Mumbai‘s very ﬁrst food truck has just rolled into town and it promises gourmet treats à la the 2014 Hollywood movie‚ Chef. Launched by serial F&B entrepreneur Ashish Sajnani (owner of Mumbai-based restaurant Eat Thai, Le Café, PDT Bar and Hotel Jewel of Chembur), The Bombay Food Truck has ambitious plans to roll out six more trucks this year.
In a candid chat with Nivedita Jayaram Pawar, Sajnani elaborates on the challenges of venturing out on a path less trodden
Why a food truck?
The ﬁrst time I saw a food truck was when I was studying in Europe. When I moved to the US I would eat out of food trucks and always wondered why can’t we have them back home. Starting a food truck was something I had always dreamt of. The fact that Bombay doesn’t have a food truck was a huge inspiration and, yes, the movie Chef was inspiring too. But after coming to India, I got busy with my restaurants and running a hotel. However the food truck was always at the back of my mind and I realised that launching one would make me happy.
Was it particularly difﬁcult considering the licensing issues? What were the challenges involved in launching Mumbai’s ﬁrst food truck?
We are still trying to ﬁgure out licences and the correct way forward so that in the future it’s encouraging for more people to follow. The biggest issue is that there is no clear legislation – hence there is no speciﬁc way forward or a regulation system to deal with a food truck in Mumbai. But the BMC is now forming guidelines.
So how did you go about it?
The biggest challenge was trying to explain the concept to the regulators who kept telling us that we couldn’t do it. Every time I tried to explain it to the ofﬁcials they would tell me – sorry, there are no rules, you can’t do it. Since I could anticipate some of the issues I didn’t put gas or any ﬂammable equipment on the truck. I knew that would be against the law for sure. So I made it electrical. Another issue is that you can’t park it on the streets. So we take The Bombay Food Truck (BFT) to events, festivals and concerts.
So where is the truck parked for business on a regular day? How do you intimate people of the location?
Currently, due to the lack of legislation, we travel to private locations and corporate parks. You can ﬁnd us from Monday to Friday at One BKC in Mumbai. They needed F&B solutions and we were more than happy to provide it. Besides, BFT also travels across India to festivals, concerts and private parties. In fact, BFT is available for events, festivals, brand activations and, maybe, even a big fat Indian wedding or two.
We update our patrons on our locations via our website www.bombayfoodtruck.com, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram.
You have been a hospitality entrepreneur for quite some time now. How different is the food truck business from a brick and mortar one? What are the day-to-day challenges of running a food truck?
Operating a food truck is very exciting and inspiring and different from running a regular F&B outlet. To begin with, the investment for a food truck is much smaller than a standalone/ chain restaurant. Of course, both have their own merits. The food truck business is quicker, faster and more challenging. You need to innovate with the times and demands of customers as the preferences change from location to location! Also, service has to be swift and peppy, as that is what patrons expect from us.
What are the equipment inside the truck? How much cooking is done inside the truck?
We have a refrigerator, salamander, griller, fryer, oven and two induction burners. All our food is cooked at our central kitchen in Chembur. We make our own breads and desserts there. All our equipment on the truck is electrical and induction based. Most of the ingredients are pre-prepped in the kitchen and all we need to do is grill or fry on the truck.
What does the menu hold and what are the best sellers?
The food I saw on the food truck in the movie Chef was very gourmet. And since I had access to all that, I chose to keep the menu gourmet and international. I discussed with my chefs and we came to the conclusion that it had to be short and simple too. So the menu at BFT holds gourmet sandwiches, salads, burgers, hot dogs and fries. The pav bhaji roll, nachos and the kheema pav are the most popular dishes. We keep innovating the menu. Our food is served with much quirk as it breaks away from the monotony of boring, roadside eats.
What’s the response to the truck so far?
It’s a new concept and the response has been phenomenal. People are happy and have reached out to us to say that they have always wanted to eat out of a food truck ever since they watched the American tele series Eat Street.
What is your price strategy for BFT?
Nothing that we serve is over Rs. 250. The idea is to keep our offerings accessible, topical and open for anyone to try across income brackets and demographics. Also, BFT’s concept is to serve Gourmet Street Food from across the world, hence the price points need to be value -driven.
What are your learning with the ﬁrst food truck that you may incorporate in the next launches?
The biggest learning has been collaboration and innovation – the more people you reach, the more you learn of their preferences and the more freedom you have to innovate!
What are your future plans?
Post some legislation clarity, we plan to launch six more trucks in 2016 across India. These will be located at corporate parks and events.