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Mixed fortunes for food truck operators
Published on: Sunday, December 31, 2017
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THEY may decide to set up shop in Kota Kinabalu today, Putatan tomorrow and Kundasang almost 100km away the day after.This mobility and freedom of deciding where to carry out their business each day, whether for the whole day as part of the day or not at all is what motivated a new breed of young entrepreneurs.

Most times they are guided only by knowing where crowds may gather.

Which is an advantage over restaurants which may, get many customer for breakfast and lunch but not after office hours. Food trucks don't have this problem because they can uproot and chase after the customers.

To rent a restaurant may require signing a contract for agreed number of years, decoration and complying with various council regulations and if the landlord refuses to renew the lease, all the investment is gone.

It's also unlike operating a stall which required several trips to transport equipment from home to the stall such as tables, chairs, canopies, kitchen equipment, apart from the cooking.

"All the necessary equipment are already in the food truck, we just need to drive to the destination to set up shop", said Zainal Ariffin, whose wife Arbyanah Tawi helps prepare Malay cuisine in their trusty old Nek Mok Recipe.

"Our food prices range from RM5 to RM10 and yet, we get customers.

"Even when we operate our food truck in Tuaran, we were shocked. Customers bought our food even though priced at RM10," he said.

Besides the mobility, Zainal said the other advantages of a food truck is that operating a food truck is more organised and easier to maintain cleanliness.

"Eating at the food truck is also trendy as they can eat while standing beside the truck.

Putting Chinese business guru Jack Ma's mobility principle into practice has worked for some in the food truck business in Sabah while others have yet to see the kind of returns that would help them to at least break even.

This is due to business irregularity as obtaining a licence to operate within the city zone in KK is difficult as he is only able to operate under an event for that day.

Muhammad Takiuddin bin Moktar Yassin, one of the pioneers in the business in KK noted that however, profits have plunged since February, suggesting a decline in purchasing power.

"Our sales could reduce up to 40 per cent ever since. For example, we could earn RM1,000 per night and now have to be contended with an average of RM600.

"To counter the change in fortune, they are thinking of moving to the next level, which is franchising and expand their business at Kuala Lumpur.

"We are also not going to focus on food trucks anymore but shift towards branding and franchising," he said.

Another food truck, the Mamas, which started operating in March this year specialises on gourmet food.

Catherine, a co-owner said their food is based on ingredients and not processed ones.

The idea for the Mamas came about when her sister, a fulltime housewife, decided to operate a food truck since her children were studying abroad.

"After her children had left home for further studies, she was looking forward to do something to fill up her time.

"She got inspired by watching many food programmes on television and it was her passion for cooking that made her decide to operate a food truck.

She bought her truck from a dealer in Penang for RM90,000, last year.

"At that time KW Machinery, the supplier of food trucks in Sabah, was not in the picture yet.

The food truck was built with all the parts and modifications we wanted within 7-8 months and was ready in early January and hoped to recover the cost within this year.

She cited not being bound to operate in a single place forever as an advantage.

"We are free to expand and in terms of branding, we have a lot of opportunities. When we are bound to only one place, we could probably attract patrons at that area within a 10km radius.

"We may not have a dedicated place to operate a food truck in the city but can travel to Penampang or Putatan or even outskirts.

"We ensure our food caters to everyone, which is why our food is priced at less than RM10," she said.

A Daily Express survey found as many reasons for venturing into this mode of business as there are types of innovative food trucks.

Some have seen it work during their stay abroad, while others have been inspired by a tv show dedicated to the food truck business.

Whatever the reasons, it has been gaining from a handful in the beginning of this year to about 70 at the latest count. - Locksley Ng



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