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Hong Kong economy

Broke and broken, food truck operator calls it quits after losing HK$800,000 in just four months

Owner of Creative Yummy, third operator to exit scheme, says he saw no way to turn business around

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 10:06am

About two years ago, Raymond Chu Wan-man left a stable job as a chef in Britain and returned to Hong Kong in the hope of running one of the city’s first food trucks.

His dream came true last July after his signature grilled cheese sandwich took him through two rounds of selections to become one of 16 winners who would kick off a government-led programme designed to promote tourism.

But now, the Hong Kong-born chef is calling it quits, selling the vehicle and returning to the UK to find another job, after operating his “Creative Yummy” truck for only four months.

“If I were still in my 20s, I could [endure] longer. But I’ve got a family to support,” Chu said.

Why Hong Kong’s food truck scheme is failing to get into gear

Chu, father of a toddler, said the business had not lived up to his financial expectations, nor could he see any hope of a turnaround. He decided to stop running the truck to avoid further losses.

“I was planning to build some reputation through the scheme and open my own restaurant one day with the help of investors,” the chef said.

But after he put more than HK$800,000 of his savings into the business, no investors showed up.

“There has been too much negative news coverage about the food trucks. Investors are concerned … The prospects for the restaurant might be better if it had nothing to do with food trucks,” he said with a wry smile.

“Unlike big companies that have other sources of revenue, I rely solely on the profits from the food truck. I just could not save enough to open my own restaurant,” he said.

Chu is the third operator to quit since the city’s first batch of 16 food trucks was rolled out at tourist spots in February as part of a two-year pilot scheme announced by then financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah with an aim to diversify the city’s tourism offerings.

The scheme has been controversial since the very beginning because of issues ranging from the high costs required to meet the government’s standards and the lengthy process to win licence approval to the poor choice of locations for the trucks.

Hong Kong’s food trucks scheme leaves operators with a bad taste in the mouth

Chu said he had underestimated the cost of operating a food truck in Hong Kong and added that some locations just did not work, no matter how hard he tried.

“I thought the rent for the venues was acceptable,” Chu said, but that was before he realised he had to rent a backup kitchen to support the operation of the mobile eatery – a government requirement.

“The essence of a food truck is you do everything on the truck to keep the cost low,” he said.

The venues assigned by the government at Wong Tai Sin and Kwun Tong drew few people, Chu said, recalling how he sometimes sat for hours without getting a single customer.

He also questioned the efficacy of targeting tourists instead of locals with the food truck scheme.

“Tourists are interested in things that are enjoyed and recommended by locals, like Taiwan’s night markets. You can’t just create something new and expect tourists would like it,” Chu said.

Now in the process of packing for his to return to the UK, the chef expressed his appreciation for his mother, who worked 16 hours every day to help him run the food truck during the sweltering Hong Kong summer.

“My mum has been very supportive from the very beginning. But she is getting old. I don’t have the heart to let her continue,” he said.

Despite the end of Creative Yummy, Chu’s dream of running food trucks and a restaurant is still alive.

“I wouldn’t call it a failure. I have met good people and learned a lot about how to operate a food truck. It may work for me in the UK,” he said.