Hong Kong food trucks finally hit the streets

The first Hong Kong food trucks have hit the streets – 16 in all will be operational tomorrow.

Stationed at eight locations, they will offer a range of dishes as diverse as dumplings, dragonfruit smoothies and American-style steamed bread.

It is the launch of a two-year pilot scheme to diversify the city’s tourism offerings, announced two years ago by former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.

Among the 16 chosen pioneers is Stanford graduate Angela Huang, an heiress of catering group Chee Kei, a restaurant chain known for its wonton noodles. The 25-year-old left her dream job in the US to return to Hong Kong to run the 5.5-tonne food truck Princess Kitchen.

Seeing the project as “a good learning opportunity”, she says she feels that the word “princess” has a negative connotation in Hong Kong. “I want to use Princess Kitchen to send a message about what I feel about princess. It is not meant to be a girly and traditional type of princess. People should be able to define their own kind of beauty, happiness and health.”

Huang learned about the pilot scheme while working as a consultant in San Francisco. “I want to come back for something I am excited about. This is something I really want to do.”

To learn about running a mobile food business, the heiress started by taking orders in a food truck in San Francisco, and visited different ones in Los Angeles.

Her food truck, which she painted herself including cartoon portraits of her friends and family, will offer dragonfruit smoothie bowls, which she would make at home and which are rarely available in the city.
Huang, who says she feels lucky to be part of the pilot scheme, has hired two full-time staff members to help run the venture.

Incentives

The government offered incentives to start-ups and micro-enterprises to kickstart the scheme.. In the end, seven of the 16 winners were smaller firms.

Part-time hawker and small restaurant owner Liu Chun-ho says he has so far spent HK$1 million (US$128,875) on his truck, Mama’s Dumpling. He had to obtain a bank loan and raise money from relatives.

“I was planning to spend from $600,000 to $700,000 originally, but when I started preparing it realised the actual costs are much higher.”

Almost $180,000 was spent to fit out the truck in accordance with the government’s safety and hygiene requirements. “It’s stressful to bear a cost that big,” he says. “It scares me when I think about it.”

Liu has been selling dumplings for almost seven years during traditional celebrations. Four generations of the Liu family have been dedicated to making dumplings, and even his nine-year-old daughter has mastered the skill. Liu says the food truck will be run entirely by relatives.

His signature dumplings will have wrappers in five colours. He plans to sell a box of six dumplings for $40. Pig knuckles, fried dumplings and soybean milk will also be on offer.

Not all locals

Not all the food trucks are local enterprises, such as Los Angeles-based Book Brothers Food Truck.
“Hong Kong is a much better place to promote the brand compared with mainland cities,” says Raymond Wong, who was assigned by the US firm to manage its first food truck outside the US. The firm, which has seven food trucks and one restaurant in the US, won over the judges last year with its American-style barbecue steamed bun, which integrates Chinese and Western elements.

Wong says a food truck is a cheaper way to establish brand reputation, given the city’s high running costs. The company has invested about $1 million on the project so far, Wong says, while opening a small cafe could easily cost up to $3 million.

It needs to pay only about $20,000 a month for the site at Hong Kong Disneyland – the most expensive location – while monthly rents for a restaurant in a prime location could climb to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, the American firm has found Hong Kong’s requirements more stringent, such as using new vehicles plus installing back-up batteries. Wong also says it is not easy to make a profit with only one truck.
Some arranged locations, such as Energizing Kowloon East harbourfront, have few pedestrians during weekdays, says Wong, which makes things even harder.

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