Four wheels and a chimney: Meet the food truck makers who are making grub on the go a possibility

 thehindu.com  01/22/2020 11:39:25 

A jolly yellow and pink truck is getting finishing touches. It is parked in a yard filled with six other large vehicles  ranging from Tata Ace and Tempo Traveller to 407 and Swaraj Mazda  in various stages of refurbishment. Some look toothless, some have a door or two missing, others have their interiors ripped out and are being fitted with shiny new components.

By the end of all the tinkering, welding and painting, it feels like Cinderellas fairy godmother has worked her magic. Manoj Sabari Girish co-founder of SN Food Trucks and Kiosks walks around examining them. His brother Sujai and he have been remodelling regular trucks to food trucks since 2016, and this is their workshop in Gerugambakkam.

We started with a kitchen equipment manufacturing business and eventually upgraded to food trucks and kiosks. Manoj and Sujais first order for a food truck was from Hungry More in Siruseri. They used a Tempo Traveller and extended its length. When we work on a vehicle, only the chassis remains. Everything else is changed, he explains. In a month, they finish three to four trucks.

In the last couple of years, Manoj has noticed an increase in the number of food trucks on the roads. People who are passionate about food, but do not have the resources to set up a full fledged restaurant, prefer setting up these trucks. Many even consider it a style statement to eat here than at a street stall, he opines. The number of orders they receive have doubled since 2018  when they made around 45 to 50 trucks in a year, including ice cream trucks and bakeries on wheels. In 2019 they made around 86 trucks, of which 45 were for Chennai and the remaining were delivered around the country to Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, till as far as Noida. The turnaround time is usually between 45 to 60 days.

So far, the biggest truck they have created is for The Dinner Stories in Anna Nagar. An Eicher Canter with a 14 feet long chassis was extended to 19 feet, with a height of eight feet and width of seven feet. They call it the jumbo truck: regular food trucks are usually around 15 feet long with a breadth of 5.5 feet and height of 7.5 feet.

It can accommodate 15 pieces of equipment while others can hold about seven to eight. Most food trucks come equipped with a bain-marie, under-counter chillers, barbecue machine, tandoori pot, bulk cooking ranges, dosa tawa, Chinese burners, work tables among others, says Manoj.

Another funky truck they made is currently travelling around Karnataka: it has the kitchen in the ground floor and a dine-in area on the top.

There and elsewhere

Coimbatore-based Francisco M has been running Agni Stainless Steel Technology since 2000. But it is his recent venture, Agni Food Trucks, which is rapidly picking up steam. He has completed 60 such trucks and transported them to smaller towns and cities like Sankarankoil and Tuticorin. The demand has increased by 20% in the last year, and I see it growing by another 20% in 2020, he says.

So, what is the reason for this spurt in tier II and III cities? Says Francisco, One of the main reasons is the increasing number of youngsters  some who return from abroad  wanting to get into food entrepreneurship. They have grand designs and interesting menus. But to execute them in a caf or a hotel comes with many logistical challenges. A food truck, on the other hand, is easier and more economical. The trucks I refurbish start at a couple of lakhs and go up to 20 lakhs, depending on the vehicle.

Delhi-based One Azimuth, on the other hand, created the truck for the Saif Ali Khan-starrer Chef. Their recent exploit also includes the double decker ride for the culinary show Chakh Le India on NDTV Good Times. We have fabricated around 200, touching almost every corner of the country from Jammu and Kashmir to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, says Puneet Anand, founder of the company. Starbucks, Chicago Pizza, Char, Punjab Grill and Poblano are some of the brands they have worked with.

Branching out

In addition to food, the company has also customised trucks for other business on wheels concepts, like cosmetic retail (Color Bar), pet salons, grocery vans, industrial display vans and mobile clinics.

Puneet says when he started his company in 2015, the modern notion of food trucks was just coming in to the country. There was a visible departure from the basic old-style Chinese vans, that were typically yellow in colour and did not have sophisticated food on their menu. The ones which were a step above these, were also not quite upscale or technically planned.

Though the market has become competitive now, there are very few are actually looking into the nuances of fabrication, equipment planning and setup, and aesthetic appeal of the vehicle. These players who strive for technical upgrade in their work, keep the field lively, and at the same time give us a healthy competition.

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