Life on the Streets: The Mobile Food Industry and Supporting Local Business

It’s lunchtime, Thursday, in the middle of the business district. A small market has taken root in an abandoned parking lot and over the last year has blossomed into a merry gathering. The nearby office workers now have more to eat than reheated leftovers. The market vendors now have a recurring weekly trade. Win/win.

But life on the streets is tough.

As scores of hungry people line up to take a bite out of your business, it better be worth the wait. And the money. Otherwise, they’ll queue up at another stall next week. Once the day is over, you stay up late to prepare everything and do it all again tomorrow. But that’s the thrill of the game for the mobile food industry here in Brisbane, Australia.

And it’s catching on. For three main reasons.

bbq

Passion

It may seem like free food, good business, and an easy workday from the outside looking in, but building and growing a food business is synonymous with hard work and long days. Preparation, cleaning, booking, cooking, serving, ordering, stocking, risking, guessing, paying for it all, then finding time to sleep somewhere in the midst of it. Over the past six months, I have had the unique privilege of an insider perspective on this bustling industry. Want to know what I’ve learned? The ones who succeed in this business are the ones who are passionate about what they do.

It’s just not worth it if you’re not.

That passion bastes every inch of these businesses. It’s why we, the customers, love going to markets and fairs and festivals. We know the food is going to be good because this is not just some corporate chain of precut, preheated cardboard we’re talking about. This is food that has been lovingly prepared and freshly assembled right in front of us. From burgers to tacos to seafood to coffee, each unique offering is this individual’s or family’s passion.

It’s what they think about at night. It’s why they get up at all hours of the morning to be there and ready when you arrive. It’s the reason they struggle through the ups and downs inherent in any business in order to persevere in creating something desirable.

And it’s why the food is to die for.

Authenticity

Passion isn’t enough though, is it? The food has to be good. More than that, even. It’s got to be just a little special.

Because everybody loves a good burger. So why should they spend their hard-earned money on yours? Unless, you have something unique to offer.

In the food industry, there’s got to be something that differentiates you from the guy two marquees down. Something you can’t get just anywhere. Something worth spending a little extra money for.

The mobile food industry knows this. Authenticity is a big motivator behind their success as a small business. Because authenticity differentiates from the mass-produced garbage we fill ourselves with on most other days. A homemade salsa. Barbeque smoked for twelve hours. Fresh squeezed orange juice.

Don’t mind if I do.

In case you’re unaware, I’ll clue you in a bit. These mobile kitchens mounted on the back of trucks, ready to pull up, open the hatch, and get serving, are not a cheap investment. If you don’t have a product that is going to sell and sell well, you won’t be in the game for very long. It will bleed your greenbacks dry. Once you find that special something, you must perfect it in a way that keeps people coming back to you over and over. Authenticity coupled with distinctiveness does just that.

Once you have a quality food fueled by relentless passion, there’s really only one more key to the equation.

Service

Because business is about people. Always has been.

There have been a number of times a stranger has walked up to order food only to come back afterwards and inform us that, little did we know, they are the CEO of a major corporation, or a local radio DJ, or an event organizer for major festivals and now that they have experienced who we are, have another opportunity for us.

We have a saying in our business that “you never know who you are serving.” A quaint phrase with momentous implications for business and life alike. It pays to be others-focused. Your smile and kindness goes a long way. A friendly word can spark a conversation with endless connections.

Those who succeed know the importance of quality service for their customers. When people are happy, they talk. And a recommendation from a friend has twice the impact as an imploration from the business owner – if not more. The relationships built between businesses and customers serve as a foundation for any future growth, especially when the business is still small.

Mobile food vendors tend to be a small operation, where the person serving your food is most likely the same person who dreamt up the idea, built the van, created the recipes, does the preparation, handles the books, cooks the food, serves the food, then cleans up afterwards. All while beating the pants off McDonalds menu any day of the week. These people care about their product and they work hard to ensure it is the very best it can be.

It’s just another reason I’ll choose street food over store food nearly every time.

Local Matters

Buying local, whether from street vendors or shop owners, is the lifeblood for your neighbors. It’s part of being good to those around you. And it matters. After all, this is their passion, their business, their way of life.

When you travel to a new city, check out the local joints. Google food vans in the area and make a date of it. If you are in Australia, visit sites like wherethetruck.at, truelocal.com.au, or yelp.com.au.

While we’re on the subject of local, I’ll highlight a few of the Brisbane favorites:

That BBQ Joint: The smell of smoke takes you on a journey to the Deep South where the food fills the belly and satisfies the soul. That BBQ Joint is not fine dining… it’s an adventure, an experience to enjoy with family and friends. Throw away the cutlery, fingers is all ya need cos it ain’t a disgrace to get sauce on ya face.

The Bun Mobile: Hand crafted steam buns. Healthy, quick, affordable. Local ingredients, ever changing locations. It’s everything made the right way when you order it, exactly how you like it. Unique, fresh and “bun worthy”.

Oi! Taco: Oi! Taco specializes in home-style Mexican Cuisine made from the freshest ingredients.  We source our ingredients daily and prepare your meals onsite in our mobile kitchen.

The King of the Wings: An American style fried chicken mobile offering 5 different unique flavours of freshly cooked chicken wings ranging from the signature “Southern Spice”, the crispy flavoursome “Portuguese Crumb”, the crowd favourite “Bee Sting”, the classic “American BBQ” with a hit of bourbon and the King’s answer to the Buffalo wing “The Chillogy”.

It’s lunchtime, Thursday, in the middle of the business district. From my vantage, there are customers lined up twenty deep eager for some good food. Many are familiar faces. All stuffed cheeks and smiles. And while I know it’s going to be a long day, there’s no place I’d rather eat be.

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