There is a new business trend in town, and it appears to be picking up speed.
Food businesses operating from specially equipped trucks have been appearing in the Klang Valley recently.
An example of this are the men of the La Famiglia food truck.
Big fans of the 1972 Hollywood blockbuster movie The Godfather, the trio, who often have their hair slicked back and hidden under fedorasas a nod to the movie, say they are out to create “pasta mafia to rule KL”.
Everything from the truck to the items on the menu to their outfits reflect their Italian inspiration.
“We as a ‘mafia’ are not about gangsters, we’re all about business... it’s just our business concept,” Syazwan Khairuddin, 29, said with a laugh.
Together with partners Danial Marzd, 29, and Mohd Rusydi, 31, they target college students and office workers, with prices ranging from RM5 to RM8.
These homegrown pasta mafiosos came from vastly different backgrounds in banking, construction and animation, and decided to strike out on their own as entrepreneurs.
“It’s in our blood, all our other family members have their own businesses. We want to be like them – they are our ‘Godfathers’,” said Danial.
Setting up took two years of careful planning and six months of active preparation. While many young people see food trucks as an easy business, they stress a passion for food and the drive to succeed are important.
With no culinary background, they learnt how to cook and man the truck themselves. They bought a cafe two years ago for the sole purpose of learning the F&B trade in preparation for La Famiglia. It now doubles as the central kitchen for the truck, which they stock in the morning and during their “rest” time between locations.
“We get maybe four hours of sleep a day running the truck. It’s not easy but we love it. We’ll take a holiday when we’re 45!” said Syazwan.
They plan to expand to other cities, but are adamant about hiring the right people to maintain quality. The difficulty of finding the right people is one of the main challenges they face running the business, with another being the amount of time it takes to prepare their food.
“Young people these days may not like such difficult jobs so we are looking at hiring foreigners. They’re more hard-working, more loyal.”
Often found next to the La Famiglia truck when it is in SS15, Subang Jaya, is the brightly coloured SpagMe truck. A year and three months old, they specialise in fried spaghetti, and consider La Famiglia as friends.
“We don’t see it as competition — we organise food truck gatherings together,” said the owner of SpagMe, Cavin Ng, 36.
Ng and his friend Dexter Yee, 37, left their jobs in advertising and insurance to start a business they hoped would bring smiles to people’s faces. He had seen food trucks in the US and realised there was a niche here.
“The food truck allows us to connect to our customers. The world is too digital now.”
It took half a year to launch their truck, with the duo choosing a bright concept and cheery logo to attract people.
While Ng had culinary experience in the US, Yee had to learn and now mans the kitchen while Cavin takes the orders. Like La Famiglia they tested recipes on friends and family, but found it harder to attract attention initially.
“There weren’t as many food trucks back then so we really had to go out there, talk to customers, and explain who we are and what we do.”
Though business is booming, their plans to expand are also hampered by the lack of manpower.
“We have plans, but it’s hard to find good workers. F&B means long hours unlike an office job; you must work twelve, sixteen hours!”
Ng advises budding food truck entrepreneurs to plan well, and to be committed.
“If you’re unhappy now, there’s no point even starting. You need teamwork — the kitchen environment is harsh.”
KL’s fast growing food truck scene has attracted many and is poised to be the next F&B trend after hipster cafes.
Kenneth Sim graduated from Switzerland with a culinary degree and plans to open a food truck by the end of the year. Despite working experience in the UK and Sydney, he found hotel kitchens unexciting and decided to try a food truck rather than a restaurant.
“There’s a smaller investment – less risk. I don’t have the necessary experience to open a restaurant so I’d rather start with a food truck.”
There’s also the added bonus of being his own boss, noting it would have taken years if he stayed in a hotel or restaurant.
“I realised I don’t want to work for people. Even if this fails I’ll still learn from it, revise the menu and start again.”
He said it’s taken two to three months of planning and research to start. The concept, layout and menu of the truck are almost done, and the truck should cost anywhere from RM120,000 to RM230,000 depending on the size and customisation.
“A few friends may join me as I offer them the chance to be their own boss. Young people these days want to be independent.”
Despite the growing number of food trucks, some like Nicholas Tan chose to go back to running a restaurant.
The 30-year-old is one of the owners of Big Hug Burgers in Subang Square. The unit trust consultant turned F&B entrepreneur has a passion for homemade, gourmet burgers, but feels it is easier to run a restaurant rather than a food truck.
His food truck is only used for events now, and he discourages budding entrepreneurs from starting one.
Another business partner rented the truck to offer Japanese food, but it closed down within a few months.
The reason is not financial, but rather the lack of a licence. SpagMe and La Famiglia also cited this as one of the biggest problems faced by food vendors.
“After a year and three months we are still waiting for our licence,” said Ng of SpagMe.
“If any food truck or lok lok stall operator says they have a licence they are lying,” he claims.
La Famiglia has also applied but has yet to receive word.
“We’ve asked DBKL a few times but they give excuses. Our waiting time isn’t as long as others, we know of someone who has been waiting six years!”
For Tan, the lack of a licence proved too much, as the truck would always have to pack up and move whenever enforcement officers come around.
“I’m happy with Big Hug Burgers though I wouldn’t say no to running the truck again. However it really depends on whether we get a licence.”