Shane Delia, the chef and owner of lairy Smith Street kebab outlet Biggie Smalls and CBD Middle Eastern fine-dining restaurant Maha, is a pro at making a food space work. He just never expected to be applying his expertise to a food truck.
“I didn’t know I was going to do it,” says Delia of launching a Biggie Smalls food truck. “We had other plans. We’re already opening a new Biggie Smalls in Windsor in July. But I’ve been a friend of Mercedes-Benz for a bit – we’ve used their Vito van to transport food for over twelve months now, and it’s never let us down. They wanted to show off what the Sprinter Cab Chassis can do because it’s not really considered for food trucks and hospitality. So we started talking about a food truck and it sounded awesome.”
Delia had never run a food truck before. But he did have experience with pop-ups – bad ones. “It’s so much work and money, logistics and permits to do pop-ups,” he says. “But afterwards you think, ‘What did we learn from that?’ After a while it just made sense to do it properly with a truck.”
Delia did research by visiting friends’ food trucks. He decided what he did and didn’t like and then worked with Mercedes-Benz Vans engineers and builders to customise a Sprinter Cab Chassis to his specifications.
That includes on-board wi-fi, a Redcat point of sales system, reverse cameras, multiple parking sensors, and a fully automated airbag system in-line with Mercedes-Benz standards.
Delia also insisted on customising the van to include two service windows – one for placing an order, the second for receiving it – and a specialised kitchen (featuring an Unox oven, a grill, fryers and burners) that allows Biggie Smalls and Maha to take on catering jobs.
“We could park out the front of your house, pop the lid open and serve a private seven-course degustation, no worries,” says Delia.
Some considerations weren’t initially clear to the chef. “Obviously it needs to be safe,” says Delia. “But then it has to ride properly. A chef might think they don’t care about a bumpy ride. But drive it 200 kilometres to a festival and see if you mind if it’s bumpy.”
How the van worked as a business capable of putting out a high volume of orders was also crucial.
“You need to think about where the point of sale sits,” says Delia. “How quick we can get the EFTPOS thing down so people can tap and go; is there enough room inside for people to turn around and grill; where’s the potato oil going to go so when we drive it doesn’t go all over the walls? All those things you don’t think about become important. We’ve really tried to do it the best way we can.”
One feature Delia is most proud of is a nod to the hydraulic low-rider cars prominent in hip-hop culture. But it’s not all for show.
“The guys invested heavily in an air ride suspension to make sure we can lower the truck to get it down to a serving height,” says Delia. “We can jack it up to ride it properly and feel good, stable and safe. But then when you’re at a festival you can switch off the air ride and it just drops down. I think it’s killer.”
As per the in-store experience at Biggie Smalls, Delia’s hip-hop-influenced customisations aren’t subtle. The black and red emblazoned truck has an illuminated menu board, neon lights underneath the vehicle, and an external and internal sound system to pump out hip-hop jams. Delia says the need to compete visually as well as in quality of product is paramount.
“When you’ve got 20 food trucks lined up side-by-side at a festival, people are drawn by how they look,” says Delia. “You pull up in a beast of a truck and it gives you an edge, both with customers and operators. So we’ve made sure the brand ID is spot on with what we build in-store. It has to have a gangster look. All those little things might seem a bit kitschy, but mate – it’s about the experience. That’s something we always try and think about, whether it’s Biggie or Maha – we’re not just selling food, we’re giving people an experience.”
This article is presented in partnership with Mercedes-Benz Vans.