YOUNG VOICES

How To Break Into The Food Truck Industry

01/07/2014 13:51 BST | Updated 02/07/2014 10:59 BST

The food industry is a particularly tricky beast to tackle, especially when you’re dying to get involved but are find it increasingly frustrating that you’re not the next Jamie Oliver overnight.

Some make the bold choice of starting their own restaurants, but the new trend? Starting your own food truck. But boy it’s not a walk in the park. With the rise of food trucks around the UK, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing more and more of the popping up in places like Shoreditch and Leather Lane. They’re fun and certainly very different to going to the same boring chain that most people frequent every day.

But it’s not just in real life that food trucks are taking everyone by storm, it’s in the movies too. Jon Favreau’s latest creation, Chef sees his character Carl Casper suddenly quit his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), he is left to figure out what's next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his son (Emjay Anthony) to launch a food truck. Taking to the road, Chef Carl goes back to his roots to reignite his passion for the kitchen.

Article continues below trailer..

With the explosion of food trucks in our daily life and more and more areas for food truck’s to flourish (KERB, Street Feast and Eat St to name a few) we wanted to find out what it really takes to set up your own business in this ever-growing food truck industry by talking to five of the best trucks currently in London. Read on to find out their stories and what advice they’d give to newbies in the industry…

Anna Mae’s Mac N Cheese

Name of owners: Anna and Tony

Background: Anna Mae’s are famous for their pimped up mac n cheese served from giant cast iron skillets and rated amongst the best street food in London. Originally from the USA via Croydon, their big gold GMC Vandura nicknamed ‘Burt Reynolds’ has been converted from a 1980s day-van to a specialised mac kitchen that you can find at festivals, events and food markets around the city and the UK.

anna mae

1. What made you want to go into the food industry?

“We were both caught up in the 9 to 5, sitting on sweaty tube carriages and dreading Monday mornings so decided it was time for a change. Having developed a passion for markets and street food, travelling around the world in search of the best, we decided that it was as good a time as any to give it a go. Low start up costs also made it a feasible way of getting involved with the food scene, so we started off with a table, a burner and an idea – and that was it!”

2. What made you want to start your own food truck?

“Anna Mae’s had been going for a couple of years and had developed its own identity and vibe, and we had become known for our original take on mac n cheese. We wanted a truck that would really reflect that so it was a case of waiting for the right one to come along, having enough budget to do exactly what we wanted and it seemed like the right time. In hindsight it was a good decision to wait until we were more established as we knew our business inside out and could build the perfect truck for what we do, specifically the way we cook mac n cheese. The result is Burt Reynolds, our big gold mac truck!”

3. How hard was it starting up and gaining a social media presence?

“When we first started out 4 years ago street food as a trend was in its fledglings state, it had only just started to be something that people were gaining interest in so for us that was the perfect time to get involved and we have evolved along with it. There have been hundreds of learning curves and lessons learned along the way but this is essential to building a solid business, you need that apprenticeship, even the hard times are useful. Social media has been amazing for us and is a big part of the food scene in general; it’s easy to become a little obsessed with! Sometimes we tell Twitter the news before we tell each other!”

4. How are you finding competition with other food trucks?

“Competition has definitely increased over the last few years but its useful to see what other people are doing and how the industry is developing, and also keeps your own creativity flowing and makes you want to improve all the time. Competition amongst traders is an odd one as we all know each other, help each other out and spend time together so if someone came in with that aggressive competitive vibe it would be a bit weird!”

5. What made you chose the food you serve?

“We had fallen in love with Southern cooking after many trips to the States and loved the fact that mac n cheese was a staple part of the diet over there. We initially started selling pulled pork and homemade BBQ sauce but seeing there was nothing similar around at the time, we decided to make the mac our main offering as it was an original and fresh idea. It’s so versatile, you can posh it up or keep it simple, experiment with it, keep the veggies/kids and pretty much everyone happy. I love trying out new ingredients and recipes, my fave recently is the Big Mac(N Cheese) which is a homage to the American classic, and literally tastes like you're eating a Big Mac.”

6. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start up their own food truck

“Try and be original – it helped us a lot that we were the first pimped up Mac N Cheese in London and offering something new and different. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, they will help you learn and develop into a stronger business. Wear comfy shoes.”

Rainbo Food

Name of owners: Xochi and Ben

Background on Rainbo:

They serve homemade gyoza dumplings and fresh, crunchy Asian salads from our converted 948 Ford pickup. With their Food for Freedom initiative, 20p from every meal helps rescue and rehabilitate child labourers in Western Nepal.

rainbo

1. What made you want to go into the food industry?

“We initially wanted to find a way out of office life and quit the nine to five, and street food appealed to our love of travel and new horizons and our growing passion for good cooking and healthy homemade food.”

