Local Focus: Food trucks in Hawke’s Bay on the rise


A small business like a food truck can be easier to manage but also can be filled with uncertainty.

The arrival of the summer sun brings a boom in business for Hawke’s Bay food truck owners.

In recent years, more and more food trucks have been popping up all over the Bay, offering a diverse range of cuisine.

There are 61 mobile food businesses registered with Hastings District Council and 46 with Napier City Council.

The calendar of events, concerts, and markets is good news for both food lovers and food business owners.

“Hawkes Bay is an amazing place to have a food truck with everything that happens during the warmer months,” says Shani Ehlers, owner of Shani’s Rib Trucks.

“There weren’t that many around when we started our food trucks five years ago. But now it’s very common to see a new one opening every other month. “

Tresna Wood is one of the new food truck owners. She opened her Flamingo Food Cart two months ago in Napier, and it cost around $55,000 to set up.

“I just wanted to be my own boss and do my own thing, and I enjoy food,” Wood said. “So it was an opportunity to put some of my food out there.”

Setting up a mobile food business is easier than opening a new restaurant. There’s less investment required and more flexible hours. Also the business can set up in a different location every week.

Ehlers has a restaurant and three food trucks. She found the restaurant business would die down in the summer months.

“We tried to figure out a way to take our food and services to the people instead of always waiting for them to come to us.”

Ehlers realised that only having a restaurant is risky. Especially during uncertain times.

“When Covid hit, we found food trucks were classed as takeaways. So we were still able to operate in Level 3 when the restaurant couldn’t.”

A small business like a food truck can be easier to manage but it is also full of uncertainty.

James Owen has his Silver Bullet Food site on Marine Parade, Napier. He says the business is very seasonal and unpredictable.

“If the weather is good on the weekend, it’s always going to get busy. But if it’s raining or windy, it can be very quiet.”

The business fluctuates from day to day, making it difficult to generate a sustainable income. Learning to survive the colder, quieter months is essential.

Like restaurants, the mobile food business requires a lot of investment in time as well – from preparing ingredients to serving food, applying for permits and doing the accounts.

And the erratic and long working hours can be hard to balance with home life.

Kerry Mackay was a chef for over ten years, before he started Vagabond Jack’s food truck in 2016 and quickly built a loyal customer base. But he had to close temporarily in January this year.

“I was getting annoyed that the business was invading family life. I was always answering the phone, preparing the food, and doing dishes. It took up a lot of time for not a large amount of money. “

Mackay decided to have a separation from the business. He found a job cooking for students at Iona College, which has regular hours and holidays.

“I don’t wake up in the middle of the night and think, “have I got enough chips? Do I have enough meat?”. And I have Saturday and Sunday off, which I haven’t had for over 30 years.”

Due to the hospitality staff shortage and supply chain issues, those still in business face unprecedented challenges.

For Shani’s Rib Truck, the biggest struggle is staffing.

“We’re desperately looking for chefs, and it seems to be really difficult to find.”

Kassie Kanthavong started running the Asian Food Truck from her parents. She says the profit is not as good as before.

“Because the inflation is going right up. Everything is just going up. It’s not as much as what my parents used to earn. But we still keep going.”

Owen is also worried about ingredients and prices.

“There’s always something that’s out of stock. There’s a chicken nugget shortage in the country.

“The prices are just increasing all the time, sometimes in big jumps. Oil has gone up about 300%. Dairy and milk have gone up about 30%. And just this year alone.”

As with other businesses, there are good days and bad. But the people in this industry are staying positive.

“The most important thing is trying to build your client base, to keep your food and service as consistent as you can so that you have customers returning to you time and time again.”



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