Can you tell me a bit about your business?
I've got two sides to my business - one is a more relaxed style with the food truck and the other side is fine dining-style catering. In the past with the food truck, we'd only go to festivals like Laneways, Fieldays, Warbirds over Wanaka, the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival - all of those big gigs.
But now what's happening more and more is that the food truck side of the business is merging into the catering side, particularly for weddings. For example, where I'm based on Waiheke, I get lots of enquiries from people getting married on the island and, instead of doing the full-on catering thing, they just hire a couple of food trucks and do all the food from there. I catered for a wedding last weekend for 120 people where I just set up at their beachside location and it was just fantastic - like a casual party.
When did you initially develop your food truck business?
I'm from Christchurch - we moved to Waiheke after the earthquakes - so I started in the South Island 21 years ago. My first gig was in 1994 at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. There was a big crowd and we had quite a lot to learn to put efficient processes in place, but we learned fast.
For the first three years I was just doing events from time to time, but from about 1997 it became a focus and I did all the big South Island gigs, so the food truck at that time was an important part of my business.
What changes have you seen in the industry since those early days?
At that time there were only four or five of us doing the event circuit with food trucks, but now there are so many. The whole food truck industry has changed a lot. Twenty years ago food trucks generally only sold things like hot chips and I was unique, but now if you look at the quality of the food that's out there it's often better than what you'll find in some restaurants.
So, for example, at the moment on my menu on a normal day I'll have crayfish and mussel chowder, a pork belly burger with pomegranate salsa, escargots cooked in garlic butter - it's definitely not hot chips. The punters now also want something a bit healthier - they want to see salads, and other fresh stuff.
What are some of the challenges you've found operating out of the truck environment?
It's totally different to a lot of people's perceptions. People watch The Food Truck programme on TV, or have seen the movie Chef and think it looks like a great way to make money. But it's total fiction really! Some of these festivals charge us operators $1500 a day to be there, and there's no way you're going to make any money unless you sell 800 or 900 portions. So although it might look really glamorous, if you're paying a stall fee you need to crank it up big time.
Logistics can be tricky too. When I do catering for a wedding, it's maybe for 120 people, which is nice, but when you go out with the food truck to a festival, you've got to be ready to cater for thousands from a very confined area. It's so important to have a menu that's properly designed to cope with those numbers.
It must be quite stressful then?
Actually it's fun if you're adaptable and can handle stress well. I've been doing it for so many years I don't stress about it anymore. When you go to a festival, it's always a bit of an adventure because you don't really know before you get there what position you're going to get, whether you're going to make money or lose quite a bit, which does happen. The main factors influencing your success are the weather and your location on the site.
So do you still travel quite extensively with the truck?
I'm mainly on Waiheke and in Auckland, but I've got another truck in the South Island, so I still do the big gigs there as well. But that is going to slow down because I'm getting so many weddings on Waiheke. With private events you're catering for fewer numbers but there's less risk.
What's a key insight you'd like to share with someone considering setting up a food truck business?
It's a really hard business, although it can be a lot of fun - and you see some great gigs. But unless you also have a good, regular spot to operate in in a good area it's a very difficult business to do full time. And you have to be really good - and well-priced - because competition is so tough out there.
Coming up in Your Business: New health and safety legislation comes into force in April. What changes has your business had to make because of this, and what impact will new rules around compliance have on your operation? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org