2. What made you want to start your own food truck?

“We saw that street food was really bursting onto the London streets in 2011-12 and we felt really connected to the scene and the community. Having spent the summer of 2011 running a chocolate van, we saw how many interesting people were coming to the streets with amazing innovative food and we knew it was a life that we should jump into. We wanted to offer an alternative to the omnipresent meat-in-a-bun fayre that still prevails and so we developed a menu and product based around what we love to eat ourselves that would be healthy, satisfying and super fresh, while giving back at the same time. Through our Food for Freedom initiative, we donate 20p from every meal sold toward the rescue and rehabilitation of child labourers with our partner NGO BASE in Western Nepal.”

3. How hard was it starting up and gaining a social media presence?

“Street food lends itself quite well to Twitter as our itinerant lifestyle demands updates and followers, so we just started tweeting and it came from there. The street food community is very strong and tightly knit, both online and in real life.”

4. How are you finding competition with other food trucks?

“We tend to keep our heads down and do what we do; our product is relatively niche and complex to prepare at a huge scale so we don't find many people offering anything too similar. If they do, great! More healthy lunches for the hungry city.”

5. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start up their own food truck?

“Make sure you make a product that you love and adore yourself. Not only will you be eating a lot of it, you will also need to have ultimate faith in its greatness and deliciousness when you launch. It takes time to get a following and it's a steep learning curve where disappointment and loss are almost always part of the process, so tread carefully and don't commit to enormous events with mind-boggling pitch fees at first. Take it slow and find your feet and your customer base before you plan to go big. Those early customers are so important and your story and narrative will really connect you to the public. Don't be shy to tell it.”

Gurmetti

Name of owners: Andrea Carletti, Carlo Pavesi, Guilherme Carvalho and Giacomo Bia

Background on Gurmetti:

Gurmetti sell fine Italian cuisine on Leather Lane Monday-Friday

gurmetti

1. What made them want to go into the food industry?

“The owners Andrea, Carlo, Guilherme and Giacomo are all enthusiasts of gourmet Italian food given their backgrounds, friends and relationships, and personal interests. One of the owners is also into the distribution of the famous black pig of Parma (for more information please visit La Corte dei Neri at http://lacortedeineri.it).”

2. What made them want to start their own food truck?

“Besides the passion for food we at Gurmetti are all proud and strong believers in the design of Italian craftsmanship. One of the owners also is an architect and designer, and has created street food mobile designing the vintage Italian Piaggio Ape with today's technology creating solutions catered specifically to street food and other retail opportunities. One day we all sat together and thought of the idea of bringing in Gurmetti as a way to benefit from all our different skills we had and the idea of bringing to London recipes and ingredients that are very specific to different regions within Italy, but also with the local London tastes in mind.”

3. How hard was it starting up and gaining a social media presence?

“We started based on trial and error and some of the experience of the individual owners be it in food distribution, finance, marketing, management, etc. We obviously used social media tools such as Facebook and twitter, but most of marketing came from word of mouth around London. Twitter is a good way to let people know where we will pop up for the next event. Our intention initially was to be present in London before the summer Olympic games, and from there we kept going and looking for opportunities to present our food and our ideas.”

4. How are you finding competition with other food trucks?

“Competition is always there, but from the beginning we wanted to be as unique as possible in our recipes, design and most of all the quality of our offering. We also try to focus when possible on the Italian cold cuts (salumi) that are quite typical from Italy. London is quite a competitive market and the street food movement of the recent couple of years has made it even more competitive. One aspect we found quite positive is that there is in general quite a cordial atmosphere among traders and after all it is a small community. The industry is made of very interesting people with very curious backgrounds and walks of life. Depending on the event it is important to coordinate with other traders and organizers to avoid having similar menu offers at a single occasion.”

5. What made you chose the food you serve?

“Our background and the lack of truly genuine Italian recipes and ingredients in London are the two main drivers of what we chose to offer. Initially we had quite a hard core authentic mix of recipes and ingredients with a concentration of tastes from northern Italy, mainly the province of Parma and the region of Liguria. Eventually we adapted some of our recipes to come closer to the local taste and demand of our public. We also have increased our offering of local ingredients in our dishes”

6. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start up their own food truck?

“Be persistent and come up with something that stands out, yet it is important to be a bit flexible with local tastes. Image is also very important, and obviously the passion for food and dealing directly with people. Food needs to taste good but also look good to appeal to a greater audience. Good communication with the public is essential.”

Capish?

Name of owner: Rachel Jones

Background on Capish?:

Capish? is a purveyor of fine Italian-American street food in London. Trading with KERB and Street Feast throughout the summer.

capish

1. What made you want to go into the food industry?

“Food has always been a passion of mine but little did I know it would one day be how I would earn a living. Like a lot of students, I left university with a degree and lack of direction. I knew I wanted to do something creative but ended up working in the music industry. Although I made some great friends during this time, I knew it wasn't for me. I spent a lot of time sat at my desk daydreaming about food: thinking about my next lunch, researching recipes to try out or reading blog reviews of new food openings. I started to become a bit of an obsessive but still didn't really have the confidence to make the jump career wise. It was street food that changed that in the end.”

