Dubai: Sharjah’s F&B business is finally latching on to the food truck concept – and they seem to be making up for lost time.
With a few notable exceptions like the Cheesy, Roads and Boba Tea food trucks at the Sharjah National Park, most of Sharjah’s food trucks can now be found at a fast emerging leisure area called Zad. It is home to 18 brands serving up a range of cuisines, whether hot or cold. The distinction with Zad is the drive-through element to each of the trucks, which is ideal for the warm temperatures at this time of the year.
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“I’m so glad Sharjah has this casual area,” said Ranim Mohamed, a university student. “We always used to go to Dubai on weekends, especially just to have a casual burger. Now, we can stay here - this spot is cool.”
Cool is right
Sharjah, with a reputation built on museums, nature reserves, galleries and historical sites, has lagged just a bit in trendy concepts. Although one could consider the food truck trend as over-done elsewhere, Sharjah residents are just now starting to enjoy the perks.
“We have definitely seen a spike in demand at our food-truck outlets during the pandemic,” said Muhammad Binghatti, of Binghatti Holding, owner of Cupagahwa and Slice & Bun brands, both of which have food trucks in Zad. “I believe this is mainly due to safety concerns from customers. People definitely feel better ordering from an outlet without having to mix with crowds.”
Binghatti took a decision to expand its investment into the F&B sector of Sharjah to boost revenue streams. “We have specifically chosen Zad because it’s the first project of its kind in Sharjah,” Binghatti said.
For the 20 square feet, expect to shell out Dh100,000 a month, plus a 10-15 per cent revenue share with the developer. For the 40 square feet facility, it is Dh300,000 annually plus a 20-30 per cent revenue share. These prices are somewhat negotiable depending on the concept.
What makes it an active hotspot is the Arada entertainment complex that surrounds Zad. It includes a children's playground, a skate park and Sharjah’s first drive-in cinema with free movie nights almost every day of the week. Having attracted more than 10,000 visitors in just two months, many of these have spilled over to Zad and brought in new customers to the area.
Abdulla Al Khaja, of Swift Restaurant Management, the operator of Chick’nCone, which serves fried chicken in ice cream cones, said: “When we first heard about Aljada and learnt more about the plan for the community and its direction, we knew that it was the right place for one of our food trucks. To be honest, it’s been a successful experience.”
Food trucks started gaining in popularity from 2013 when two women collaborated to launch a lonely airstream trailer, Salt Burger, on Kite Beach. Fast forward a couple of years, and you had the then director of Dubai Food Festival, Debra Greenwood, say there’s “about to be an explosion of food trucks in this city.” She was right.
With a burgeoning market for pop-up events, food trucks were coming up all over Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The food truck trend became so popular that Meraas launched four separate trailer park dining experiences in Dubai, decked out with different types of trucks and cuisines.
Picking up the baton
Now, it’s Sharjah’s turn. Fahad Al Shehhi, owner of the Cracked and Verger food trucks agrees. “It’s completely unique – there is nothing like this anywhere in Sharjah.”
Al Shehhi has also noticed that following the pandemic, people are definitely thinking more about safety, “Eating in your car or taking your food home is safer than eating in public right now. It was an easy business decision to launch here.” Since the area opened in February, it has seen 300,000 visitors stream in, for the movies and the food.
What makes the food truck movement in the UAE so interesting is that many of them serve quality cuisine, rather than a basic pizza or hot dogs. Because trucks are cheaper to run and easier to secure start-up capital for, they are a great way for cash-strapped chefs to focus on a smaller more focused menu that is more experimental.
Sharjah’s food truck business is a testing lab for all that will be trending in this space. Now, head for those trucks…