Setback for Hong Kong food truck scheme as operator pulls out

Capital Cafe withdraws even before hitting the street as other sellers report mixed fortunes in first month

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 11:25pm

The city’s infant food truck scheme was dealt a heavy blow on Friday when operator Capital Cafe decided to quit even before it hit the road.

According to a government statement, the withdrawal of the Hong Kong-style cafe chain was a “business decision” and it would invite a new operator from its waiting list as a replacement.

The dropout comes less than a month after the first batch of 16 food trucks were rolled out. Four operators, including Capital Cafe, had yet to start business.

Capital Cafe was selected to join the tourism scheme after winning a cook-off challenge last year with its Spain Iberian Pork Club Sandwich. It planned to offer halal-certified Cantonese pastries such as wife cakes to attract international Muslim tourists.

It had not yet secured the licences required by the government, though it had already bought a truck, the Post has learnt.

Eat my shorts! Food trucks are just a vanity project

Owner Swadiq Khan confirmed the decision with the Post on Friday without further explanation.

In an interview last year, the Hong Kong-born Muslim said he was concerned about whether his truck could make a profit, complaining that excessive registration and licensing requirements and red tape had significantly driven up costs.

“I was holding the idea of operating a small food stall by the street, but now it’s more like I am opening a restaurant,” Khan said then, explaining that the difficulties went far beyond what he had expected a year ago.

It was understood that Capital Cafe had asked the Tourism Commission – which is in charge of the scheme – to exempt its rents and allow it to sell food outside all eight designated areas instead of being stationed at one site for two weeks before rotating. The commission rejected the requests.

Those already operating have experienced mixed fortunes, prompting some to expand their menus to include traditional snacks such as fish balls and siu mai to boost business.

I guess the negative news reports might have scared the operator
Lawmaker Yiu Si-wing

Food sellers at popular spots such as Salisbury Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui have handled more than 500 customers a day, but operators at Central’s harbourfront have only served about 100, according to official statistics.

“I guess the negative news reports might have scared the operator,” tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said.

He feared the withdrawal of Capital Cafe would affect future applicants if the scheme was expanded. But Yiu said the operators should quickly adjust their business strategies based on the characteristics of each location.

“Some operators are doing well. I believe it is a financially viable business,” he added.

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.