Street food got a hipster update when we weren’t looking, and food trucks are here to stay. These gargantuan feeding machines arrived in the UAE in 2014 and have been rolling through the emirates since, popping up at beaches, parks and as of this month, even the Dubai World Trade Centre, where Truckers Summer Warehouse pops up each week until school begins in September.
We grabbed the opportunity to speak to a few truckers to find out more about the business.
1. You can be up and running in 30 days
The ease of setting up a business in Dubai means getting a food truck up and running is quick and easy. “We’ve been blessed; Dubai is so smooth and fast when it comes to licensing. The whole process of getting approved hardly took a couple of days but after that there is the process of your kitchen and that comes back to you in following the guidelines strictly to make the process go smoothly,” says Yusra Kharbush, a 34-year-old American national who runs Cryspes, a truck that serves the doughnut-soft but churro-crisp pastries of the same name.
Once you’ve got your concept in place, from approval to launching operations could take as little as 30 days, says Jordanian national Amjad Barakat. With 10 trucks across the UAE, Barakat, 35, is a driving force on the food truck scene in the UAE with his company, Flip International.
2. You’ll need a minimum of Dh200,000
Setting up a food truck is certainly cheaper than the investment required in a standalone restaurant, and those in the industry say a couple of hundred thousand dirhams is enough to pay the licensing bills and launch operations. “Moneywise I really would suggest you start as simple as possible the way it supposed to be, but due to the licensing process you need to have around Dh200,000 minimum to start in Dubai,” Kharbush says.
Barakat agrees. “A full trailer with fit out and equipment should cost you around Dh200,000. With cash flow to start your operations, it will be around Dh300,000, as for the time a lot of people are doing this as a side business,” he says.
3. You can break even within six months
Riad Gohar, whose Frings concept retails chicken wings and French fries, says with passion, dedication and hard work, a food truck can return your investment in about six months — though double that time is more common. “Something to pride ourselves with, which is not common in the food business, is that we have started making profits in less than six months’ time, whereas in my experience it could take up to two years,” says the 36-year-old Egyptian national, who runs the business with his wife. Their truck has been operational since December although they started working on the concept last March.
“Time should be heavily invested in learning hands on the entire business; from fabricating the trucks, to how to cook and serve, from operation to warehouse management, to interaction with customers and learning their feedback. It’s important to be on ground and not delegate,” he adds.
All four of the business owners we spoke to said they’ve turned a profit — or are successful — already, despite some having been in the business eight months.
Riad Gohar, owner of Frings.
4. Experts are standing by to help
Got some cash lying around but don’t think you can take the heat of finding and kitting out a truck? No problem. White labelling and outsourcing are an integral part of the UAE’s food truck scene, with several firms offering everything from the trucks themselves to advice on how to go about operations.
In 2015, Roundup was created as a one-stop solution for the industry. An arm of the business management consultancy 54 East, it offers fully licensed units across the GCC. The company reported a 300 per cent growth in demand last year.
The Foodsters is another company that operates and fabricates trucks, including running its own brands such as The Shebi, which fuses street foods from around the world (think a shawarma in a paratha). “We have many trucks in our stock that we operate with our own brands or rent to other operators,” says Managing Partner Reema Shetty, an Indian national living in Dubai. “Any food truck of ours can accommodate any brand. All we do is change the signage and branding.”
Besides vintage food trailers, clients can also customise trucks to individual requirements, she says. The company also offers branding advice, training and development solutions and menu engineering advice. She said she couldn’t share numbers.
5. Business is seasonal
Seasonality affects every business, but as one might expect with a concept defined by the outdoors, three months of 50-degree highs make for the lowest point in the fiscal year. “Summers are dead season,” Shetty says.
Gohar says the season is literally the worst moment for the business. “You are not able to cater for your regulars and there are restrictions to operating a true mobile food truck,” he explains. “However thanks to TruckersDXB finally we could have of what we hope to be a successful indoor annual summer event.”
