Hong Kong’s struggling food truck operators are seeing encouraging signs that business will improve as the coronavirus pandemic eases, but they have also expressed hope the government will not scrap the scheme. Five trucks are operating regularly in the city, up from only two at the beginning of the year, with owners saying local customers were returning to attractions such as Hong Kong Disneyland and the West Kowloon Cultural District. Last month, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said the food truck trial, extended until February 2022, might not survive a government review. Fifteen trucks selling snacks and light meals made their appearance to much fanfare in 2017, in an experiment to liven up Hong Kong’s tourist attractions. After a promising start, operators soon began complaining about stringent regulations, such as having to rotate between eight designated spots every two weeks. Not all the sites had a ready pool of customers, they said. Their business was hit hard through the months of anti-government protests in 2019, then came to a standstill with the arrival of Covid-19. Since the virus struck the city, some locations have been closed periodically because of social-distancing rules, including at Ocean Park and Wong Tai Sin Square. The slump in business caused most operators to keep their food trucks parked and avoid running at a loss. Three decided to quit, including Gordon Lam Sui-wa, chairman of the Hong Kong Food Truck Federation, who dropped out in February. End of the road for Hong Kong’s food truck operators? But others have held on. The five that have been operating regularly over the past three months are The Butcher’s Club, Book Brothers, SawadeeCar, Pat Chun Saucy, and the Hung Fook Tong food trucks. Leo Choi Chun-keung, who runs The Butcher’s Club, said although business remained rough, customers had started appearing again earlier this year. His truck, which sells burgers, has been operating opposite Lung Mei Beach in Tai Po, and he is counting on beachgoers to boost sales. “The good thing about food trucks is that they are mobile and flexible, able to adapt to each season,” Choi said. “I expect more people to come out as the summer holidays begin.” With fewer trucks in the business, he added, the scheme’s rotation schedule was no longer a hindrance, as the five trucks got their pick of eight locations. The owner of the Book Brothers food truck, who asked to be identified as Cheung, operates six days a week at Hong Kong Disneyland, or as long as the theme park is open. He invested HK$1 million (US$129,000) in his truck, which sells Beijing roast duck buns. At its best, he employed seven workers and could rake in up to HK$50,000 per month. He had to stop operating during the worst months of the pandemic. When the theme park reopened in February, he hired two workers to help him and has since begun to break even, thanks to locals visiting Disneyland. On the possibility that the scheme may be scrapped, he said: “The government should wait one or two years, or until borders reopen, to decide, as that’s when all the other trucks will come flocking back to business.” Cheung, who owns three food trucks, also sees potential in allowing the food trucks to cater to local events as restrictions on gatherings ease. “That’s the whole point of having four wheels, travelling to all sorts of events,” he said. Covid-19 deals killer blow to food trucks, as more operators abandon scheme The owner of SawadeeCar, who gave her surname as Lee, suspended business when the pandemic hit in January last year, but resumed by the middle of the year. “We managed to operate last year, and business is only going to become even better as people get vaccinated this year,” she said. Lee operates mainly on weekends and public holidays at the West Kowloon Cultural District, although she hopes to set up at Disneyland when tourists return. It would not make sense to scrap the scheme just as social-distancing measures were being relaxed, she said, adding that “those of us who are still operating keep in contact, and we’ve all agreed we want to continue”. Choi said while tourists had not yet returned to Hong Kong, the food trucks must adapt and attract loyal local customers by serving quality food, maintaining a strong brand and appearing at more events. “As the pandemic situation improves, people will come out,” he said. “The fact that we are still open every day is living proof food trucks are sustainable in Hong Kong.” Asked to comment on the operators’ appeals to keep the scheme running, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said it had nothing more to add to the secretary’s previous remarks.