There's a noticeable increase in the popularity and number of food trucks in Whanganui. Reporter Logan Tutty caught up with some owners to find out what attracted them to the food truck business.
Ashleigh and Robert Dari opened their food truck Bula Bure in Majestic Square last October, and have had to start looking at how their time is allocated.
With five kids at home and two full-time jobs, the couple's success has seen them look at how they can expand their hours to accommodate their customers.
"First we were just like 'Why not just give it a try, this is the food we make at home'," Robert said.
Ashleigh said, "We are going very well. We have to expand."
Serving Fijian-inspired food, such as curries, chop suey, babakau (Fijian fry bread) and kokoda (raw fish), the popularity has come as a bit of a surprise to the Daris.
A chef by trade, Robert said with the success and popularity he has had with his food, he is able to resign from his full-time job at Kaitoke Prison.
"How big it is, I'm willing to resign work. We thought it was just going to be a hobby, just a bit of fun, then we sold out every day."
It's the connection and interaction they have with the customer that the Daris appreciate about the food truck.
"It's fun, it's straight forward. It's a lot of talking and meeting people. In a restaurant, you are hiding in the back," Robert said.
"The joy of seeing someone biting into it in front of you, that is worth it. To me, that is everything. It is so cool."
Encouraged by his daughters and son-in-law to take the dive into the hospitality industry, Perry Schlierike opened Peza's Pitstop three days before the country went into Covid-19 lockdown last March.
"I was thinking about getting a cafe. They said get a food truck and start small. I bit the bullet and we started just about a year ago."
Quietly tucked away on a friend's private land on Ridgway St, he said he just loves making food for others.
"I love doing it. I just love cooking. Everything has to be fresh on a daily basis. That's the key to good food, no cutting corners.
"I'm a people person. I love chatting and I love it when people come back and compliment the food, it is so satisfying."
Schlierike originally set up on the front lawn of his home on Carlton Ave but, due to resource consent issues with Whanganui District Council and needing permission from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to operate on a state highway, was forced to move his operation.
"I was running for five weeks and it was going great. NZTA said there was too much risk for people crossing the road and nowhere to pull over."
District council environmental health compliance officer Charleen Omundsen said food truck operators need to register under the Food Act 2014 "in accordance with the risk-based measure they operate under".
"Where they trade must fit with the district plan in regards to zoning. If they want to park on a state highway they need Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency's permission."
Created to serve the everyday truckie, Schlierike wants to be able to set up on his front lawn or near the weigh bridge just past the Putiki roundabout and hone in on that market.
"Eight years ago when I first wanted to do this, I wanted to get on to the weigh bridge. It's a safe place where truckies can pull over and get food. Council said it can't be done."
He said he is close to closing his truck day-to-day because he's making just enough to get by.
"Don't get me wrong, I've had some really good days. But it's hit or miss. I had someone helping out, but I've had to lay him off because I'm just not busy enough.
"For the last couple of months, I'm just staying afloat."
If he can't find a new spot for his truck, Schlierike thinks he will either have to find another job and just run his truck for events, or sell it.
"Caboodle weekend, it was fantastic. I was non-stop from 11am to 9.30pm. I had to close the window twice to restock, it was fantastic.
"I love it and I hate it. I love making food, but I hate the struggle."
The council's senior parks manager, Wendy Bainbridge, said if the food trucks have a licence to trade on reserve land, then they pay a licence fee.
"This is over and above any permit fees that may be required to operate a food business.
"There is a standard lease cost based on a 12-month lease fee. Not all food trucks operate under a lease arrangement, as they may be part of an organised event."
Friends Natalina Damosso and James Winterburn run their rustic Italian truck La Bella Street Food on Maria Place and have been open since mid-December.
When Winterburn returned to New Zealand last September after a few years abroad, the pair began to plan what they wanted to do.
"We could put money into renting a little place in the Ave or somewhere around, but we kind of wanted some freedom."
What drew them to a food truck was the convenience and the ability to be mobile and move when they want and need.
"We really like festivals and events and we wanted that freedom," Damosso said.
Winterburn said, "It's the freedom of it. To go where you want to go, but still maintain a nine to five day as well."
Damosso grew up around the cuisine, with her parents owning Italian restaurants La Strada and Al Ponte in Whanganui over the years.
"We saw what was around and we love the markets, but the Italian side of food was always missing. I miss that kind of style."
The flexibility of the food truck allows them to quickly change or add anything that the clientele likes, Winterburn said.
"Quality is a big thing for us. If you're doing what you're doing well, and you can do it quick and fast, people are going to come back."
The duo aims to bookmark more appearances at events and festivals in the future as they look to grow.
"We've got something a bit different from everywhere else. That's the feedback we are getting, they are liking how different it is."
Whanganui & Partners chief executive Hannah Middleton said food trucks and mobile food vendors can complement existing food hospitality providers and, in particular, help meet extra demand during events and at times when the city has a high number of visitors.
Mainstreet Whanganui events, marketing and promotions manager Kelly Scarrow said food trucks are a good way to break into the hospitality business and see what the response to their product is.
"It's a really good way of supporting events for, say, the Caboodle. We have over 25,000 people in one day, we need to support those hospitality providers so they aren't overwhelmed and we have that variety."
She said if vendors have a good, unique product, food trucks are a good way to test themselves without committing to a permanent building.
"Events like the Fest of Cultural Unity that is purely food stalls and carts which provides a very different experience. They pop up for the day and you get to try food you don't get anywhere else."
"It's a viable way of trying it out. It's a good way to test their product."