Getting the idea engine started

JUN Tanaka and Mark Jankel’s entrepreneurial spirit offers hope to anyone who has ever fantasised about setting up their own restaurant. For just £4,000 initial set up costs the pair have rented an Airstream truck and are driving around London this week selling their gourmet meals-on-wheels. They are serving a seasonal British menu with dishes such as home smoked salmon and braised featherblade of beef wheeled right into tourist areas. In just two days they have made back their initial investment, proving that they have tapped into one very effective business model.

The pair hope to drum up the same excitement that gourmet food trucks have created in the US. The trucks have stormed the States thanks to discerning office workers hungry for better lunch options and the power of social media. Customers hunt for a truck’s location using information from Twitter and Facebook, bringing a twentieth century feel to following the old-fashioned ice cream truck music. A single lunch truck in Seattle grossed $400,000 in its first year. Kogi BBQ in Los Angeles has 75,869 Twitter followers.

Both Tanaka and Jankel work in the restaurant sector, but this is their first venture out on their own. Jankel is trying to set up a full-scale restaurant at the moment. He says he has been delighted by how much easier setting up the mobile business is than the stationary one. For a food truck all you need is a driving licence, health and safety and hygiene certificates. For a stationary business, he says you need half a million pounds and a lot of patience to comply with all the regulations.

The craze in the States has seen some quitting corporate jobs to get trucking. Native Belgian Thomas DeGeest spent a decade working as an IBM management consultant in New York, but sacked it in to sell the waffles of his home country from a big yellow van. DeGeest gets attention from his Twitter followers by asking them trivia questions for freebies.

Food trucks and new media seem to be a recipe for success at the moment. Low overheads and the ability to sidestep red tape present an opportunity to move from a craze to a serious business model.