Sydney Food Trucks: Cantina Movil feeding the masses
For a city with a sophisticated and adventurous palate, Sydney has come late to the food truck scene. In early 2012, the City of Sydney approved nine permits for mobile food trucks as part of a trial in an urban strategy to jazz up Sydney’s late night economy. Unlike New York, there is no virtually street food scene aside from the nine approved Sydney food trucks.
Sydney Food Trucks: Mini sliders from Street Sliders. Coming soon to every street in Sydney.
According to Stephanie Raco, who runs Cantina Movil, one of the main challenges when first starting out was educating the public that quality food could be prepared from the vehicle. “Notifying the masses of where we could be tracked was [also] a challenge before [the creation of] the Sydney Food Truck App and prior to gaining a large social media following,” she says.
Sydney food trucks have to work around the operating hours of existing cafes and restaurants. Whereas in New York mobile food trucks are seen as a part of the overall food scene, here the initial reaction has been that of ambivalence to the perceived new competition. Raco believes that the hours set by the City of Sydney could be extended to allow Sydney food trucks to trade later on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The niche that the vendors fill is different in Sydney. Food trucks here offer kingfish ceviche, veggie burgers, and delicate parcels of dim sum. Eat Art Truck is headed by a former chef from Michelin starred Tetsuya, and offers pulled pork rolls with mustard cabbage with bourbon BBQ, and slow cooked beef brisket with kimchi-slaw and Korean chilli – gourmet food offerings above late night kebabs and $2 hotdogs.
There are also the unique challenges associated with running a full sized kitchen in a truck-sized, moving space. Patrice Empeigne, from Street Sliders, says that one of their worst days was “travelling with a full truck enroute to a big event and forgetting to lock the drink fridge. One big turn and the drink fridge bursts open, sending a hundred drinks exploding all over the kitchen. It was a sticky day.”
There’s also the problem of power. Raco says that one of Cantina Movil’s best and worst days was “spending the day serving in the field at a racecourse in the blazing sun, not a breath of breeze and our generator overheated.” The truck managed to plug into an external power supply, but after that event Cantina Movil was expected at the Food Truck Fiesta, where there was no power arranged. “We were frantically freaking out!” says Raco, but luckily a fellow food trucker, Urban Pasta, saved the day by sharing their power supply.
The obvious camaderie between the food truck operators is also a point of difference. There’s no cause for the food truck wars that have erupted in New York City over territory and selling rights, as Sydney trucks are only allowed to set up shop in 13 regulated spots and as the current trial only has nine vendors, there’s plenty of space for everyone.
Sydney Food Trucks: Long lines form for the food from Street Sliders
Empeigne says, “We’re all really good friends. Helping each other out here and there when someone needs a hand.” However there’s still some work to do. “Based on the workshops and chats we’ve had, the locations definitely need some rework,” says Empeigne.
As for what comes next, greater numbers of Sydney food trucks are predicted to be approved for business. Empeigne and Raco both hope that in five years, food trucks will be a norm on Sydney’s streets. Empeigne wants to see Street Sliders “all over Australia! We’re actively looking to make this happen.”