IN one of the most challenging times for the hospitality industry due to Covid-19 restrictions, some entrepreneurs are saying no to a traditional restaurant model and investing in food trucks instead.
Whether it was the economic upheavals of the pandemic, the uncertainty around job prospects or a change from indoor dining to to-go models – it all played a role in the increasing number of food trucks in Southland.
Figures provided by the Southland District Council (SDC) showed 29 mobile food businesses have been registered in the district since November 2021.
In Invercargill, the city council’s customer and environment manager Trudie Hurst said the council had noticed a slight increase in people registering mobile food businesses, with eight permits issued during 2021 and four since November.
The figures did not include coffee carts, she said.
Invercargill chef Cameron Kingipotiki had been working in kitchens overseas for more than a decade, and noticed a rise in food trucks abroad, which became a source of inspiration.
He returned to Invercargill in 2021 and got to work setting up his own food truck, Burger Scene.
“I’ve seen a lot of different trucks and wanted to do my own thing, so I went out looking for an ambulance. I wanted something that you’d expect a food truck to be.”
From inception to realisation, the road for Mr Kingipotiki to get the truck up and running took more than a year, and after gutting and converting an out-of-commission ambulance, Burger Scene finally opened for business in November.
He was granted permission by the city council to park at four different spots in Invercargill and Otatara – Donovan Park, Thompsons Bush, Queens Park and Fosbender Park – and through promotion on social media, each spot has proven to be a success with the food selling out most evenings.
“A lot of people seem to come down wherever we are.”
One of the last additions to the region’s street food scene was the Gaucho food truck in Otatara, which opened last month.
Brazilian national and owner Mauricio Tesche moved to Southland 13 years ago where he has been working as a full-time mechanic.
In recent years he started to miss the traditional South American street food and decided to explore opportunities to open a hospitality business.
But the recent Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and the potential high costs for leases led him to make the decision to start “small” with a food truck.
“I always wanted to bring something new and different to Invercargill.
“I decided to invest in a food truck because the costs are more affordable than a restaurant which you would need to pay for rent and staff. With the uncertainties around us, I thought a food truck would be much more interesting.”
Mr Tesche, who sells traditional South American food such as choripan and a Brazilian-style cheese burger, has been pleased and surprised with the support of the community.
On the first day, he sold out of all his stock in about three hours.
“People are being great and I believe this food truck is just the beginning. It is the first step for a bigger dream of opening a Brazilian meat house here.”
He believed the food truck model was more adequate for him as it would help him to learn about the hospitality industry, while giving him flexibility as he still had a full-time job.
The flexibility and the desire to be her own boss was also the sticking point for Southland woman Vicky Henderson to open Tommy’s Tucker Truck.
Parked in Riverton since Christmas last year, she invested in the business because she wanted to reconnect with her hospitality roots while also honouring her late father, Tommy.
“I was working in the building industry in Queenstown and moved back to Southland when my father passed away.
“I was tired of sitting behind the computer and I was missing interacting with people.”
She used her own personal history as inspiration and her menu had food which she and her father, who worked as a butcher, used to cook.
“It is a bit atypical from the other food trucks because I do not do fried food and it caters for all kinds of diets.
“All the names of the food on the menu are related to songs that I used to listen to with dad.”
While she said she did not open her business due to Covid-19, she noticed many people preferred to eat from those kinds of businesses due to restrictions with vaccine certificates.
“We created systems so everyone could feel welcome and safe.”
For example, besides the traditional takeaway model, she offered contactless pick up and a drive-through on wet days.
“I’m very happy with my decision. I just wanted to have some interaction with people – especially happy people and people are usually happy when they are eating.”