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Executive Class Warms up to Meals on Wheels


Zomato may be the biggest restaurant search app in India, but its CEO doesn’t always need to swipe through when he steps out for lunch. He just goes down stairs and joins a bunch of top executives from Apple, Facebook, GSK and Vistara for a quick meal or snack at one of the food trucks parked near their office building in Gurgaon. These are no ordinary food trucks serving greasy, cheap food. They are branded and backed by established names such as Dabur scion Amit Burman’s Lite Bite Foods and Welgrow Group, and dish out fresh food from burgers and spring rolls to min-ced basil chicken with big names sticky rice and chilly chicken. Deepinder Goyal, the Zomato boss, is often seen grabbing a bite outside Gurgaon’s plush office complex One Horizon Centre. Other regulars here include Glaxo SmithKline’s leadership team including HR director Ongmu Gombu and marketing head Prashant Pandey.

The trucks are backed by such as Dabur scion Amit Burman’s Lite Bite Foods and Welgrow Group

It’s not just Gurgaon. Trucks that match the hygiene levels of top restaurants with chefs handing over freshly made food to customers are slowly establishing an alternative eating culture in big Indian cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi-NCR, and their biggest fans are India Inc’s top bosses.

“I have become a big fan of standalone shops which serve fresh food,” Paytm Chief Executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma told ET.

“My latest experience was at Hauz Khas one Sunday afternoon. My family did step out to dine in at a restaurant but then ended up eating at a food truck. We ordered burgers and French fries. My four-year-old son loved it,” he said.

“I see this as an alternate food culture. In India it is coming up (but) in US it is a serious business, I see it mostly as a hobby in India,” said Sharma, who eats at food trucks about once a month. “I rarely eat out. This food is refreshing.”

In Bengaluru, Varun Vijay Rao, managing director at multinational industrial firm Acutant Corp, takes off in his Jaguar to tuck into barbeque or Chinese food at Streety Treats, a chain of food trucks started by four college students who worked at a McDonald’s kitchen earlier.

Himalaya Drug Company CEO Philipe Haydon is another sup-porter of food trucks. Hayden also happens to be singer and lead guitarist of a blues rock band.

“Once after my performance at Phoenix Market, I had chicken wings, chicken burger, potato wedges and prawns from a food truck,” he said. “It was different and tasted homely, not like the food prepared by chains such as McDonald’s and KFC which is mass production. The concept is good because it is made live and in front of you. Your food doesn’t come from behind the doors. I would definitely urge more people to stop by and experience it.”

Several branded food trucks have begun plying the streets of top Indian cities. Prominent among them are Street Foods of India operated by Lite Bite Foods, Welgrow Group’s Wanchai by Kylin, Streety Treats, Ice Cream Buggy and Toastea.

More are ready to roll, especially since the margins are good.
“The business is profitable from day one,” said Burman, who runs food trucks in Delhi-NCR and Mumbai under his multi-cuisine Indian restaurant brand Street Foods of India. “The food carries the same quality as the established brand, needs two-three people at most to run it, there are no rentals, and the trucks are serviced by our commissary. Besides, you can move the trucks where demand is. You don’t have to be tied down to one particular place and wait for consumers to walk in.”

Enthused, Burman is planning five more trucks in the country. More ambitiously, he plans one in Washington DC.

Promoters pointed out that there is a lot of flexibility in the model. “The food is cyclical and entirely flexible,” said Saurabh Khanijo, promoter of Welgrow Group. “We serve bowl meals such as minced basil chicken with sticky rice at lunch time at One Horizon Centre to cater to discerning executives, and snacky foods like spring rolls and chilly chicken in the evening and nights at leisure spots.”

Khanijo said the trucks serve as many as 100 dishes at an average price of 150. Kylin is customising its food trucks — for offices, parties or universities — depending on the trade.

The trucks cost 4-8 lakh cences to operate. They cluster around offices at breakfast and lunch time, then move to leisure spots or residential areas by the evening.

Streety Treats, launched last year, is now five trucks strong and serves Chinese, Thai, barbeque and desserts in Bengaluru and Vijayawada. The truck business has been encouraging enough to spawn barbeque bikes. This will debut in about a week’s time with 10 bikes. Food will be barbequed on site and served to customers, said Arun Varma, founder of the company.

“We attract the IT crowd, colleand lige students and often set up at residential areas,” Varma, 21, said. A meal for two costs about 250, he said.

Ice Cream Buggy, which serves ice-creams from trucks, has a presence in 21 cities including Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. “I had ice-cream parlours in seven cities but it was getting difficult to scale the business,” said promoter Rohit Rao. “Then I started a truck as an add-on. When that started scaling, I shut down all the stores and my business turned profitable in 13-14 months.”

Started in 2012, Ice Cream Bug-gy now has 43 trucks in all, and the average price for two works out to about 120.

Rao recently started a second food truck brand, Toastea, in India. He’s also launched eight food trucks under the brand name Frice in Dubai, selling ice-cream in the shape of French fries.

“The best part is, we don’t have to wait for customers. Rains and winters don’t affect our business anymore,” he said.

Source : Economic Times

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