Would you ever have guessed that being “too tall” could top the list of kitchen difficulties?
“We never thought we’d have to think about a height requirement for staff. But it’s surprisingly important,” says Stephanie Raco with her eyebrows raised. “We’ve trialled some people that simply can’t stand up properly in the truck.” She nods her head towards the orange van parked next to her.
“It’s basically a health and safety thing really,” adds Rode Vella, nodding knowingly whilst towering over the petit Raco. “Because if you’re walking around and you smack your head on something it’s just dangerous. So it’s almost like ‘sorry mate, not unless you cut your feet off’.” And at 6 foot himself, Vella would know.
We’re standing next to the Cantina Mobil, pulled up neatly by the harbour down at Blue’s Point. With a backdrop of the Harbour Bridge, it’s a reminder that whilst the Food Truck movement commonly cites NYC as a source of inspiration, this is Food Trucking with a uniquely Sydney flavour.
“We’ve just added ice-cream to the menu,” says Raco with a grin, “because we were sad to turn people away when we didn’t have it.” She’s neatly pointing out that the term ‘Food Truck’ still conjures images of Mr Whippy, sausage rolls and pies for most Sydneysiders – not slow roasted meats or artisan chilli chocolate ice cream.
Raco and Vella’s Mexican-inspired Cantina Mobil is the first of the new fleet of 10 food trucks approved by the City of Sydney to trade in and around 12 designated areas over the next 12 months, and competition to be selected for a trial permit was fierce. But Raco and Vella already had their dream up and running on the Northern Beaches before the CBD approved them.
“We’re restaurateurs and have been for nine years prior to this,” says Raco of their previous venture In Situ in Manly, “and we just thought that if we ever got back into hospitality, take-away food was the way to go.”
Vella agrees, pointing out that he’d much rather be on the road than stuck in one place. “I remember being on an aeroplane,” says Raco of the point where the idea began to crystallise. “There was an article about the Taco Truck down in Melbourne and I remember thinking, ‘We’ve travelled New York and Europe and we’re really familiar with the idea of street vendors’, so we thought that could be the best take-away option for us. Every day, we’d be able to get around and do what we want to do, like go to the Elvis festival,” she laughs. “And maybe even become part of the attraction.”
So with the other food trucks not due on the road until June or July, did they race to be the first truck trading? “We weren’t trying to be the first,” says Vella. “But because we had a permit within Warringah Council, we had actually already launched on Boxing Day . We were rolling by the time we even got to the trial and permit process for the city,” he says, acknowledging that timing and a swell in public interest couldn’t be more ideal. “We were just thinking we’d travel up and down the beaches and park at he beach.”
But it’s not all festivals and seaside locales. The research that went into creating the perfect van was in-depth, with Vella building most of it himself.
“We’re probably going to be the smallest truck out there, but we didn’t want to be too big, because we still wanted to fit into average car spaces… But also the Renault Master van is the highest one available and I based it all off myself, because I’m six foot.”
Having dipped their toes in the water at Hyde Park and Queens Square, does the duo think the new wave of food trucks will be embraced?
“People were onto it straight away,” says Raco. “There was constant interest from the start. People were like ‘Oh my god, this is a great idea’. There was immediate enthusiasm.”
Why? “People shouldn’t only be able to get great food in fancy restaurants,” says Raco. “We think everyone should be able to receive great quality food street-side. It’s all about being accessible.”
With more locations to be approved.
The 10 food trucks are:
1. Agape Organic – organic spelt pizzas and tapas
2. Al Carbon – soft tacos
3. Bite Sized Delights – Maltese finger food
4. Urban Pasta – Italian-influenced pasta
5. Cantina Mobil – Mexican-inspired tacos/burritos with slow cooked meats
6. Eat Art Truck – Japanese/Korean influence
7. Let’s Do Yum Cha – yum cha (think pork buns/dim sim)
8. Taco Truck – gourmet Mexican
9. Tsuru – Asian-inspired street food
10. Veggie Patch – vegetarian and juices