Conventional fabricators and distributors and food truck specialists alike have been taking advantage of the booming street food scene.
Target Catering Equipment’s MD, David Pedrette thinks that trucks are an easy entry level for those looking to become catering venue operators. The Gloucester-based fabricator and distributor has been involved in several trailer fit-outs, including converting an old American Airstream trailer into a Tex Mex diner to increase the capacity of the Royal Oak pub in Tepbury. “Only a specialist fabricator could fit out this caravan, as there were no straight lines within it,” commented Pedrette.
The firm usually specialises in induction equipment but for this installation it was required to fit LPG gas-powered equipment from Lincat. It is currently working on a proposal for an induction equipped trailer for street food and festival use for a London pop-up restaurant owner, however.
Road regulations for trailers changed in 2014, meaning they now all have to have an individual vehicle approval (IVA) certificate. This means that as well as being roadworthy, they cannot be overweight. “We are fortunate to have a weighbridge nearby, so once we have outfitted a trailer with the catering equipment, we weigh it to make sure it does not exceed the specifications,” said Pedrette.
Elsewhere, installation and servicing firm, the Safeguard Group, has discovered a niche in this market. LPG trailer service and maintenance is highly specialised, requiring qualified and skilled engineers who can operate at different levels of gas safety and installation. The Oldham-based company found that people providing that service were proving to be thin on the ground.
MD Steve Ingham explained: “We have customers who work trade fairs and markets so when they came to us for help I thought: why don’t we train our own people and start doing it ourselves?”
Safeguard quickly built up team of engineers and has seen a huge response since it started advertising LPG services in March.
It was after a routine repair for a regular customer that Ingham was contacted by a young couple who wanted him to do something special with an old builders’ van.
He detailed: “I was a bit surprised when they told me that they wanted to turn it into a mobile coffee shop, but once I’d seen that the van was actually in pretty good condition I thought it was a real opportunity to offer a completely unique service. So we turned it into not just a coffee bar but also one that could serve hot and cold snacks.”
The van now has a full LPG kit, refrigeration, WhiteRock ceiling and walls, electrics and even LED lights. Ingham concluded: “It’s turned out really well and I’m amazed what we’ve managed to pack into an old van. The couple intend to take it round the country to all kinds of fairs and events, but not until after its paint job, which I believe is going to be a case of covering it in coffee beans. We’re not doing that for them, but maybe we should start looking into that too.” [[page-break]]
Some end-users are looking for unique designs to attract customers, and so turn to specialist food truck outfitters. One of these is Vintage Food Trucks, which sources and outfits vintage vehicles, converting them into mobile catering units.
Director, Hicham Haidar, divides his time between the UK and Sweden, and has an international clientele. He explained: “As previous restaurant and catering business owners we do understand that functionality and space planning is more vital than the sum of the cooking tools. Depending on whether the food truck is for daily street usage, festivals or private hire the design will vary.”
All its vans are built to EU hygiene and safety regulations with non slippery floors, high and low vents, hot water systems and complying with minimum cabin length and height requirements. The gas and electrical installations are tested and certified too.
For the equipment, Haidar detailed: “We always suggest certain specialist brands to use based on personal experience, quality and most importantly after-sales services and parts availability. Usually our clients will opt for stainless steel machinery and not white goods.”
Vintage Food Trucks ensures its vehicles are roadworthy using its experienced team of mechanics and panel beaters. All of its vans are stripped and re-wired before refurbishing and it uses original equipment with warranties from trusted professional sources. Furthermore, the outfitter trains its clients on how to drive and maintain the vehicles, as well as using a third party MOT specialist to re-test the vans to ensure they meet road safety standards. It also offers 6-month guarantees on all its vehicles and work.
One recent unusual project was for a property developer in Singapore who wanted an indoor vintage food truck bar within the interior of a converted church. The van had to be designed to be able to be dismantled for transportation through an old narrow staircase in the building. With just a 3 week window to complete and ship the vehicle, Vintage Food Trucks rose to the challenge. “This is probably the first flat packed food truck ever built!” quipped Haidar.
Food trucks come in many forms, and one that has been around for a while is that of the sandwich truck. Bradford-based Jiffy Trucks has been making purpose-built stainless steel catering trucks for over 40 years now. Its vehicles are designed to deliver pre-made food to workplaces daily.
Business manager John Briggs reported: “‘Opening shops is like playing Russian Roulette these days’, a customer told me the other week. With a van you can change the route as things change and develop.”
He believes that the truck needs to have protection from the elements, great display, be easy to load and look professional. “We think the customer experience is what will make or break the operator. You need flow: the customer serves themselves from the fridge, the ambient and finally ends up at the heated section where the operator will serve them and take the money. A successful round is based on speed, you need them to walk just once along the van, pay and move along.”
All of its vehicles use engine driven compressor fridges, with a diesel blown air heater for the oven. “This is proven equipment that will work 5 days a week without problems. The truck is built in-house and has been developed by us over the last 40 years,” said Briggs.
Jiffy offers four models, with all being approved by the British Sandwich Association. “Due to restrictions with type approval it’s too costly to build bespoke, although we do have a special design for the UK’s best known retailer!” he added. All the firm’s designs are fully type tested and approved by the government’s vehicle certification agency (VCA).