Food trucks driven to last-ditch survival bid

Top News | 31 Dec 2018

Stella Wong

Food truck operators are making a last effort to save their dying business by shifting their focus to public events.

The trucks are slowly disappearing in the city as many operators are no longer driving them to designated locations where earnings have been unsatisfactory.

The two-year food truck pilot scheme began in 2016. The trucks take turns to operate at fixed tourist locations. The government announced in September an extension of the scheme for two more years to 2021.

Fifteen operators remain in the scheme, some saying they have no choice but stay on to recoup their capital.

Among them is Gordon Lam Sui-wa, operator of food truck "Table Seven X W Burger," which is famous for its "sorrowful burger." Lam said his food truck goes only to Disneyland, starting six months ago.

Disneyland is the top operating venue in terms of revenue for all food trucks. The government said it brought in about HK$19.4 million in total for all food trucks.

"Now, no food truck is going to Wong Tai Sin Square, Energizing Kowloon East and Central Harborfront any more," Lam said.

About six months after the scheme began, the government allowed operators to choose to park at designated locations, he said. They do not need to pay rent to the location if they are not going.

"The government also understands that at those locations you cannot earn much. If it forces us to pay rent it will only speed up our death," Lam said.

His food truck was allocated a site at Energizing Kowloon East first and managed to earn a daily revenue of more than HK$10,000 at that time.

But four months later when he returned to the same location the daily revenue dropped to hundreds of dollars, and he could not break even with daily costs at thousands of dollars per day.

But Lam's food truck was already among the three that the government said "performed quite well and even followed up with brick-and-mortar shops."

However, Lam said he had planned to open the shop at the beginning and it was not related to the food truck business. And the business of the food truck was not satisfactory, he said.

Without taking into consideration the depreciation of the vehicle, his food truck business was just breaking even now.

"Initially, I thought that I can recover my investment in two to three years. But now, the revenue struggles to sustain its operation. How can I earn back the initial investment of HK$1 million on the car?"

Now, after the government said yes to food trucks at public events, Lam is putting the focus of his business on those events. In the past few months, his truck could be found stationed at various functions, including Freespace Happening at West Kowloon Cultural District, Road to Ultra and the Volvo Ocean Race.

"For most events, we recorded revenues of over HK$10,000 per day. There is a real demand for food trucks at these events," he said.

Another food truck, Ma Ma's Dumplings, also has the same strategy of joining public events, hoping to gain more revenue to cover its investment in the truck at HK$1.2 million.

Daggie Chan Ka-ling, manager of the business, said it recently joined a charity event at a hotel in Repulse Bay, which earned them HK$20,000 to HK$30,000 in a day. This is way more than the daily revenue at most designated locations, which is only hundreds to a few thousand dollars.

She said the truck was stationed only at two locations - Disneyland and Tsim Sha Tsui - in the past year.

"We have given up on other locations. At the same time, we see if there is any event for us. We certainly go when there is," Chan said.

Chan said the current situation was far from expectations at the outset. Two years ago, she expected to re-gain the capital in two to three years. But it still needed at least HK$600,000 more to reach the goal.

The profits from its shop in Yuen Long, which opened seven years ago, is now subsidizing the food truck operation.

Chan urged the government to allow food trucks to operate at private events, such as parties or weddings.

"In fact, many events can afford to rent a food truck, but the government does not approve all of them," she said.

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