JEDDAH: Food trucks or “kitchens on wheels” have been a growing culinary trend in many countries in recent years, and Saudi Arabia is no exception. They are now familiar sights on streets, on beaches, in shopping malls, in parks and other open spaces – in short, everywhere they can park.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to their mobility and flexibility, the food trucks were relatively well positioned to weather the crisis by offering an alternative to indoor eating and targeting people who miss the experience of a seated meal , but want a better alternative than traditional takeaway or home delivery.
With many companies focused on finding new sources of income during the health crisis, Taha Ashi, the owner of the burger-specialty food truck Daddy’s Grill, decided to take the opportunity during the uncertain times and expand into new neighborhoods. He owns three food trucks in Jeddah and plans to open a restaurant later this year.
Before the pandemic, he said he served an average of about 100 customers a day, but sales and profits are fluctuating. During the pandemic, sales rose by around 20 percent.
“Food trucks are well equipped to withstand pandemic restrictions as they are inherently to-go and socially distant businesses,” Ashi told Arab News.
“I’ve focused on cultivating my customer base, for example by connecting to online delivery services and cultivating a social media presence. All of this led to a significant increase in sales. “
In 2016, he was one of the first people in Saudi Arabia to launch a food truck that has significantly lower overheads than a traditional restaurant. Therefore, Ashi believes that the food truck sector is a great option for anyone interested in getting into the catering business, especially in times of the coronavirus, not least because it is supported by the government. For example, in some areas there are no electricity or rental fees, which helps keep costs down.
However, not all food truck companies have handled the pandemic as well as Ashi’s. Abdul Aziz Al-Fadel – who owns the X Bite food truck, which also serves burgers, and a restaurant – said many small businesses have suffered over the past year and food trucks are no exception.
He told Arab News that his business was going through a rough time due to the lower level of trade, but that the challenges have led catering company owners to become more innovative and creative in finding ways to connect with customers .
Food trucks are well equipped to withstand pandemic restrictions as they are, of course, to-go and socially distant businesses.
Taha Ashi, Owner of Daddy’s Grill food truck
“The sudden evaporation of events, concerts, festivals and gatherings has confused us,” said Al-Fadel. “Sales collapsed by 60 to 70 percent.”
However, as the pandemic persisted, he said he had started to adjust. He took advantage of the mobile nature of his business and visited more areas, took orders online and signed up for delivery services. He’s also put a BBQ kit on the menu, which has all the ingredients needed to cook authentic X Bite burgers at home. It turned out to be a huge hit and helped boost sales.
A food truck is a less risky entry into the hospitality industry than opening a traditional cafe or restaurant, Al-Fadel said.
“After running a successful food truck, our business grew and we started a restaurant,” he said. “A food truck business is cheaper to run and doesn’t need a lot of people to start with, so you don’t have to worry about payroll.”
He also had some advice for anyone interested in getting their own truck on the market. You must always adhere to the highest safety standards and be ready to master challenges and adapt to adverse conditions.
“Most importantly, this business is seasonal,” he added. “Business is tough in summer and sales rise in winter. Hence, the potential owners need to experiment with new ideas that can help them keep generating income. “
Building a popular food truck business can be very worthwhile and, as the experiences of Ashi and Al-Fadel show, include the opportunity to expand by opening a traditional restaurant. For others, the focus remains on the kitchen on wheels for the time being.
Ahmed Al-Hijri, who owns the CheeseSteak food truck, told Arab News that his company survived the pandemic because he worked long hours using delivery apps and social media to better connect with customers.
“We were actually able to generate enough (income) to keep the business going,” he said.
Further, because they require less capital investment and lower financial risk, Al-Hijri offers a fantastic opportunity to enter a market that previously posed much greater obstacles to aspiring entrepreneurs.
As a result, he said, they can establish their brand on a smaller scale before trying to grow and expand the business by opening a restaurant or franchising the trucks.