A fast-catching trend, hyped by the millennials and Gen Y, food truck has become a phenomenon
By FARA AISYAH / Pic By HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN
Rosman Hussin (picture) wakes up early like any restaurant owners. He plans his day well. He sources the raw materials. He fills his one-tonne food truck with necessities. When all is ready, he zig-zags through the city in the early evening to his destination and ready to serve his customers.
The 35-year-old proud owner of Humble Chef is among the hundreds of food-truck operators, which have sprung up like mushrooms in the last few years.
But Rosman is no novice. He started in 2007, well before the food truck concept became a fad.
Selling kebab from the back of a truck in front of the Inland Revenue Board office in Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur, he has a group of readily available government officers hungry for options during their lunch break.
A fast-catching trend, hyped by the millennials and Generation Y (Gen Y), food truck has become a phenomenon. Being seen to buy your favourite latte or nachos from the back of a well-decorated truck is the hip thing to do.
For Rosman and the likes, it is the easiest route to cook your way into the food and beverage (F&B) industry.
“Ninety percent of entrepreneurs who are jumping into the bandwagon will be successful if they are doing it the right way,” said Rosman.
“You basically get the truck and you can do whatever you want with it. You also face fewer problems with overhead costs, rental and other expenses. The best thing is — you can change your location every day,” he said.
Less Financial Risk
The restaurant business may seem lucrative, but it is certainly not for everyone. High setup costs, rentals, overheads and keeping a pool of happy chefs are some of the challenges.
According to a study in the US, about 60% of new restaurants failed within the first year. Nearly 80% closed their business before their fifth anniversary.
Food truck, however, skips many of these financial headaches. The failure rate of cooking and serving the dish from the back of a truck is also lower.
Cowboys Food Truck co-founder Ku Azharul Nizar Ku Abdul Rahman (picture) said it was easier to start an F&B business with the food truck than a restaurant.
“The risk is less because you don’t need the kind of capital like when you open a restaurant. You can also determine the locations to operate. For a restaurant, you only have one chance to get it right,” said Ku Azharul Nizar.
The graduate from a US university established Cowboys because of his love for American food, but he could not find a good and affordable American food place when he returned to Malaysia.
That drove him to start his small business and took him all over the Klang Valley. Now, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, has become a home for his food truck.
Cook for the Right Reasons
Ku Azharul Nizar said in doing a business — like anything else in life — one must not simply follow the “successful people”, but must do the things that they know best.
“Don’t just open a food truck because it is the trend, or because everyone is doing it. Create your own signature to get regular and loyal customers,” Ku Azharul Nizar.
The fad over the possible lucrative returns for a food trucker is getting more people to jump onto the bandwagon.
But all is not sunny. For Rosman, who is a chef before an entrepreneur, establishing Humble Chef in 2007 was a really hard journey.
He had to do all the work himself — cooking, driving the truck, taking the orders and collecting payments.
A large part of the business remains challenging. Food-truck operators faces difficulty on licensing. Some had been slapped with summons and their trucks towed away.
Increasing demands to convert trucks into restaurants on wheels had pushed prices of modification works. A new two-tonne truck that is fully converted with a complete set of fryers, fridge, stove and other cooking requirements could cost as high as RM300,000.
Rental for popular food-truck hangouts is also rising, putting a strain for these chefs on wheels.
“Operating food truck is not a glamourous job at all. We need to get the right spot and getting one when we first started years back was not as easy as now,” said Little Fat Duck co-founder Adel Ishak.
“The thing with operating a food truck is that once your truck is taken, or something happened to it, you will have no business,” he said.
Adel said many food-truck operators failed because they were not hands-on.
“We had to do everything ourselves when we first started. We hardly get time to rest. We do the cleaning and cooking during the day, and sell the food at night.
“We had to deal with all the problems by ourselves. So, we know the challenges in operating a food truck. But some new-comers in the industry nowadays just become the ‘boss’ and hire people,” Adel said.
For Adel, the food-truck business has also launched his base. He has now eight branches in shopping malls, including at One Utama Shopping Centre, Tropicana City Mall and MyTown Shopping Centre.
Fascination for street dining and food truck will continue. From what was the equivalent unbranded Indian Muslim selling rojak and cendol under the tree to the fancy, modern and beautifully decorated trucks, food truck is a global fad that is certain to stay.