzaifa Lightwala from Studio 7 ( 91-9892185994, firstname.lastname@example.org). Sweetish House Mafia used the Magic Beans Design Studio.
While parking in a residential area might give you relatively fewer footfalls as compared to a commercial space, you are likely to get more business from passers-by and a chance to interact with your consumers for longer. “When I parked at Cuffe Parade, Napeansea Road and Juhu, I got a lot of business based on word of mouth,” says Neha. “Lower Parel is great for footfalls, but you have to constantly keep an eye out for cops, watchmen and other authorities,” Tavish tells us. Ashish and Juspreet plan on parking within larger compounds like Kamala Millls initially to capitalise on the crowds within the space as opposed to reaching out to people on the roads.
Contrary to popular belief, social media is not your best friend. While all three entrepreneurs we spoke to swear by social media to promote their businesses, they offer some words of caution as well. Neha updated her twitter feed to alert consumers about the whereabouts of her Sweetish House Mafia vehicle. It worked like a charm initially, but eventually tapered off. “The idea had its expiry date. There is only a certain time frame for which people will chase after a car for food.” Despite being covered extensively by the local media, Tavish Bhasin had problems when it came to inventory. “I started getting calls to cater for private parties, but I couldn’t do that plus keep up the business. Eventually, the hype you intend to create on social media could start to work against you, so don’t overpromise if you cant deliver.”