2. What made you want to start your own food truck?

“During the said daydream period, all of these amazing food markets started opening up in and around London. I knew a guy, Simon from Luardos, who had been running a successful burrito van for a few years and started to wonder if I could do it too. I regularly visited Eat.St. Then along came KERB and Street Feast. I was hooked. It was more than just the food - it was exciting! You could feel people's genuine passion for quality ingredients, creative ideas and originality. It felt reassuring to be around others who were as obsessive about it as me. In hindsight, I know now a lot of people with similar stories, being disillusioned with their jobs and taking a leap into the unknown. I came up with a business plan, started researching suppliers and it spiralled from there.”

3. How hard was it starting up and gaining a social media presence?

“It wasn't easy. It took months of hard work, meticulous planning and researching before I had my first pitch and started trading for real. The social media profiles were set up early on and, although it took a while to gain momentum, as soon as I was trading, the social media presence started to build. I'm a big advocate of pictures speaking a thousand words and spent as much time as I could documenting all the trials and tribulations of these early days. Our followers started with friends, then friends of friends, before we eventually had a core group of people who seemed genuinely interested in Capish?”

4. How are you finding competition with other food trucks?

“There's certainly a lot of competition out there at the moment. Over the two years I've been trading it has exploded. There's more and more food businesses starting out every day and as street food becomes more and more popular I can't see this stopping. The competition is good. It keeps you on your toes and encourages you to be even better. The way I look at it is that if you dedicated and ensure your product is the very best then the competition is not a bad thing. People are always enthusiastic about the next 'new thing' but if the food doesn't stand up to the competition then the punters see through it soon enough. The better trucks and stalls will always stand out no matter what - and so they should. It's not always the slickest operators with the biggest financial backing and PR machines behind them that prevail in this industry. I've seen the biggest queues at the most unlikely stalls and it doesn't take a genius to work out why that is.”

5. What made you chose the food you serve?

“I knew I wanted to make hearty American-style sandwiches and soon realised through visiting various markets that there wasn't an Italian-American offering. Throw in a healthy Sopranos obsession and an Italian best friend and it was a no-brainer. The initial ideas stemmed from traditional Italian family recipes. Then we just started playing around with them in my kitchen, trying different combinations until we found the perfect sandwiches and something that would work on the street. Take our braciole - slow-cooked beef steaks that are traditionally left simmering in a big pot of sauce whilst Italian families would go to church. Instead of serving this on a plate of spaghetti we stuck it in a locally baked buttermilk roll, topped with a melted taleggio cheese and home-made pickled red onion. Much easier to eat on the go! Several research trips to Italy and America have since fine-tuned the menu including the introduction of panelle sandwiches and a vegetarian take on a sloppy joe.”

6. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start up their own food truck?

“Do your research, find your niche and go for it. And persevere, a lot! There were numerous occasions when I felt like giving up in the first 6 months. It was a real test. But if it's something you believe in then you've just got to keep on going. Expect it to be really hard work (both physically and mentally), for very little money in the beginning. And the hours aren't always sociable as you're often working when everyone else is having fun. But eventually you will reap the rewards, working for yourself in an exciting and evolving industry.”

Wahaca

Name of owners: Thomasina Miers

Background on Wahaca: Award winning Mexican street food restaurant Wahaca brings the spirit of Mexican market eating to the UK: respect for quality ingredients, passion for vibrant, fresh and honest food and the pleasure of sharing with others. Everything is ethically sourced so you can get messy with a clear conscience by sharing tacos and quesadillas, washed down with fresh hibiscus water or a delicious tequila cocktail.

wahaca

1. How did you get into the food truck side of things?

“We’ve always been about street food at Wahaca and we wanted to take that street food back to the streets. It gives us the freedom to visit festivals, events, and take the taste to the people.”

2. Why did you feel it was the right move?

“We thought it was the perfect way to get back to our roots and remind ourselves that it’s all about the flexibility to serve delicious, fast and simple dishes, prepared right in front of our customers. It’s been a great way to test out new dishes that then make it onto our restaurant menus.”

3. What advice would you give to someone who is just on the verge of starting up their own food truck?

“Keep the menu simple, do one thing really well and your reputation will grow and grow. And don’t forget to put the handbrake on when you’re on a hill.”

Well there you have it. Straight from the horse’s mouth. Starting a food truck isn’t easy, but if you have the dedication and perseverance that the owners above have then you’re in for a real chance in the food truck industry. If Jon Favreau can do it, why can’t you?

If you want to see Jon Favreau in action in his food truck in Chef, see it in UK cinemas now.