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City miles away from being food truck-friendly

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BENGALURU: The food truck business picked up in the city in 2012, but grew later in 2015, and you can easily spot about 50 trucks in the city. Initially, when the business started, Bengalureans were concerned about the quality of the food, a food truck owner tells City Express at the recent Food Festival held on Sunday at Pebbles The Jungle Lounge, However now, with that concern gone, their business is now booming, with lip-smacking food and varied cuisines being served.

The festival saw over 17 food truckers working hard to serve the large crowd waiting in line, and they tell us that the low investment is why many choose to go down this path rather than opening up a restaurant.

‘Food trucks ideal for chefs starting own business’

With food trucks becoming common, city truckers are now struggling to come up with something unique and different to serve to their customers. At the fest as well, each one of them had come up with a ‘dish of the day’, such as Foodee Adda, a global cuisine food truck, had introduced tacos for the first time. But what really stood out about them was the fact this is Asia’s only dine-in food truck, run by Deepti Bhatnagar and her husband Nithin, who have been in the business since November 2016.

Another food truck, Amexicano, co-owned by Nitheesh and Anoop, started two years ago. As the name suggests, the food truck serves American and Mexican food. Both partners had been sous chefs for 13 years before coming up with something of their own. “I wanted to spend time with my family and have the freedom to decide what to serve as well. Food trucks have made it really convenient for chefs who want to start a business of their own,” says Nitheesh.

For Gururaj Sindagi, the owner of waffle truck Go Waffles, having a waffle cafe was a dream. But the lack of right locale, was why he decided to start a food truck after watching a street food show on the television.

‘Feeding bribes to officials common’

Parking has been a massive disadvantage in the city for these truckers. While residents are also seen struggling with this issue, for these food truckers, it has been even more challenging. Parking on the side of the road often gets them in trouble with the cops.

Despite of a license with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and making regular payments to the RTO, food truckers are constantly harassed by cops and are forced to feed them with bribes. “Just last month, I had to pay `10,000 to a cop. This affects us mentally and physically, especially since we are trying hard to survive with the money we earn,” says a food trucker.

Food truckers have been struggling as there are no proper legal guidelines on how they should run their business. “The existing law only covers restaurants and bars, and the BBMP should frame rules for them to follow as they are struggling a lot,” says Haris Ali, curator of the festival.

Kshitij Urs, food activist and professor at National Law School of India, Bengaluru, says that food trucks come under the Street Vendors Act, 2014, but the existing laws are inadequate. “These mobilized street vendors are building a livelihood for themselves, and the government should ensure that they live in a dignified, respectable manner, and are not crimilinalised,” he says.

‘Finding ideal spot in city a challenge’

For those with a budget wanting to keep their investment low, food trucks are the answer, truckers tell us. According to Nitheesh, food trucks are “a low investment, no risks are involved, and they are mobile”, which is the main reason why many chefs have chosen this path. Several of these truckers have invested between `10 lakhs to `30 lakhs depending on the cuisine, the condition of the vehicle and setting up a kitchen inside the truck. Finding the ideal location in a cosmopolitan city is extremely hard, and there is no guarantee if the truck will even be a success.

These food truckers have, over the years, set up shop at many localities, such as Hennur, Kothanur, Indiranagar and even have tie-ups with tech  parks. They, however, earn 80% of their earnings from events such as food truck festivals.

Confine trucks to tech parks/apartments?

Vinay Sreenivasa, an advocate for street vendors, says “There are no proper regulations for street vendors. I am not anti-food truck nor am I pro-food truck either. They take too much space on the road and generate too much waste.” Vinay further explains that other street vendors who take very less space, are also being harassed by cops due to this. According to him, food trucks should remain confined to tech parks and apartments, and not on the roads, which can cause chaos and traffic. In regard to harassment,
he says that truckers should file a complaint to the RTO office and demand a proper law for them.

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