6. There’s space for everyone
From Last Exit to Truckers DXB, there are so many food truck events around the UAE you might be forgiven for thinking it’s too late to hitch a ride on the bandwagon. You’d be wrong — there’s room enough for everyone, Barakat says. “I would like to encourage everyone who has passion for food, cooking or entrepreneurial character to invest and join the street food movement, the more the size of the market grows, the better it is,” he says. “It’s not like restaurants where we compete. Rather, it creates a street culture and increases the opportunities for everyone. It’s a fun business and as they say, do something you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
TRUCKING TIMES AT THE DUBAI WORLD TRADE CENTRE
Alexandre Teodoresco, founder of Truckers.
The UAE’s great at bringing the outdoors inside, what with millennia of reeling under the summer heat and decades of air-conditioning. Since their inception, shopping malls have provided the solution for residents, but one set of foodies want to create an alternative hangout.
In an indoor street carnival of sorts, 15 food trucks are taking over a section of the Dubai World Trade Centre until the Eid Al Adha holidays in September. Truckers Summer Warehouse runs every week from Wednesdays to Saturdays, selling everything from ka’ak (sweet, baked sesame bread) to gourmet pizza (Pinzai) in an indoor version of the Truckers DXB events at Emirates Golf Club and Business Bay.
“The idea was to create a fun and different type of indoor hang out place for foodies and families who want to do something a bit quirky. Visitors can discover where the food trucks go to hide during summer,” says Alexandre Teodoresco, Truckers DXB Founder. “And the space is so big that it actually almost feels like you are outdoors. The vibe will be quite different but fun nonetheless.”
And there’s entertainment while you eat, from a live band competition and beats by local DJs to an arts and craft market by Arte, carnival games, mechanical bull riding, face painting and cooking classes. “I think visitors will be truly surprised by the set up, they will really feel like they are in a giant junkyard with a party vibe,” Teodoresco says.
Yes, it’ll cost you, with a Dh10 entry fee, which he says is affordable, given the array of activities on offer. “[Also] the Dubai World Trade Centre is not a cheap place to operate so we had to find ways to cover for a part of that,” he adds.
What appeals to us, though, is that unlike other food truck events across the UAE, which offer the same restaurants and menus already available across the city, several of the trucks at the DWTC event are homegrown concepts.
“In selecting the trucks, I always give preference to the local, home-grown, owner-operated concepts. I always say no to the big international franchises. They have the malls for that,” Teodoresco says. “Finally, I look at the originality of the food concepts. Will the crowd be excited to have a taste? This is how we make sure our community keeps coming event after event.”
What: Truckers Summer Warehouse
When: 4pm to 11pm, Wednesdays to Saturdays until September 2
Where: Hall no 8, Dubai World Trade Centre
How much: Dh10 for adults, children under 12 years enter for free
Gobai’s Pulled Lamb Vindaloo
A staple of the Goan kitchen, vindaloo is a garlicky, vinegary curry that’s far removed from the slop more popular in UK curry joints. This version from Gobai, a truck serving fusion food, requires the lamb to be marinated for several hours in a spice paste. Although typically served with rice or bread, Gobai fills it into a potato roll and tops it with a slaw of cabbage, radish, pomegranate, raw mango and coriander.
1.5kg Lamb Shanks
2 big onions, chopped
15 Kashmiri chillies
4-6 garlic cloves
1-inch piece ginger
1.5-inch piece fresh turmeric
1-inch piece cinnamon
Palm vinegar, to taste (or apple cider vinegar)
1. In a blender, grind the chillies, then add a little vinegar to make a thin paste. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin and turmeric and blitz to a paste, thinning with vinegar if needed.
2. Rub the lamb shanks well with the marinade to make sure all the pieces of meat are evenly coated. Add a little vinegar to the meat, mix again and set aside in the refrigerator for four hours or overnight.
3. When you are ready to cook, grind the large onions into a paste before adding the marinated lamb shanks.
4. Transfer all the ingredients to a pan on the stove. Add the peppercorns, cinnamon and cloves as you brown the meat. After a little frying, add some water (just enough to cover the meat) and allow to cook on a slow flame. It’s done when the meat just falls off the bone ready to be devoured.
5. Vindaloo always tastes a lot better the next day — the longer you keep it, the better it tastes.