Not so long ago, Australia’s food truck scene was limited to ice cream, doughnuts and late-night burgers for blokes who’d had too much to drink. Now, food trucks everywhere can hold their own against respected brick-and-mortar establishments. Their popularity with the public has created nothing short of a food truck feeding frenzy.
Around 2009, a handful of entrepreneurs in Melbourne decided that what worked in California would work here. When these chefs on wheels elevated food truck cuisine with more diverse ingredients and creative new dishes, the industry exploded. Aussies now meekly queue up for slow-cooked meats, scratch-made pastas, American-style barbecue and slow-braised Asian pork belly.
In 2015, in an effort to support the swelling number of operators across the continent, 10 vendors founded the Australian Food Trucks Association. The group’s goal is to work with local councils for expansion of city programs. Members also educate the public about their services and help truck owners with event scheduling. They often act as liaisons between suppliers and vendors to ensure that top quality ingredients are accessible.
Engaging with consumers, getting better foods at better prices and holding sway with policy makers has ensured that this alternative dining experience is sustainable in the Australian market.
Local councils are largely encouraging. Brisbane’s, for example, created an interactive, mobile-friendly website in support of operators. Food truckers upload their profiles, post their current menus, announce upcoming events and utilise GPS technology to help their fans find them. Food truck fans use the website to track down their favourite vendors or explore new ones. They can access menus and other information like location and hours. Everybody wins!
The City of Sydney built a similar truck locator, Sydney Food Trucks, which was named App Store Best of 2012. The local council was keen to support small-business owners and embolden young people to create start-ups with minimal investment in a world where every day promising entrepreneurs in a variety of fields get discouraged and drop out.
Where the Truck, a website and app co-created by Xavier Verhoeven, lists hundreds of vendors throughout Australia along with real-time information on where they’re parked.
Food truck owners are ecstatic about initiatives like these. Given increasingly stiff competition, the greatest challenge to success is getting noticed and making a name for oneself. Social media and the proliferation of food blogs have certainly helped.
Relationships can occasionally become strained, however as operators and councils get at odds now and then, usually over food truck-related traffic jams, rubbish left in the streets, overly strict requirements and parking hassles. Some city councils cap the number of vendors that can operate in an area at a given time. Brick-and-mortar restaurants resent the competition from food trucks and put pressure on councils to limit their operations. Operators complain about event organisers charging inflated fees and demanding unreasonable shares of revenue.
Differences are usually ironed out in the end, however, and the Australian food truck industry is thriving as never before. It appears this movable feast is here to stay!