Adventures in a food truck

SINGAPORE - Owning a food truck is a hip, fun venture for food mavericks to ply their trade.

Well, that's the impression given in movies and TV shows. Anyone who saw Jon Favreau's movie Chef about a chef operating a food truck would have found it hard not to be swayed by the romantic notion of creating Le Cordon Bleu food in a kitchen more suited for cordoned-off bleurgh.

But Matt Basile cautions about rushing into the business.

The main misconception, said the 29-year-old Canadian, is that "food truck life is easy money".

"That does not even come close. Every day is a hustle and grind!"

Basile should know. He's an expert in the food truck business, earning the title of "pop-up king" in his home town of Toronto.

Two years ago the food lover ditched his day job as a copywriter to set-up his food business, Fidel Gastro. He has yet to look back.

From running pop-up eatery operations he bought Priscilla - his 1981 fire marshall's truck. The Fidel Gastro website describes Priscilla as "Toronto's loudest most extremo retro streetfood kitchen on wheels".

Basile also recently succumbed to tradition and opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant called Lisa Marie. With his unique brand of sandwiches, he has captured the hearts and stomachs of Toronto residents.

He is also the host of Rebel Without A Kitchen, a food series airing on the Asian Food Channel (StarHub TV Ch 435) from Sept 11 at 10pm, where he takes his food truck on the road through Toronto, organising pop-ups in the most unlikely spots to deliver his culinary take on his favourite street food.

He talked to M about the dos and must-dos of running a food truck business.

Food truck businesses can be quite sporadic. How do you keep going?

Our food truck is pretty busy. Between festivals, public services and catering, it's rare that we go long periods of time without using the truck, other than in the winter of course.

Besides great food, what other elements help make a food truck or pop-up business successful?

You have to be a well-marketed idea. People need to be able to engage with your brand.

The best advice I can give is to make sure you don't just rush into this because it looks fun.

Take your time and really think about your menu and concept, and get people excited about it before you launch.

Singapore has many food centres that provide good, affordable and easily accessible food. Do you think the food truck concept can take off here?

I don't see why not. Food trucks are just a vessel to make street food accessible for people.

I'm not sure how easy it would be to drive the massive trucks around though. But other than that, there's no reason why it shouldn't work.

It would just come down to logistics.

What are the challenges and benefits of going from a food truck to a restaurant?

The food truck is seasonal but I love how engaged you can be with your customer. While the restaurant is a larger canvas to be creative with, it just costs more across the board.

This article was first published on September 17, 2014.
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