With their sophisticated gourmet offerings, low overheads, and the flexibility of being able to set up in different locations, the business model of the food truck has been thriving during the pandemic.
If you live in a small town with limited takeaway food options, you’ll most likely hear via the bush telegraph when a food truck has been set up in town.
In Stratford in eastern Victoria, most afternoons on a vacant lot at the entrance to the town, you’ll find a gathering of utes and tradesmen routinely assembled while awaiting their ritual kebab fix from the Grill’em food truck.
A fan base of grey nomads, young parents with prams, and emergency workers soon join the evolving social scene, sitting on modest stools under a canopy festooned with lights as day turns to dusk.
In a town of limited dine-in and takeaway options, the locals have embraced the escapist joy of Turkish takeaway and the increasingly rare opportunity to bump into each other in an open public space outing.
“This was our dream,” says Selda Üstünoğlu Çetin, who moved to Australia 10 years ago from Turkey with her husband Taylan.
“My husband always says he always puts his love in his cooking, maybe that’s why it’s very tasty,” Ms Çetin says of the food truck’s takeaway menu of Turkish kebab wraps, kofte, falafel, gozleme, Turkish delight, and baklava made from scratch.
“We work Wednesday to Saturday from 12 to 8:00pm, we start early to prepare then finish late cleaning up so it’s a long day, but we are loving it,” Ms Çetin says.
The couple had both worked in hospitality in five-star hotels in Turkey before settling in Alberton, Sale, and eventually Stratford.
They eventually saved enough money from working different jobs to purchase their own food truck.
The flexibility of being able to attend festivals, markets, cater for private functions, weddings and birthdays across the region enabled the business to develop a loyal following.
But since the pandemic and the cancellation of so many events, the couple tended to stay in Stratford.
The couple has recently custom-built a shed to house the truck, to provide waiting customers with shelter from the rain, dust and the sun, and added some chairs and tables that can be used by customers during non-lockdown periods.
“We’re lucky to have this kind of business because we can stay open during lockdown,” Ms Çetin says.
Donut craze brings joy to East Gippslanders
Ewan Fotheringham, owner of Big Bear Donuts, switched from commercial fishing to donut making in October 2019, after changes to the commercial fishing industry left him without a sustainable income.
Inspired by his father’s love of donuts and childhood visits to a jam donut van at Lake Weroona, Ewan began his donut business out of financial desperation on a shoestring budget, getting a bank loan to build a custom van with second-hand equipment.
Initially selling his sophisticated donut creations at Apex Park in Lakes Entrance, Mr Fotheringham says his business took off due to his home-delivery service during lockdowns and his occasional donut runs to neighbouring towns.
“When everyone was stuck in their homes, they couldn’t come to us so we went to them,” he says of the popular home-delivery service during the first lockdown in March 2020.
“As we got bigger and more popular we had to redevelop the van and create some more capacity for ourselves and we ended up too big for the van and we bit the bullet this year and opened up a shopfront.”
With most fillings made from scratch, including milk and white chocolate ganache, caramels, custards and creams, the boutique donut creations fit the classic profile of an ‘affordable luxury’.
As a glamourous addition to a morning tea, Mr Fotheringham notes that many nurses, aged care staff, and work colleagues will gift each other his escapist artisanal creations in times of stress.
Flexibility, convenience and community the key to success
In just under two years, his ‘Big Bear’ donut brand outgrew the food truck and is now a bricks-and-mortar store employing 10 people.
On one infamous donut run to Bairnsdale, the donuts caused a traffic jam, as customers scrambled to collect their bespoke bundles of sugary joy.
Mr Fotheringham puts his business success down to loyal local support, from a community that has been through fires, drought, and a pandemic within his two years of operation.
In an effort to give back to the community, Mr Fotheringham recently raised $1,140 for new tennis courts at the Briagolong Tennis club through sales of his donuts.
“A lot of people have been travelling down [to Lakes Entrance] just to get donuts — from Bairnsdale, from Sale, from Rosedale,” he says.
“We’ve got a truck driver who stops every week from Drouin who is not allowed to go home without getting donuts for his wife, so it is popular.
“Hopefully it’s good for the town and it’s nice to be giving something back.”