The concept of food trucks has long moved on from the days of soft serve cones on a sticky Summer’s day and deep fried hotdogs at school fairs. The hospitality scene in New Zealand has seen the arrival of a new kind of street food, one that is pulling up and serving gourmet food, freshly made in front of your eyes from just about every cuisine you could think of. And along with the rise of bringing great food outside, has come events centred around this very concept. No longer do we have to wait until the next music festival or market to get our hands on these food truck-exclusive delights, as street food has now become the star of the show at night markets and events every month.
At the centre of this rise is the Food Truck Collective, a group of street food vendors who have brought together their combined entrepreneurial minds to better showcase their culinary talents. The group, consisting of over 70 members, now regularly roll up at venues all across Auckland for Collective-organised events.
The brains behind this collective is Maggie Gray, a food truck veteran and a believer in bringing street food to the fore. Maggie, together with Double Dutch Fries owner, Tim van der Werff, have been bringing the unique taste of this culinary concept to hungry foodies for over two years now, with night markets and vegan food festivals planned for the coming Summer months.
We spoke to Maggie about the collective, the difficulties food trucks are facing during the pandemic and what makes street food so special.
What first sparked your interest in the food industry?
The idea of starting my own food business surfaced shortly after I went on maternity leave, five years ago. My lifestyle had completely changed since having a baby and I wanted to create something that could be flexible and I could manage.
At this same time, I was drinking smoothies to keep my energy up in those early months of motherhood and it suddenly dawned on me about starting a smoothie food truck that could roam around Auckland and popular events, serving delicious smoothies!
What drew you to get into the food truck business?
I had always enjoyed working in the hospitality industry in-between studying and love the atmosphere, so I imagined food truck life would be pretty similar. I’ll confess that I am not a talented chef by any stretch of the imagination, but I can make a great tasting smoothie!
At the time, there wasn’t any other smoothie business in Auckland offering wholesome vegan smoothies and my research indicated there was a demand for healthier food trucks, so the opportunity was there to give it a go!
Why have a food truck over a brick and mortar space?
The main attraction of starting a food truck rather than opening a traditional brick and mortar space, is that it is totally flexible, less risky and probably a lot cheaper! The beauty of being able to jump from event to event and finding new and existing customers every time, rather than relying on the same customers to come to you, is an advantage.
Tell us about the Food Truck Collective and how the idea for it came about.
The Food Truck Collective started in early 2018, however the concept goes back a few years prior. Our Collective consists of a large group of like-minded entrepreneurs who are following their dream of starting their own food business and we are proud to have brought them together. We support one another, share ideas, experiences and encourage each other during the highs & lows of running a food truck.
My friend, Tim (who also runs Double Dutch Fries), and I joined forces to create a night market that would run throughout Winter. Winter is especially tough for food trucks due to the lack of events and colder weather. We hired a venue in Kingsland in September 2016, organised half a dozen vendors to attend and went live on Facebook.
It had a fantastic response and we were blown away with the crowd that turned up that night who queued around the block to get in. We knew then we were on to something. Great street food and great live music (supplied by my husband, Lee Gray) is a recipe for success.
Since then it has evolved into running a series of regular street food events and festivals all over the city; Britomart Food Truck Fridays, Street Food @ Point Chev, Te Atatu Night Markets, Catalina Bay Night Market, Orakei Night Market, Vegan Food Festival, Street Kai on Takutai and our most recent Fried Chicken Festival at Shed 10 – our biggest event to date.
Our Collective now has 70 members and we welcome new street food operators to get in touch!
It seems food trucks and street food have become really popular in recent years, what do you put this popularity down to?
The diversity of street food vendors and cuisines in Auckland is at an all-time high and will probably continue to rise. The quality has stepped up a notch in the last five years and there are more events looking for food trucks to cater, including many weddings and private events.
Each vendor has their unique offerings that cater for all taste buds, including gluten-free pasta from Amaranto, vegan delights from Vege Bang Bang and authentic international dishes direct from the Philippines from Hapunan.
What is it about street food that makes it so special?
The whole experience of street food dining; the people, atmosphere, smells and most importantly, eating with your eyes and seeing your food being made on the spot by talented chefs is so special.
What difficulties do street food vendors often face?
There are definitely some considerations all food truck owners need to take into account before starting. As mentioned, the flexibility is there, however if you want the business to succeed you have to work hard. Events at their best are so deceiving to the public, long queues and hot days are an operator’s dream day, however this is not always the case. Rain, poor attendance and high rental fees to pitch up are the biggest difficulties that vendors can face.
Not forgetting the biggest difficulty of late, Covid-19 causing the cancellation of hundreds of events over the two lockdowns in New Zealand. The loss of income over Winter, especially over the toughest period for food vendors, was hard. However, we were all thankful for the wage subsidy. Fingers crossed it doesn’t return over Summer!
What benefit do the Food Truck Collective events have for vendors?
Our Collective brings street food vendors together to help with the rollercoaster ride of owning your own business. As a group, we can source group buyer discounts, host business workshops, share external event enquiries, peer to peer support and make industry changes to the high event fees by collectively pushing back.
Over the last few years, we have introduced a new method that is a win-win for event organisers and vendors alike. A small percentage of gross sales is charged as a stall fee, therefore if the event is great, the vendor will do great and the organiser will reap the rewards. It builds a trusting relationship between the vendor and event organiser which is important when hosting repetitive events.
The nature of takeaway food often produces waste, how do you promote sustainability at Food Truck Collective events?
Our Collective is really passionate about sustainability and preventing high waste at events. All our vendors use compostable or recyclable packaging which is collected by our friends at SuperTrash. Over the past 18 months, we have diverted 70.86 Tonnes from landfill – that’s about as heavy as the space shuttle, Endeavour!
Upcoming Events From The Food Truck Collective
Street Kai on Takutai
City Centre food festival hosted at Britomart celebrating the origins of Auckland street food with live music and an on site bar.
9 October, 12-8pm – Takutai Square, Britomart
Te Atatu Night Markets
Monthly night market hosted in Te Atatu Peninsula with the largest selection of food trucks in Auckland, plus craft stalls and live entertainment.
16 October, 5-9pm – Te Atatu Peninsula
Auckland Vegan Food Festival
Returning for its third year, the Vegan Food Festival has a selection of food trucks, stalls and eco-marketplace.
7 March 2021, 10am-4pm – Corban Estate, Henderson, Auckland.