Hong Kong food trucks turn to local fare to boost business at some locations

Operators are unhappy about limited mobility of their stalls, and want government to allow them to operate around the city freely

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 10:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 March, 2017, 11:52am

One month after the city’s first batch of food trucks hit the roads, operators have expanded their menus to include traditional snacks such as fish balls and siu mai to boost business amid mixed fortunes.

Among the eight locations the mobile eateries operated in, Salisbury Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui proved to be the most popular spot with more than 500 customers visiting daily, while the operators at Central’s harbourfront only served about 100 people, according to official statistics.

The varied business results in different locations have prompted some operators to urge the government to allow the vehicles to move around the city instead of being stationed at one site for two weeks.

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Book Brothers, a Los Angeles-based operator, experienced a roller-coaster month with the business performance of its first Hong Kong food truck.

It earned more than HK$10,000 per day while parked at popular tourist attraction Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai during the Lunar New Year holiday, but revenue dropped to as low as HK$900 when it moved to Central harbourfront, according to Raymond Wong, the food truck’s manager.

“Central is a nightmare. We had a great loss,” Wong said, blaming the remote location and low customer traffic.

Despite the reputation of its signature American-style barbecued steamed buns, the US operator found that traditional snacks were still the darling of both tourists and locals. This prompted it to add fish balls and dim sum dish siu mai to its menu, Wong said.

Meanwhile catering group Hung Fook Tong also offered local fare at its food truck.

The trend seemed to contradict the government’s two-year pilot scheme, which intended for food trucks to offer “creative” and “high quality” delicacies to tourists that were not available in ordinary restaurants.

But food truck operators do enjoy a certain level of flexibility to adjust their menu according to market demand, as long as they keep their signature dishes.

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Eric Wong, a lawyer who came to Central during his lunch break on Tuesday, was disappointed to find the wonton noodles he bought were no different from those in restaurants.

He said he was expecting something extra from the mobile eateries, but only found “standard products”.

“Tourists want to have a very local experience. They don’t need a beautiful package ... These type of things can be found everywhere,” Wong said. “The solution is simple: just copy the flavour of the [banned] street hawkers.”

Despite the complaints about the poor venue in Central, the Ho Yuen Express food truck enjoyed strong patronage due to a special offering – HK$1 chicken wings.

The food truck received more than 100 orders in the first two hours since opening on Friday.

“You have to keep changing your strategy,” operator Conina Mui Lok-man said, adding that customers’ tastes in each location were very different.

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“I know the venue in Central is not very good, so I need to work harder,” she said.

To tackle the unstable business, some operators urged the government to enhance the mobility of the food trucks. But the call was dismissed over concerns that the big vehicles would cause traffic problems and vicious competition for business space.

“If we allowed the food trucks to sell food by the streets, they would not only cause traffic congestion, but also invade the business of existing eateries which already need to bear the cost of rents,” a spokesman from the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said.

Food truck operators pay a rent of between HK$302 and HK$723 a day.

The two-year pilot scheme was unveiled by former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah during his 2015 budget address, as a way to diversify the city’s tourist offerings.

The 16 food trucks are permitted to operate in eight districts on a rotational basis.